To be married to a pastor wasn’t Yemi Audu’s (nee Oladipupo) idea of a peaceful adult life. For someone whose father was an Anglican Bishop, the rigours her mother went through always played back in her mind at adulthood.
For her and her siblings, it was a life they could not wish for. She resented it, so much so that she took delight in expressing her discontent of it to anyone that would listen to her. She even looked for the opportunity to talk about the only one side that the life of a pastor’s wife consists – agonising.
Some years ago, at a gathering organised by Family Life Unit, in commemoration of the Family Week of the church where she used to worship as a single lady, it was quiz time and she was chosen to be one of those that would respond to one of the carefully crafted questions. The question she picked was, whether she would like to be a pastor’s wife in future.
Without thinking about it for a second, an emphatic ‘no’ was her answer; followed by mumbling words like, ‘Me? A pastor’s wife? God forbid!’
For her, she never wanted to think about it. But as fate would have, today, Yemi is married to a pastor. And although she has come to grips with being one, she still has her fears and reservations; she is fast settling down into the same rigours her mother and so many other pastors’ wives experience.
Mummy, Mama, Mummy G.O., Mother-in-mission, Pastor Mrs., Iya Yard, Rev., are some of the names by which most pastors’ wives go by. And while some of them knew, right from their courtship days, that their husband is, or would be a pastor in the vineyard, for others, ‘the call’ only came after they were already married and they had no choice but fit into the role.
The role of a pastor’s wife is basically the same as any other wife in the church – to honour and support her husband. However, the pastor’s wife has to expand the breadth and depth of her own support, love and honour to all the members of the congregation. As a pastor’s wife, some would rather not be employed by the church, but would utilize their God-given gifts to volunteer in different areas of ministry. However, their priorities are to God first, then to their husband and children, and then to the members of the church.
What does it mean to be a pastor’s wife? How does she cope with the many roles she is expected to play? How does she balance her role as a wife, mother, sister and mother-in-mission? Is it all glamour and prestige or do they have downtimes? How does she deal with women flocking round her husband, all in the name of seeking counsel? What about the many demands of the church members, the long and constant absence of her husband from home? These and many more questions come to mind when thinking of the life of a pastor’s wife.
Every lady has specifications for the kind of man she would want to share the rest of her life with. So, did their specifications include marrying a pastor? For Mrs. Temilola Babalola, Mother-in-mission, Powerlife Baptist Church, Obawole, it never crossed her mind to marry a pastor. However, during her school days, many of her mates saw in her the qualities of a wife of a pastor and used to tease her with that role. “I never had it in mind I would marry a pastor. But during my HND days, most of my mates then used to tell me I had the qualities of being a pastor’s wife and I should consider that option,” she recounts.
So, was that the reason she looked out for one? “Definitely not. I guess, as they say, like begets like. My husband, who was already a pastor, saw what my friends saw and today, we are married with children.” So, it was not hard for Mrs. Babalola to settle into the role.
One of the most difficult things many of these women have to deal with is coping with their husbands’ tight schedules. Mrs. Babalola admits that “they travel a lot and sometimes even when they are home, they could just be called at any time to attend to their members’ needs. During such times, which might be when I need him around too, you just have to let him go because that is what God has called him to do.
‘Sometimes, getting a good night’s sleep can be impossible. The holidays – Christmas, Easter – every other person enjoys with their family. But these are times when the pastor has to be in church. Sunday evenings, most people enjoy dinner with their family, cozy in their home, but this is something the pastor and the pastor’s wife do not have the luxury of. The things you take for granted, the pastor’s wife dreams about. That is when I miss him the most,” she says.
While Mrs. Babalola finds the frequent travelling of her husband as the most challenging aspect of her role, for Mrs. Esther Tewogbade, wife of the parish pastor of Grace Sanctuary of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Ogba in Lagos, ‘loneliness’, despite being among people, is the hardest thing to deal with.
‘One of the hardest things to deal with is, despite the fact you’re surrounded by people on Sundays and mid-week services, you feel completely and utterly alone. I know, because I’m a pastor’s wife. As a pastor’s wife, you’re expected to be perfect, or pretend to be. You are constantly under scrutiny by someone somewhere, whose only virtue is being loud.
‘Your husband’s salary is modest – a number that most people would turn down and the hours are long and at times very unpredictable. You end up doing a lot of the work for the church that goes unnoticed, because it’s in the background, behind the curtain, and despite the fact that you work hard, there’s always someone to come in and ruin it by being critical.”
Despite all this, a lot of people take their pastor’s wife for granted. They’re one of the hardest workers in the church and the most under appreciated. “The expectation for perfection is ridiculous, and can be daunting,” says Mrs. Olufunke Abiodun. Herself a pastor, Mrs. Abiodun continues: “What people expect is that the pastor’s wife is going to be just as spiritually mature as her husband. This is not always the case with the pastor’s wife, especially if the pastor’s wife wasn’t called to be a pastor, just to love one.”
For her, one saying that really irks her is: ‘Remember, the pastor’s wife is called just as much as her husband.’ For her part, she was called to fit into the role she is playing in her church, where her husband is the senior pastor.
The Global Pastors’ Wives Association estimates that 80 percent of pastors’ wives feel unappreciated in their church, and the biggest woe that pastors’ wives have is loneliness. There are many other issues a pastor’s wife has to deal with, that people outside may not be aware of.
According to Abiodun, “The pastor’s wife has to be everyone’s confidant but no one’s close friend. Friendships made of the pastor’s wife can easily become a heated topic among other members of the congregation, thinking that the pastor’s wife’s friend is going to get special treatment, or be heard more than anyone else in the church because of their position. Usually, no friendships are made to the pastor’s wife, because the congregation is generally disinterested in her life.’
Beyond the yearning for friendship, the pastor’s wife constantly has to fight for her husband’s attention because he’s also married to the church. So, if the downsides of being a pastor’s wife are that many, what is the fun and attraction in it? “I must say that we mostly experience the downsides of being a pastor’s wife, but the joys also. Being a pastor’s wife can be really rewarding, but sometimes it takes a while to see those rewards, and it’s the members of the congregation that need to step up and reach out to their lonely pastor’s wife, to let her know she’s not alone and that she does make a difference,” Abiodun remarks.
While some of these pastors’ wives seem to have accepted their fate and settled in, some are feeling very much ill at ease.
“I don’t know whether I am the best person to talk about this. I have never wanted to be a pastor’s wife. I almost broke up with my husband six weeks before our wedding, because I really didn’t think I could do it and I certainly didn’t want to do it. But I loved him and wanted to be with him too much,” a pastors’ wife, who wishes to remain anonymous, states. “And I can’t exactly tell you what I struggle with. We’ve never had a hurtful or abusive congregation…But just the idea that 140 people can have an opinion on what my daughter said during Sunday School opening or a myriad of other things is enough to send me on the edge of an anxiety disorder.
“I’ve had the very intimate and personal pains of losing children during pregnancy and yet had to be part of the after-church announcements. I’ve had people scrutinise me up and down…and I only know about it through statements shared from elders’ meetings or hints of gossip, often months after the fact. No, I don’t cope well with this life. I find no joy in this. But that is not right. As I’ve said in another post, I know that God used this to save me from running away from Him. I also know I have found joy in hearing the gospel from the lips of my husband and being fed the communion from his hand.
I will never forget the joy of standing next to him, squeezing his arm as his voice cracked as he baptised our long-waited-for daughter. I’ve seen people snatched from Satan’s grasp and find their Saviour through my husband. I feel joy in my husband’s joy, because he loves being a pastor, even when he’s weary, disrespected, and misunderstood.
“But in the end, my joy comes from the blessings that God has given me in my marriage. My children, my husband who loves me with such tenderness that I know I don’t deserve. It shows me God’s grace. And if God was loving enough to not let me be stupid enough to walk away from a man who is this incredible, (despite being a pastor), He has something for me here, too, though at times I try to work the angle that maybe what God has is a lesson for my husband that he should have mercy on his wife and find something else, anything else to do.’
She continues: ‘There are benefits, too. We have a vicarage, and even when we didn’t, we have always lived close. The fact that my husband has always made it a point to be flexible in his work times (he often comes home at other times or goes in later since he often works evenings), or comes home for lunch and that we can so easily interact gives us the wonderful blessing of having his work be a part of our lives, rather than something that always takes him away from us. There are congregation members that go out of their way to do things for us, to show love. And I have met some of the most godly, wonderful, loving people…that far outshine me. People I am honoured to know.”
Surely, there will be pain on this side of Heaven, as they are constantly under attack because their husband is Satan’s enemy. However, many of them are not bothered. They have learnt to put their trust in God, knowing that He has promised that He will be there for them, and they are not alone. The Bible is full of examples that show that believers will suffer for Christ. For her part, wife of Serving Overseer of Christ Chosen Assembly, Oregun, Ikeja, Mrs. Patience Ehime, is of two minds. “First, I know that I am part of something very, very special. I am the wife of a man who administers the mysteries of the kingdom – the word and sacraments. I am the wife of the devil’s worst enemy.
“The other part of me would be perfectly happy if my husband quit and decided to do something else. Sometimes, it’s a tough burden to be part of something ‘special.’ Sometimes it would be nice to just kind of blend in and be normal for once. Sometimes it would be nice not to feel that Satan and all the powers of hell are constantly trying to destroy us and the church.
“I think if you go into it, knowing that the devil hates what your husband is doing, you might be spiritually prepared for his tricks. And remember, Jesus is the stronger man. Luke 11:22,” Ehime says. Sometimes, in the process of overseeing every aspect of church activities, counseling members after church services, some pastors, it is held, have relegated their family to the background and this has caused some of them to bring up ill-mannered children.
There are cases of pastors’ children who are school dropouts, cult members, drug addicts and generally of low moral standing. Worthy of mention is the daughter of a prominent Ibadan-based prophet. She recently got married a second time. According to reports, her first marriage broke down many years ago, after which she took to town living lewd and recklessly. Finally, she has succeeded in picking one of her numerous liaisons to settle down with.
Admitting this sad part, Mrs. Abiodun likens the trend to the situation of Eli and his children in the Bible. She, however, says the key to raising good children by pastors is embracing the balancing act. “You must know when to stop and think of the family. You cannot say you are doing heavenly job and discard the children God has given you to nurture. For me, I share my priorities....God, husband, children, and ministry. So, being a help-meet to my husband....to raise and educate my children, and then ministry. So that it doesn’t sound like I don’t have time for the church, I always share the types of ministry I’ve done before”, she says.
Lady Captain Florence Ajiborode, wife of the Bishop (Rtd.) of United Church of Cherubim and Seraphim, Ifaki-Ekiti, is of the opinion that clergy men need to pray more to avoid raising wayward children. She attributes the trend to the devil’s way of attacking men of God. Also citing the example of Eli in the Bible, whose generation was wiped out because of disobedience to God, Ajiborode asserts: “It’s not only constantly fortifying the children with prayers that can stop the trend.”
Apart from dealing with constant attack by the devil, especially on their children, seduction from female members of the church is also one thing pastors’ wives have to constantly fight off. And while some have been able to handle the situation with maturity, others have had to tactically ward off seducing ladies from their husbands, simply by being extra-vigilant. Reverend Mrs. Christiana Ayotunde, wife of the Senior Pastor of Grace Assembly International, Ibadan, recounts her experience with one of such ladies and how she managed to block her from her husband.
“I noticed overtime that whenever my husband was going on outside ministration, she always insisted she would be the one to go with him. He always needed backup singers because he sings a lot during ministrations. Any day we asked her not go, she was always angry. Sometimes, even if we did not disclose the venue of the ministration to her, she always would find her way there – somehow. I had to intensify my prayers and then I alerted my husband. Initially, he didn’t take to my words, but when he noticed it too, he had to take caution. I will tell you that I simply intensified my prayers. What we later noticed was that after a few times that she could not make the trip with him, she stopped coming to church.”
Mrs. Abiodun also has her experience to share. Not only do some female members try to seduce her husband, she confirms, they try every trick in the world to achieve their goal. Some, Mrs. Abiodun says, attempt cooking for her husband, especially when she’s out of town.
She recounts: “Somebody close to me wanted to cook for my husband after he finished a seven-day fasting. She insisted she was going to cook edikaikong for him, despite the fact that my children were home and can cook. My children said they told her they had everything to cook for their dad, but she insisted she wanted to cook in my kitchen.
When they refused, she packed the foodstuff and left. She has even stopped coming to church. It was my husband that called my attention to it, because I was in America then. If she had no ulterior motive, why would she pack the foodstuff and leave? She has stopped coming church since then. I have some that would call him and say that they are not happy because he has not called them. I remind him to call them and make them feel happy. But it is the grace of God.”
These women also engage in fervent prayers to strengthen their husbands not to fall for these ‘daughters of eve.’ Occasionally, even before issues get beyond their knowledge, they also seek counsel from their own mentors, who usually are pastors’ wives too. There are periodic seminars and workshops that enhance their work, which they also attend. Different people have different experiences and have different opinions. There are known pastors’ wives who seem to be perfectly happy. Perhaps, they have a thick skin. Maybe, they have a stronger faith than others. Perhaps they haven’t been part of an abusive congregation. Perhaps, they’re faking it. Who knows?
And though sometimes their role makes them want to rip their hair out, most pastors’ wives feel being appreciated goes a long way to dull the pain they bear. Appreciation may come in form of simply sending her a card to tell her how much she means to the church and to you, or even buying her a gift. Whatever it is, pastors’ wives live in a sweet-bitter world. Indeed, the life of a pastor’s wife is a tough one and only the strong and the tough can stand when the waves surge.