The Pastor's Wife's Survival Guide

The top dozen lessons I’ve learned regarding what not to do in over 35 years as a pastor’s wife…

1.  Don’t go to a church potluck dinner with something that is not homemade. The church ladies will spot a Stouffer’s lasagna in a New-York minute. They will know at once you can’t cook. Find five never-fail recipes and let your mother make them. If all else fails, bring a salad or rolls.

2.  Don’t be fake. Don’t wear the “church face.” Fighting like rabid dogs on the way to church and popping out of the car with your happy “Praise the Lord” grins doesn’t fool anyone. It will teach everyone in your family to be superficial, defensive and hypocritical. The more real and vulnerable you are, the better the congregants identify with you and respect you for being honest.

3.   Don’t trade ministry for spirituality. The Bible is not just a book to help you teach, it’s to make you spiritual. If every time you open your Bible, it’s for a sermon outline or teaching lesson, God can never change YOU. Let His life in you transform you into a powerful, anointed leader.

4.   Don’t expect your children to be perfect. They aren’t. Get over it. They are normal kids. If you fill their lives with unrealistic expectations (your own and those of every nosey church member), you will just make them mad, hurt or rebellious. When I failed to protect my older, more sensitive daughter from unwarranted criticism, she became wounded and withdrew. When my youngest daughter felt “pastor kid pressure” she refused to conform and wore her bunny slippers to church for a year. Fortunately, we learned to comfort them, befriend them and help them filter which expectations were appropriate and which should be ignored. Every pastor’s kid needs support, comfort, acceptance and affirmation. You want them to grow up and be launched into the world-loving church, not leaving church.

5.   Never be surprised when the worship leader has an affair (just kidding.) But some high-profile church leader will fall into sin. “Wait for it….waaaiiit for it….” When a front-line, up-front guy or gal succumbs to temptation and devastates, disappoints and disillusions the unsuspecting congregation, you can recover. Remember, Satan is creative. He is always going to go after the “big guns.” At this point, the pastor has two choices: to cover it up, which is stupid, unscriptural and destructive, or to deal with the situation honestly and openly, using biblical wisdom and church discipline while dealing compassionately with the couple through counseling, patience and forgiveness. That does not mean that the church and the individuals will not suffer consequences. We live in a sinful world. But God has given us spiritual weapons to wage spiritual war.

6.   On a lighter note, don’t push the envelope by wearing mini-skirts, leopard-skin pants or thigh-high boots, no matter how cute they are. Yes, I was in the church rock band and it was tempting. Bad idea. Be modest. Don’t wear clothes that are too sexy, too casual, or too expensive. Let the congregation notice your “beautiful, godly inside” first (a little lipstick never hurt, especially if you have chapped lips).

7.   NEVER, Never, no never take up an offense for your husband. That is ministry suicide. Bitterness will destroy you. You are not helping him. If you get mad, he gets madder. Your hubby needs comfort, love and a safe place at home. Every time I’ve been cruelly hurt by a church member, I can’t stay mad if I pray for them, repay their meanness with kindness, and wait for God’s time to heal the hurt. (This principle is the “heaping coals” principle and it has never failed me. In 36 years of ministry at the same church, I couldn’t have lived without it!).

8.   When you or your husband screws up, (and you will, often – remember, you are not Jesus) admit it. Own it. Don’t explain it away. The best advice we ever heard in this regard is from a dear friend and associate pastor in our church. He said, “Roger, it’s just about this time that a pastor will be tempted to do something really stupid.” Don’t run away, resign, or defend yourself from the pulpit. Learn from your mistakes. Listen to honest criticism. Be humble. Don’t run away from trouble.

9.   Don’t be naïve. Expect the unexpected. Satan is relentless and creative. One valuable principle we’ve learned is that we must ALWAYS be prepared for hassle, interference and obstacles before God is getting ready to do something amazing. The worse the ammo, the greater the blessing that will follow. So don’t give up. Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove, and pray your guts out.

10. Don’t try do ministry alone. You really need to depend on Jesus. But you really need other people too. Every pastor and wife needs a support system. We have counseled thousands of pastors and wives, and they are some of the loneliest people we know because they are self-reliant and have never learned to receive. You can’t give what you haven’t received. You’ll be tapped out pretty quickly. Find a godly, mature, safe friend or family member that you can be honest with and that will comfort, affirm and support you. God created all of us to be relational.

11.Don’t miss the opportunity to have some family fun. Learn to laugh. Don’t let your pastor-family become exhausted, dull, bitter or cynical. Set boundaries and plan to celebrate and recuperate. Life is too short, and your kids will love you for it.

12. And finally, don’t forget that God is God and you are not. Every time I fear, falter or freak out about what’s going on in my family and my flock, I remember that both belong to God. I am just His servant, and He is truly trustworthy.

For over twenty-five years, Dr. Julie Barrier has been in demand as a national and international conference speaker, addressing topics such as marriage and ministry, developing healthy relationships, biblical study, and women’s issues. She is the founder and director of the Preach It, Teach It website,, providing sermons, devotionals, blogs, and videos by internationally renowned teachers and authors such as Francis Chan, Josh McDowell, Max Lucado, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, David Ferguson, Jim Cymbala, Larry Osborne, Mark Batterson, Stanley Toussaint and many more. International resources are also offered in ten languages. Since its inception in June 2008, Preach It, Teach It has received more than five hundred thousand hits from 203 countries. For many years, Julie also taught Biblical Foundations of Worship, Conducting, and Arranging as an adjunct Professor at the Dixon School of Church Music at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She has served as a minister of worship, orchestra conductor, and arranger at Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Barrier has also performed as a concert artist and orchestra conductor. Dr. Barrier is the author or composer of over fifty published works: books, choral pieces, orchestral works, musical theater scripts, and journal articles. Her latest book is Bored in Big Church: Recollections of a Church Brat and Tattletale (Xulon Press, 2011). She and her husband, Roger, have two beautiful daughters and two sons-in-law. If you wish to book a conference with the Barriers, go to

This article first appeared on Dr. Barrier’s blog at Preach It, Teach It. Used with permission.

Publication date: October 11, 2011

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