The plea of the pastors wife

I wrote this last fall, in the middle of a situation in Oklahoma that was too charged to handle this important post, these words of truth that must be said.  So I’ve let it simmer for months until enough time had passed to spare Kel any additional criticism at work… something we didn’t need any more of in that season. 

It does not speak to where our family is today per say, but it certainly speaks into the lives of ministry families everywhere.  

I reach back for Noelle’s hand as we drive home from church, just the three of us, another Sunday with me and the kids at our home church and Kel off preaching somewhere else.

I know deep down that this right here, this palm to palm family love is the sustaining work of our lives.  It will endure long after this job, this year, this season.

Yet I wonder in my heart: what are we putting them through with this church-world lifestyle?  I pray the good will far outweigh the bad.

As I make the straight drive down Arlington my head is a mess of confusion and pain.  I pause at a red light and remember my high school oath, the one where I swore up and down that I would never be a pastor’s wife.

The one I always joke that God challenged me on, laughed at.

I didn’t want to endure all the criticism and ugliness that comes with a life called to serve full time.  Or whatever you formally call people and families that draw a paycheck from church or para-church ministry.  

I’ve spent another week in utter confusion, trying to sort through the jabs and comments.  How the man I love is not ______ enough or how my family is too ______.

We spent a broken Saturday realizing that yes, in fact it is coming between us, getting into our skin.  Another night passing out, hardly talking, because truly the whole thing is just. that. exhausting.


This is a sad part of the rhythm of most ministry families, healing at home when the people of God tear you apart.  

I’ve spent Sunday mornings in church and dozens of trips to the grocery store wondering which smiles were genuine and which could not be trusted.

There are certainly moments of “screw them all!” where I find my steely resolve and declare that flaws or not … our ministry was genuine.

Moments of clinging to the truth that God is good and here and woven throughout our flawed human attempts at loving and living like Christ.

I recite impassioned monologues about how God never calls us to gossipy, private bashing but to genuine face to face counsel and relationship.  

These usually stay in the bathroom or are seen only my the mini van’s rear view mirror.  I’m never bold enough to burst into the board room and yell… what the hell people of God?  Why are you tearing us apart in hate?  Have you read the bible lately… all the parts about correcting privately, in love?

I’ve been angry, I’m still angry, but I’ve humbled my heart to realize that out of ignorance and pride I have sat in the critics seat.  Foolish enough to pick apart something genuine and spirit filled because I felt some consumer right to.

Out of ignorance I’ve sat picking at something I’m too lazy to get involved in or bring a change to.

I want to make a flow chart of church commentary.  Something that helps people realize how much better things would be if they would use their hands to help more than they use their mouths to criticize.

If you’re think this then perhaps you should get off your ass and do A) B) or even C).

Oh church: we are just as human now as we’ve ever been.  We stumble, we fall, we wound the hearts of those who serve us and scar the hands of those who sit washing our feet.

You’ve done it, so have I.

But those of us who have found ourselves startled and bruised after offering hands of love, sweat and tears, we’re … slower to speak.  We have scarred hands of grace which we are quicker to offer as hugs over fists.

So much quicker to look for the heart of God, the genuine spirit led love behind it and when we see it to consider the viewing of it, a gift, a grace.

  • Lisa K

    I’m so glad you got the opportunity to open up and share this part of a ministry family’s life. A pastor has a calling into ministry, not necessarily the pastor’s spouse. Even though you did feel called into ministry, people don’t understand that it’s not just a job. It is a lifestyle. You don’t turn off. You are always working. If you weren’t struggling with it, I think you would be lying to yourself. I always thought that being a pastor’s wife, I’d have to put on a smile and teach a Sunday school class and make sure we all looked perfect. Now I realize, that the role of pastor’s wife is to support the pastor and that’s different for each pastor and each wife. I imagine that doesn’t really make it easier, just lowers the level of hard.

    At any rate, bless you for your support of Kel and the kids in whatever way you can. I think God is using you both in amazing ways.

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s to support the pastor and to be the person God created you to be, live deeply, love well, keep getting up when you fall and call it all grace. It’s the best thing we can be doing as women and as women in ministry.

  • Mary Evelyn Smith

    My father was in the ministry for many years and this is all too true. It’s tough on a marriage for sure. Thank you for talking about it.

    • Leanne Penny

      Absolutely doesn’t make marriage any easier, it causes you to go deeper and I think it can strengthen or tear apart. I’m striving for the former.

  • Natalie Hart

    Church can break our hearts hard. Makes it all the more miraculous that we stay and use our scarred hands of grace (my new favorite phrase) to offer love. I hope this move to MI brings some renewal, and not just distance from the OK situation.

    • Leanne Penny

      That phrase is gorgeous! I love it.

  • Tanya Marlow

    I so hadn’t logged that you’re a pastor’s wife, too.

    This post made me so glad for our extraordinary church family, who support us and get the vision that Jon is leading them in. (That sounds like a ridiculously verbose way of saying they like us.) :-)

    Sending you a solidarity high-five – it is not an easy call.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    I couldn’t run away from pastoral ministry fast enough. May God bless you both as you heal and serve in this new season.

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you Ed. Glad you found a calling in writing!

  • Jeff O’Dell

    We decided not to re-up after one year of church leadership. Our last Sunday as lay missionaries was last week. While I have discerned that I was not made for this, I also wonder why the Body of Christ is so fond of self inflicted wounds. At the end I was reminding Carissa that for every secret critic there are two who support us and love us. But it really doesn’t make the experience more bearable. Like you I wonder what these experiences are teaching my children about church life. Thank you for this.

    • Leanne Penny

      You’re welcome Jeff, and I believe that we can use the good and the bad to teach our children about the Church and what it is, what it isn’t and what it was created to be.

      Right? :)

  • Guest

    I so thank you for writing this, it is painful to go through, to write & re-live. And it makes my own scars swell up to read. O/h was a pastor for nearly 25yrs. And for a long time when the difficulties came, I didn’t really look for the heart of God/sat in the critics seat. It is easier to push back isn’t it?

    I feared time & again what it would to to our 3 grown children. But in spite of all the crap they have seen (and my profanity in expressing it), they all for now, live, love & serve God in their own churches.

    With Ed on the finding healing as you serve in the new place

  • Jo Inglis

    I so thank you for writing this, it is painful to go through, to write & re-live. And it makes my own scars swell up to read. O/h was a pastor for nearly 25yrs. And for a long time when the difficulties came, I didn’t really look for the heart of God/sat in the critics seat. It is easier to push back isn’t it?

    I feared time & again what it would to to our 3 grown children. But in spite of all the crap they have seen (and my profanity in expressing it), they all for now, live, love & serve God in their own churches.

    With Ed on the finding healing as you serve in the new place x

    • Leanne Penny

      Thank you Jo, for sharing your own experiences, fear and that God saw your children through the crap and into relationship in church. It’s heartwarming and hope-giving.

  • Meg Clapp

    This was lovely. Thank you for writing such graceful words. I could see myself and my husband and our ministry situation in them. We’re moving on to new calls and your words have helped me take another step forward in the journey of healing and forgiveness.

  • Eleanorjane

    I’m not an expert at all, but I was troubled over the years by my Vicar’s lack of boundaries and her huge working week. I don’t think it’s necessary or healthy.

    I guess if you’re in a tradition where the congregation personally hire and fire then it makes things a heap more difficult as you need them to like you or you don’t get paid.

    Tricky stuff all ’round.

  • Stephanie G

    As a pastor’s wife also, I love how honest and real you were here. Unless you are in ministry, people can’t begin to possibly understand the intensity that this life brings. It is such a privilege yet such a burden that never lifts. It helps so much when others try to help us with the burden rather than stack more on top of it through their criticism and judgement. Daily I’m thankful for God’s grace in helping those of us who serve in ministry to do it with patience and joy. Thanks for being real!

  • jen

    As a fellow pastor’s wife, THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Nancy Waldo

    I hear all of your pain, having grown up as a 4th-generation preacher’s kid and gone through two traumatic ministry situations. Ministering to Ministers Foundation seeks to provide safe space for clergy and spouses to heal, I did my seminary internship there and worked there for several years. If the pain of your past trauma in ministry is still holding you back or interfering with your relationships to God, your spouse, or ministry, Please check out their Health Transitions Retreats. You can email me at if you have questions. (I am no longer working with MTM, but I believe deeply in the healing opportunities they provide.)

  • Guest

    I really appreciated this post. I grew up as a PK. It was a difficult life. I felt so much pressure to please the people in our church to keep my dad’s job secure. As an adult, I have come to appreciate how Paul said in Galations that he was not trying to please people. What a relief to find Scriptures that talk about the fear of man and how we should not be subject to that.

    I’m still not sure why some people in churches can be so hard to work with. My guess is that they have said “no” to the Holy Spirit so many times that no longer hear Him? Like quenching the spirit?

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  • tamarahillmurphy

    God bless you, Leanne. I found you through Leigh’s “What I’ve Been Into” posts. I just wanted you to know that I hear you in your frustration and pain here. I grew up the oldest daughter of a pastor, vowed I’d never marry a pastor and am now cheering my husband on as he finishes seminary to be … a pastor. The healing journey I’ve been on in between that vow and where live currently is profound. May you know the healing power of your Father by the resurrection power of His Son and through the work of His Spirit. Bless you, dear one.