How Transparent Should a Pastor's Wife Be?

Today’s blog post continues our Best of the Best series—a collection of must-read articles for women’s leaders. —Leslie Bennett, Women’s Ministry Initiatives

Friendship and transparency are complicated for a pastor’s wife. 

If you are a pastor’s wife, you know what it feels like to live in a proverbial glass house. Your family is highly visible and therefore easier to criticize. Your husband’s job description requires that he “manage his household well” (1 Tim. 3:4), which may leave people wondering what level of childlike wildness is permissible in the pastor’s kids. Fear of criticism can make us hesitant to share our lives, as it opens us to further opportunities for criticism.

Another barrier to transparency is the burden of knowledge. I’ve often heard pastor’s wives say that they struggle with loneliness and don’t feel they can have real friendships in the church. This may sound extreme until you realize that many of the things that weigh heavy on our hearts are confidential. We can be heavily burdened with private church matters and yet unable to share our burdens with anyone. 

There is no way to avoid these two barriers. Some burdens we must bear alone for the sake of the church (Gal. 6:5) and yes, we may experience closer scrutiny than the woman sitting next to us in the pew. But even so, God desires for us to have healthy relationships within our church community. And without some level of transparency our relationships will never grow. When I’m feeling some form of pastor’s-wife-isolation, these biblical principles help me find my way forward.

Love Requires Vulnerability

Loving other believers is a Christian distinctive. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

The challenge for pastors' wives (and all believers) is that when we care, it makes us vulnerable. It’s impossible to keep ourselves from heartache when we genuinely love people. 

Love requires us to share our lives with others. Not all relationships will have the same level of transparency. But we are to have a posture of love toward all of God’s people. This requires a softening of our protective barriers. Some people are easier to love than others because we trust that they won’t hurt us. Others are fairly quick to wound. But in both cases, Jesus commands us to love one another. 

Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to see God’s grace at work in a church member. But remembering that Christ died for them and will bring that “good work . . . to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” helps (Phil. 1:6). In eternity, you will stand side by side with Christians who criticize you (or your husband) and worship God in perfect unity.

Isolation in the Body Is Spiritual Dysfunction

Because Christ joined us to His spiritual body, we can’t function independently of the other members (1 Cor. 12:27). We have an interconnected role in the body, and withdrawing from people out of fear will negatively impact the church and our own spiritual growth. 

Sometimes we avoid transparency because we are operating under the misconception that pastors' wives should always be the strong ones. But it doesn’t take long in ministry to realize that this is an unrealistic expectation. If we try to keep up a facade of spiritual perfection, we will miss out on opportunities to receive spiritual help and encouragement when we need it most.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says that “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (v. 22). This means that even when we are going through a season of weakness, the church needs our weakness as much as we need its strength. 

While it may not be wise to share our struggles with everyone, some level of transparency will help us to make meaningful connections in the church community and encourage others as they see God’s grace at work in our lives. Time and again, I have been surprised by how richly the Lord has blessed me through the church. If I had let fear and pride hold me back from showing vulnerability, I would have missed out on seeing God’s love at work in tangible ways through His people. 

Transparency Happens When We Fear God More

As pastors' wives we are aware of more conflict, criticism and division in the church than the average church-goer. I have yet to meet a gospel-preaching pastor who is unacquainted with criticism from within the church community. This took me by surprise in my early years as a pastor’s wife. But Scripture paints a similar story. 2 Timothy 4:10–16 records how the apostle Paul was harmed by Demas, Alexander the coppersmith, and others. John writes that Diotrephes was “talking wicked nonsense against [him]” (3 John 10). Even Jesus had Judas in His inner circle.

I’ve often heard people say that ministry couples need “thick skin and a soft heart.” I agree with the sentiment, but it’s not always easy to apply. Thick skin seems to imply that criticism doesn’t hurt us, but in reality, most pastors' wives feel it deeply. Fear of criticism can make us clam up and avoid transparency altogether. But a posture that braces for the next wave of criticism is not what God would have for us. This posture gives people too much control over us. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” If fear of man motivates our actions, it will lead us to choose self-preservation over honoring God.

There is no way to genuinely love people when we are fearful of their disapproval. We will give in order to get and exhaust ourselves trying to meet all their standards. But when the fear of God motivates us, it frees us to please God as a daughter already approved in Christ and loved by God. 

Fear of God doesn’t block us from feeling the pain of betrayal or criticism, but it gives us genuine hope and confidence in the midst of difficult circumstances. When I find myself struggling with fear of man, I remember what Paul wrote to Timothy. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). God empowers us by His Spirit to walk through difficult situations with love and self-control. Fear of man doesn’t have to be our default setting because we are secure in the love of God and His opinion matters more to us.

Not all relationships enjoy the same level of transparency, but love requires us to soften our protective barriers and be willing to welcome church members in. There is no replacement for the church community. Yes, we will be hurt, and yes, some burdens are private. But a handful of criticizers shouldn’t scare us off from the larger church community. The Church—as flawed and imperfect as it is—is full of Spirit-empowered people seeking to love each other “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). And this kind of love is worth fighting for.

About the Author

Christel Humfrey

Christel Humfrey is a pastor’s wife and mom to three boys. She serves in music and women’s ministries at her church in Calgary, Canada. In 2013, Christel was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, but she is thankful that no trial can steal her spiritual inheritance and that God’s grace is better than even the greatest earthly joy.