By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments

Burnout and depression are no strange occurrences in the pastor’s life. A look into the factors that cause stress in the ministry as well as the effect that it has on the minister discloses the most shocking facts.

Pastors’ Wives Hurt, Too!

The pastors’ wife is the secondary, innocent, victim of these stressors that so badly effect her husband. In addition to this there are stressors that affect the pastors’ wife because of her unique position. Many pastors in South Africa left the ministry lately. A psychologist who devotes a large part of his counseling practice to pastors estimates that seventy percent of these cases are related to wives that cannot cope with the demands that the ministry brings about.

Research into high medicine bills of South African pastors revealed that about 73% was stress related.

What’s The Problem?

Many congregations have a preset role-prescription for their pastor’s wife. Often times these prescriptions arrive from a handed-down tradition that has long been outdated. She has to cope with baggage that has been the norm in churches since early ages. For instance:

  • The pastor’s wife is expected to be in charge of women’s affairs.
  • She must know everything about the Bible.
  • Her house must be open to every member of the congregation, and it must be tidy (she has to put an example) twenty-four hours of every day, with little or no regard to her own privacy,
  • She must be on duty for telephone service.
  • She may not work outside her house, as this makes her an unfit mother and unfit pastors’ wife.
  • She must be “well-dressed” and well groomed even if it is still early in the morning.
  • In many churches the idea that women are sub-ordinate and men are the head of the households and must be in charge of church-affairs .

The above mentioned only touches the tip of the iceberg but I am sure you get the drive..

Prescribed Role Expectations

In addition to this the spouse of the pastor develops a role-expectation about what, how and who she should be. She derives this from the role-prescription her husband, the congregation, and society at large have for her. She in turn:

  • usually did not study theology so that she can teach others with confidence,
  • nor psychology so that she can handle people well, and
  • may be a post-modern enlightened Christian who is a unique and sparkling person in her own right, but do not fit into the role-prescription, and
  • may have a profession of her own.

With one or more of these factors present conflict often develops between who she is on the one hand, and who she should be according to the role-prescription of the congregation together with her own role-expectation, on the other hand.

The Results: Guilt…Or Worse!

She ends up with feelings of guilt when she cannot meet all of these expectations and usually end up being trapped in a cycle of increasing guilt feelings, followed by increased efforts to become the person she is expected to be.

This usually leads to severe depression; and all she did to deserve this was to love the guy so much that she married him “for better or for worse” – in many cases unaware of what lies ahead for her.

Typical Stressors

Typical stressors that burden the pastor’s wife are as follows:

  • Suppression of own identity.
  • Being neglected by her husband. She feels (and in most cases is) neglected by her husband’s sense of responsibility which takes him away from her. Often times this sense of responsibility is misplaced.
  • Lack of privacy. Members of a congregation often think of the parsonage as their property and regard the pastor’s time as belonging to them. After all, it is their offerings that pays the pastor’s salary. And in South Africa the manse usually belongs to the congregation as well.
  • Social life is inhibited. Friendship within the congregation can pose problems.
  • Double standards prevailing in the pastor’s life. “Pastor Perfect” comes home from a successful but stressful meeting and housecalls, just to take it all out on his undeserving family. His spouse has to put up with a “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” syndrome.
  • Finances. Much can be said about this.
  • Frustration, stress and poor health that is a direct result of being a pastor’s wife.
  • Lack of pastoral care for the pastoral family.
  • Unfavourable congregational criticism deriving from misconceptions regarding the pastoral family.
  • Time for leisure almost non-existent and mostly only on an irregular basis. The pastor usually works every evening of the secular week and during weekends.
  • Sexual problems deriving from the pastoral lifestyle.
Two Reactions To Stressors

1. Anger:
  • In the younger group age (20 – 30 years) feelings are very strong. Many of them are furious and feel like blaming God and everybody else, but they are brought up not to be blame-shifting, and blaming God would be a severe sin which is severely punishable – so they end up blaming themselves. They become depressed and harvest thoughts of “bringing everything to an end”. This may mean divorce or……?
  • In the middle-age group (30 – 50 years), anger and apathy may prevail.. Pastors wives may act untouched and put on masks that will please and pacify those who wants them to fit into preset patterns. They become like ducks that let water run from their backs, acting against their real nature. As pastors wives mature toward their 50th birthday, apathy may replace the anger.
  • In the retired group it seems as if the anger surfaces again, but since they still are unable to face it or deal with it they resort to all kinds of blame shifting tricks.

2. Identity Crisis:

  • In the younger age group (20-30 years) they start yielding to the pressure. They try to please everybody including God who they are led to believe is the big boss with the rules, and end up in identity crises.
  • In the middle-age group (30-50 years) most women can no longer bear the strain and start fighting for who they are. Their older, but still youthful zest gives them the arrogant (?) courage to spit it all out aloud.

    At this stage many a pastor’s marriage cracks and a many of them leave the ministry because their wives can no longer cope.

  • Many of the older woman have changed remarkably from who they were at first. They feel that they cannot blame God or anybody else for their past and “wasted youth” so they end up calling their basic personality their “idle youth” whilst deep down they still long for the person they were and this causes much lonely pain.
Some Suggestions

Though very little is done for pastors’ wives this far in South Africa, here’s a few suggestions.

1. Pastors wives should form a care-for-one-another (pastor pastorum) system of
their own.

2. Congregations should be made aware of the problem.

3. A care-group in the congregation should be established for the pastor’s wife .

4. A program of pastoral care for the pastor’s wife should be implemented.

The following should be taken into consideration in such a program:

  • Proactive care for pastors’ wives of all ages.
  • How to handle the, sometimes undue, feelings of guilt.
  • The healing of memories.
Sarah Jane (Visser) Wessels

NGUPASEN: Centre for Biblical-Christian Caregiving
Post Office Box 90
9585 PARYS 
Tel/fax: 27 (0568) 7-1018
South Africa

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