Nashville, Tenn. | Being married to a pastor means a life filled with joy, purpose, and a lot of headaches, according to a new study released Sept. 12.
Most pastors’ spouses feel a call to ministry and enjoy their roles inside and outside their church, notes the LifeWay Research study about the lives of Protestant pastors’ spouses. But many also have few friends, think they yell at their kids too much, and worry about money.
The survey focused mainly on spouses of senior pastors or solo pastors at Protestant churches from a variety of denominations. Most of the spouses are married to pastors who work at least 35 hours a week for the church, and half have children at home. Half have also spent at least 20 years as a pastor’s spouse.
Most—96%—are women, and 81% also feel a strong call to ministry. And in the big picture, they’re satisfied with their lot in life.
Among the findings:
- 93% believe their spouse is a good fit for the present church.
- 90% think ministry has had a positive effect on their family.
- 85% say, “The church we serve takes good care of us.”
- 83% enjoy their ministry work.
- 79% are satisfied with their role in ministry.
Still, there are many challenges. Conflict in church and a sense of loneliness are commonplace. Among the issues:
- 72% say their spouse has experienced resistance in the church.
- 69% say they have few people in whom they can confide.
- 68% worry about having enough money for retirement.
- 59% say church commitments limit family time.
- 49% say, “If I were honest at church about my prayer needs, they would just become gossip.”
Half of the spouses surveyed said they don’t confide in people at church because they’ve been betrayed in the past. About half (55%) also say they don’t have enough relationships where they can be themselves.
That’s in part because there is constant pressure to keep up appearances, according to the LifeWay Research survey. Seventy-nine percent say their congregation expects their family to be a “model family,” while 86% say they are expected to have a model marriage.
Many of the challenges pastors’ spouses face aren’t unusual, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Lots of Americans worry about money or feel lonely, he said. They struggle with conflict at work and have a hard time balancing work and family responsibilities.
But few have the added pressure of being role models or spiritual examples, he said. That makes the role of a pastor’s spouse unique.
Despite the complicated nature of their lives, ministry remains rewarding for many pastors’ spouses. “They feel a sense of joy and satisfaction in their work,” McConnell said. “And they see that as a blessing.”