A Pastor’s Wife on the Pastor’s Life

By John and Julie Frye

On August 23 this year Julie and I will have been married 44 years. Thirty-eight of those years I have been in pastoral ministry except for two years of teaching at Moody Bible Institute. The first six years of our marriage Julie worked as I completed my seminary education. Reflecting on our time together, I marvel at Julie’s personal stamina, steadfast faithfulness, commendable flexibility, and solid companionship. Here, in her own words, are some observations about being a pastor’s wife.

As our daughters have shared, there are both positive and negative aspects of living in a pastor’s family. As John’s wife, the expectations from the church could be challenging. For example, since I am the pastor’s wife I must have the same spirituality and biblical knowledge as my husband. I wanted to and did develop my own spirituality with pathways meaningful to me. I do recall a very positive conversation, however. An elder of our church answered my question, “Where do you see me fitting in?” His answer was, “Wherever you feel you want to serve.” There was freedom in that answer for me.

It was difficult having our children compared with some of the other children of the church and being held to other parents’ standards. Yet, our girls built strong friendships with others inside and outside of the church. My calling was to my girls primarily and I never felt compromised in that. We had paid vacations, but I felt bad that we did not have money to go to the popular places like Disney World or the Caribbean. Many of our daughters’ friends were able to do those things. I don’t want sympathy; I am just saying  that financial issues are a real part of the ministry family’s challenge. Even though some things were beyond us, we made up for it by having great vacations to see the grandparents or taking trips to Cedar Point or Great America.

I felt my calling was to John, too, and the hardest thing was sharing my husband with others when I needed him the most. Sometimes it seemed John was in endless evening church meetings of one kind or another. One time he spent a whole month in Trinidad on a mission trip. Yikes! One of my daughters echoed this by writing “I see now how much of our lives Dad had to miss because he was part of other people’s lives.” I felt a sense of isolation sometimes. Who do you call when you are hurting? John here: I must confess, too, that many times I was not sensitive to Julie’s needs, but felt burdened to try to be sensitive to the parishioners’ needs. This was not healthy. 

Being in a big church, it was difficult for me to get to know everyone. This was frustrating and I sought out friendships in order to be connected.  I gained many friends who have remained good friends through the years. One of my friends now whom I did not befriend as her pastor’s wife is a loyal, kind person. She told me recently that she always elevated me and didn’t think she could be my friend. Now she says she should have made the effort to get to know me. Also, I enjoyed being involved in small groups at various levels of connection. With some we went to the beach as families; we went to restaurants and danced. With deeper level groups, we shared Scripture, worshipped, grew in Christ, and prayed and prayed. This level of sharing our lives was deeply meaningful to me. The church on Belding Road was unique. We felt loved the moment we stepped foot on the soil. We laughed, we cried, we ate together and traveled together. When we left that church after 24 years, we cried over the loss of many good friends.”

In our formative years at Moody Bible Institute as Julie and I began to date and dream about life together, we were infected with an unexplainable vision of ministry that—no matter what it was: missions, teaching, pastoring—gripped us for the long haul. We knew that people didn’t go into Christian ministry to make huge salaries. We knew that Yahweh-Jireh (“The LORD provides”) was not just a name for God in a praise song, but a necessary reality for vocational Christian ministry. We felt many times the anxiety of too much month and too little money. Yet, we wouldn’t trade our lives for anyone else’s. Julie, I love you.

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  • Mark Stevens

    John, may I ask a question? If you don’t want to answer it that is fine but looking back do you regret being out so much and missing so much of your family life? I am working hard to not miss too much of my family, especially when they’re are young. I am fortunate in our church to have that freedom. We are not a. Program heavy church. I’m just wondering if I am doing something wrong or right. Thanks, Mark.

  • John W. Frye

    Mark, thankfully in my freedom as a pastor, I got to attend the girls’ sporting events–track, cross country, swimming, dance team, band concerts–so it wasn’t a total absence. Perhaps Julie missed me more than the girls. One daughter did mention me missing part of their lives, but wrote that she was not bitter about it. So, I’d encourage you to spend as much time as you can with your family and when you’re with them “be present.” The danger, as one professor told me, is to start failing at family life and so start spending more time where you’re succeeding, i.e., the church. That’s a damnable tactic. About the “need to succeed” rather than be a present husband and father.

  • Scott Eaton

    Thank you Julie and John. I really appreciate this. It very much parallels my own family experience as a pastor.

  • Emily

    Thank you, Julie and John, for sharing openly about your journey in the church.

  • Joni Kirk

    I’m curious if there are folks out there who are wives (and working wives!) of pastors who are bivocational. There are different challenges I’ve experienced, as well as some of these shared challenges.

  • Arlene Rauen

    Joni, I am out here in LA(California) and know well some of the local leader’s wives….some have decided to work full time even though they have children and that responsibility can be more than a full time job….and then their hubbies work full time plus in ministering to their flock….it works for them but I can tell you the women in these cases are not able to one on one be available for the other women in their flock as much….and of course the road can be very lonely relationally….I often as a single women just want to minister to all the leaders wives & women in leadership positions….to encourage them, praying for and with them…Keep pressing into Jesus…Wondering with your challenges, have you considered how older women like me could lighten your load??…as we would love to 🙂

  • Joni Kirk

    Hi Arlene, God bless people like you who do minister to leader wives/women! It definitely is a lonely road. I’m a person a lot of women speak to about their problems/challenges, but find that most people don’t want to return the favor (or it’s wise for me not to do so). I have thought of older women, in particular a retired pastor’s wife, who could mentor/disciple me. The challenge for a bivocational family is always time, however, and my schedule isn’t easy for older women who don’t generally want to go out in the evening. The things that have helped me the most are those kind souls who do take a moment to ask how I’m doing (and hang around for the answer), pray with me, and send notes of encouragement.

  • Mark Stevens

    Thanks John. I appreciate the honesty and advice. Being present while present is perhaps the great challenge of all. Controlling the diary is one thing but controlling the mind is another thing all together.