Thursday, October 13, 2011

WELS Pastors' Wives Survey

** As some of you know, I had to create a survey for my Educational Research class this summer. I didn't have an "educational situation" to use, so I used something synod related and did a survey of the state of WELS Pastors' Wives. It was something that interested me (you know, being a PW) and I was intrigued by the results of the survey. I think another more well-written survey would be interesting to do in the future.

A few of you have asked for the results and report of my survey, so here it is. I'm not sure if the delightfully well-executed graphs and charts will be displayed, but some of the statistical information is listed in the report. Enjoy!

A Survey of Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Pastors' Wives

Background and purpose:

When thinking about the many and varied duties and demands put on our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) pastors, one can forget to consider the heavy load carried by their wives. Our WELS pastors have two families – their spiritual family, of which they are the shepherd, and their actual family, of which they are the head.

As a pastor’s wife, I wanted to hear the reactions of other pastors’ wives and find out about the overall well-being of my fellow sisters in Christ. The survey was focused mainly on the wives attitudes and opinions of how they gauged their husband’s ministry and how their church family treated them, the relationships that pastor’s wives foster between friends and their spouse, and financial matters. The overarching questions I wanted to delve into were:

1. Do pastors’ wives seem generally content and happy with their role as a pastor’s wife?

2. What is the state of the relationships that pastors’ wives foster with friends and their spouse?

3. How do pastors’ wives feel about their family’s financial matters?

4. Have the concerns of pastors’ wives changed over the years?

The exact number of WELS pastors’ wives in the United States is not known. According to the WELS website, there are 1,305 pastors in the United States. I am unable to use this number due to the fact that not all WELS pastors are married, and I’m not sure if all pastors were included in the e-mails. Based on some of the results, there is a section of wives who were unable to be reached, most likely because their husbands are not ministers in a church setting, but rather they are pastors serving as religion teachers in our WELS area Lutheran high schools or called worker training schools, chaplains, etc.

I received 149 surveys, although only 131 of them were fully completed. There were some issues that I was made aware of in regards to the survey completion. I received word that some people were confused by the lack of instruction at the end of the survey, therefore receiving duplicate surveys from a few people. Although I went through and deleted the superfluous surveys, the deleted survey’s answers were still conveyed in the final numbers.


A survey was given to pastors’ wives in the WELS. The survey was created and completed online via The link was sent to the district presidents. They were asked to forward the survey to the pastors in their district, and requested if they could in turn forward it to their wives’ e-mail or make their wives aware that they were asked to complete the survey. I also posted the survey link to my Facebook account and personally e-mailed a number of friends who are pastors’ wives and asked them to complete the survey and to pass along the link to other pastors’ wives they may know.

The majority of the questions were requesting ordinal data in a Likert scale in which the respondents were asked to react to the statement on the following scale: strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, and strongly disagree. Open-ended comments were also allowed for the respondents to verify or validate their reasoning for their answer. Respondents also provided general age data for use in creating a bivariate in a number of different questions.

Findings and Analysis:

The first section of the survey contained information/demographic questions. Out of the 133 respondents that completed the survey, 44.7% were between the ages of 26-40, with the largest age group of respondents between the ages of 31-35 years old (Appendix, Figure 1). The age was a somewhat important factor to this survey as it was used to determine a bivariate correlation in a few questions. Out of the 12 synodical districts, all were represented, but the Minnesota, Arizona-California, Nebraska, and South Central districts had the highest number of respondents (Appendix, Figure 2). Close to 30% of pastor’s families have three children currently, with close to 20% having two children (Appendix, Figure 3). 84% (112) of the respondents’ husbands are currently serving in a WELS congregation, with 16% (20) serving in other areas of the ministry, as retired pastors, chaplains (with Lutheran Home Association or Wisconsin Lutheran Institutional Ministries), military liaisons, synod administrators, area Lutheran High school teachers, or Northwestern Publishing House employees.

The second section of the survey had general church questions, trying to gauge the level of contentment of the wives with their husband’s current ministry situation as well as to try and scope out areas that could be improved (Appendix, Figures 4-10). 88% of the wives either strongly or somewhat agreed that their husband’s work is valued within the congregation (Appendix, Figure 4). A few wives pointed out that their current situation is different than previous situations where their husbands have felt more or less valued.

One question that I was interested to see the response in was this: My own spiritual needs are being met. Many people don’t often think of the pastor’s wife being spiritually deprived, and I wanted to see if that was the case in our WELS pastor’s wives. I was happy to find out that nearly 90% wives responded positively, but what about the other 10%? I wanted to see if I could find a common theme to those 10%. Out of the 14 people who disagreed with the statement, all but 2 were from outlying districts (Arizona-California, North Atlantic, Nebraska, South Atlantic, South Central). One of the reasons for that could be that many churches in outlying districts are smaller, spaced farther apart from one another, or are mission congregations. As one of those respondents noted, “A small mission congregation drains you… I long for a congregation with more help, voices for singing, and interaction.” Another factor I looked at was age. 11 of the 14 who responded negatively were under the age of 35 (read: prime child-bearing years). One respondent voiced her reasoning, “With two small children, it’s hard to focus during church. We have a small, elderly congregation, and I can’t attend Bible class because we don’t have enough children to sustain a Sunday School and no one to watch my kids while I attend.”

The third section discussed the feelings of pastors’ wives in regards to their relationships with friends and family (Appendix, Figures 11-17). These questions ask mainly about how pastor’s wives feel they might be viewed in the public eye, as well as how they feel about their friendships within the congregation. I also wondered about relationship strain between the pastors and their wives. I asked the questions that I did because I wanted to know first of all where our wives are making friends within the community – inside or outside of the church family. I also wanted to know how the basic dynamics of a relationship were for the wives and their husbands, as well as whether or not they felt their husband’s career was detrimental or beneficial to their family life. I also inquired as to whether or not the pastors do activities outside of church/work and if they had friends to do those activities with (to see if the husbands rely mainly on their wives for friendship or have friends outside of church/marriage).

A common theme in the third section was a number of respondents admitted to having strained relationships in the “younger” years, when their husbands were new to the ministry and their families were younger. Many of the wives who responded that they agreed that their relationship was strained were under the age of 40, meaning they are still in the early years of the ministry and their families are still most likely on the younger side.

The fourth section of the survey deals with financial matters (Appendix, Figures 18-21). As many in the WELS know, pastors do not go into their career path for the paycheck. My wonder was if it stressed out the wives, knowing that their husbands work is often filled with stress and long hours without the appropriate compensation. I also was curious to find out if wives felt they needed more income per year to live “comfortably” (meaning not having to stress out about getting bills paid, or worrying about living paycheck to paycheck), making the assumption that pastors’ wives wouldn’t answer greedily. I also wanted to know what they believed pastor’s salaries should be, taking into consideration the level of education they need as well as the hours worked.

There were some questions that were included in the survey that were not reported in the appendix because after evaluating the results I realized the questions were superfluous and not relevant to the outcome of the study. The questions left out of the findings were: In your married life, has your family ever taken part in public assistance (i.e. WIC, food stamps, health care, etc.); if you answered “yes” to the previous questions, please list the types of public assistance you were on and the length of time you used them, and; how much does your husband make in his yearly salary? My reasoning for taking these out was because they were not relevant to any findings, and I felt these questions were emotionally charged at the time of creating the survey.

Based on the survey results, financial stress plays a large part of families who have been in the ministry for less than ten years and families who are close to retirement. I believe the reasons for financial stress playing such a large factor in younger families is the cost of living rising quickly, small salaries or salary freezes, and other issues like health-related problems such as food allergies (specialized diets requiring higher priced foods). In older couples closer to retirement a number of respondents voiced issues with saving for retirement due to lifelong lower salaries, having to pay for their children’s schooling (secondary and post-secondary education), and having to purchase housing later in their career and being unable to buy because of little to no equity.

The two questions I really wanted to find out the answers to provided some interesting open-ended answers. In regards to the findings of the open-ended questions of Questions 27 and 28, some of the answers were not a dollar amount, but a dollar range. When tabulating the results, I took the lowest dollar range, for instance, if someone answered “$5,000-$10,000” I scored it under the $5,000 category. Some of the answers also were also not listed as exact dollar amounts and were listed in the “Other” category, and some were noted in the Appendix.

The final section was one that was based off an article written for Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly in the early 1980s, “The Problems Facing a Pastor’s Wife Today”. I wanted to see if the same problems from the later 1970s and early 1980s were still an issue and applicable to pastor’s wives today in 2011, around 30 years after the original study was completed and the article written (Appendix, Figure 22). To find these, I had the fifteen original choices for the respondents and asked them to rate them one through six, one being the biggest disadvantage to being a pastors’ wife and so on.

Based on the surveys completed, many of the issues that were deemed disadvantageous in the 1970s and 1980s still ring true. Financial stress ranked higher (recall aforementioned reasons), as did lack of personal friends and not being able to share with other church couples. I found that very intriguing as we live in the technological age and are easily able to keep in touch with friends and family via e-mail, Skype, Facebook, and other means, yet the pastors’ wives are feeling alone and lacking in personal friendships.


Although I did not write the survey with a predetermined conclusion, the conclusions reached after examining this survey are what I suspected they might be. Pastor’s wives, for the most part, are a happy and contented lot, and while they face many of the same day-to-day challenges that non-clergy families face, they also do have some unique challenges that are common to many clergy families. I did notice that on the questions where it was offered, the numbers of those who responded with “neither agree nor disagree” was higher than I anticipated. To me that could mean one of two things, either people honestly did not know how to respond; or they were afraid to voice their opinions (despite the fact their response would be anonymous).


I believe that the results of this particular survey overall were positive. Looking at the individual questions we do find room for improvement on how to reach out and care for our pastor’s wives. Providing camaraderie and fellowship for pastors’ wives as a circuit, district, or as a synod whole is something that I feel should be strongly considered. The pastors have opportunities for enrichment and study with their colleagues in circuit meetings or district conventions, and I believe family conferences or circuit get-togethers would be beneficial for pastors’ wives to connect with other fellow pastors’ wives.

The WELS has a Called Worked Care Committee that operates successfully and with much accord in certain areas of the country. I think expanding that service to all synod districts would be of extreme benefit to the pastor and his wife. Having someone to minister to the clergy family, even on a semi-annual basis would take a load off circuit pastors (who are most likely already overworked) and give opportunity to semi-retired or retired pastors who want to continue in the ministry part-time.

I also would like to see a mentoring program start. There are meetings that begin for seminary students’ wives and fiancĂ©es affectionately called “The Sem Gems” that give newlywed wives some idea of what their life will be like as a pastor’s wife, but what about those wives who marry after their husband is in the ministry? Having a mentoring program on a circuit or district level would be helpful to a new pastors’ wife or just any pastor’s wife in general.


A Survey of Pastors’ Wives in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Figure 2

2. What district is your husband currently serving?

Figure 3

3. How many children do you have?

Figure 4

7. It is evident our congregation values the work my husband does.

“It’s true at the congregation we are at now, but not all.”

Figure 5

8. I have been compared to previous pastors’ wives.

“Yes, but never anything negative.”

“Some members have gone as far as to tell me that our furniture is in the wrong place because it’s not where Mrs. So-and-So had it. It’s sort of frustrating and funny at the same time.”

Figure 6

9. I am expected to be an extension of my husband within the church (i.e. leading womens’ Bible study, running Sunday School, etc.).

“I serve where I am gifted, based on my own assessment of what those gifts are.”

“Not only am I expected, but if I don’t there aren’t certain classes or groups.”

Figure 7

10. The congregation supports and shows interest in my personal endeavors (hobbies/interests work, etc.).

Figure 8

11. I am able to find the daily joys and rewards in my husband’s work.

Figure 9

12. My own spiritual needs are being met.

“This is due to my own shortcomings. People are willing to help me during services but I do not want to prevent them from hearing the Word because they are helping me.”

“A small mission congregation drains you. I long for a larger congregation with more help, voices for singing, and interaction.”

“Because of the kids, I’m not able to attend any Bible classes (we have no Sunday School or people able/willing to watch them).”

Figure 10

13. I feel that our family is appreciated and loved by our congregation.

“Even now in congregations that my husband is not pastor of, I feel support of the people I know.”

“In spite of all the headaches, the Lord has always blessed my husband’s work and the congregations have thrived. The good members know this and appreciate it, even if they don’t always express it – until you leave!”

Figure 11

14. Making close friends with other women at church is difficult because of my husband’s role in the church.

Figure 12

15. Most of my friends are from outside the church family.

“We have learned that it’s not really wise to be super close friends with members.”

“I have close friends both at church and at my place of employment.”

Figure 13

16. When talking to my friends outside of the church, I am able to tell them about my feelings about things that go on at church.

“… I won’t share any negative feelings with unchurched.”

“I never make the congregation sound like a burden to me…”

“I do tell them about and invite them to church functions.”

Figure 14

17. My husband and I get the time we need as a couple.

“We make it work. Can’t always have the time set aside… we’re just creative and know that some days are gonna be less with more creativity. We spend a lot of time checking in with each other throughout the day.”

“More so now that in the earlier years of the ministry.”

Figure 15

18. I feel my relationship with my husband is strained because of his job.

“Not at this point in the ministry but DEFINITELY in the early years.”

“My husband and I start each day reading devotional books together and talking about what we read. We have realized this is vitally important for us…”

Figure 16

19. My husband has friends that he spends time with doing activities outside of church.

“He recently said he has no time for friends because his time is spent at church stuff or with us.”

“Spending one weekend of the year with his hunting buddies helps keep his sanity!”

Figure 17

20. My husband gets adequate time with his family.

“Yes for now, but in the earlier years, no.”

“While the church itself is not concerned with this factor, my husband knows how to maximize the family time to be quality family time.”

Figure 18

21. Our family income is a great source of stress to me.

“Earlier in the ministry, very much so. Not so much now.”

“Money in general is a source of stress… I see this more as a faith issue than a salary issue… I do resent the wage freeze of the last few years.”

“We are frugal and the Lord provides. I do know that other called workers’ families are in extreme financial binds—much of which they brought on themselves. Some of the younger ‘Sem Gems’ are not prepared to be pastors’ wives.”

Figure 19

23. Do you have a job?

“I have to work in order to send our children to a Lutheran high school. I wish I didn’t have to choose between being a stay-at-home mom for our younger children or sending our other ones to an ALHS.”

“I stay at home to be with our children.”

Figure 20

27. At this point in your life, how much extra income could your family use YEARLY to live comfortably (at the point where you wouldn’t have to stress about bills, living paycheck to paycheck, etc.)?

* “We are content with the basic necessities of life – we don’t have cable, only have one vehicle, we encourage our kids to use their imaginations… presently they are okay with not having video/computer/game consoles. The big thing I get concerned about is affording a Lutheran high school.”

* “…we are doing well but it would be lovely to have our expensive fuel oil paid for since we use heat 9 months of the year.”

* “…living comfortably??? Living at the beach would be it. We are landowners of lake property and ranch land. We are good with 3 in college next year will be a challenge but good.”

* “It’s all about living within our means. I don’t stress now about bills due to how we budget. If we had extra income, we agree it would increase our offerings and savings.”

* “I’m fine with the amount of money, it’s not getting paid on time that’s a stressor.”

* “… I don’t really stress about these things as God always seems to provide. That being said we are paying two post-secondary tuitions and have no retirement fund.”

* “We are living comfortably, in part because my small incomes help pay for the extras. The concern is for our retirement years.”

* “At this point we are doing fine as long as my husband is in a congregation, but we won’t be able to retire.”

* “I would really like decent dental coverage. What is currently available to us is pathetic, so we have to pay out of pocket…”

* “We live okay, but would like to save more for retirement.”

* “Enough money to help three kids through college.”

Figure 21

28. Taking into account what education a WELS pastor needs to have in order to do his job and his job demands, what do you believe a WELS pastor’s yearly salary should be?

* “…come on people, 8 years of higher education, 24/7 on call, $30,000 just doesn’t cut it. I do understand that congregations really can’t afford more though.”

* “Enough so they can afford a Christian education for their children through high school.”

* “Much more than it is! It’s hard to say, it depends on the congregation I suppose.”

* “Whatever the Lord leads the congregation to offer.”

* “That’s hard to answer. My husband does his job because he loves it. It’s hard to put a price tag on the Lord’s Work. That being said, pastors do not earn what their education should get them.”

* “Just what it is. We should be satisfied with what the Lord gives us.”

* “He does have a masters? But how does his income affect the opportunity to share for the kingdom. You could pay him lots and yet not have the money to do the ministry. Not a good question. But if the church is sitting on half a million and the pastor’s family is suffering there’s something wrong. I think the men should have mandatory education every year, which would benefit the men to have someone encourage and educate them…”

* “Salary should be compared to what social workers make…”

* “I think about our sons going into the ministry and it makes me want to discourage them for this reason alone. I hated living paycheck to paycheck when they were little. They should easily start out at $35,000, or more than a public school teacher makes.”

* “I know God takes care of us in all situations… I feel synod code is adequate, but each congregation should also consider the cost of living for their area and adjust accordingly.”

* “In 1955, $5,000 a year. Today, I don’t know.”

* “On a par for the average income of his congregation. He didn’t become a pastor for wealth, riches, or fame.”

* “Should depend on the size of the congregation and the cost of living in the area.”

* “Tough question, but it seems a masters’ degree should be compensated higher.”

* “More than our synod allows.”

* “More than it is. 25 years into the ministry and I feel we should be making more than what we are.”

* “It depends on housing and cost of living.”

* “Enough so that his wife doesn’t need to choose between stay-at-home mom or a job.”

* “I have no idea – enough to take care of his family and himself and not be a pauper when he retires (if he ever does!).”

* It depends on several factors. My husband has a doctorate… and he will never be compensated accordingly (nor does he expect it)… Perhaps the best answer is to say ‘Average to what all the other members make in the congregation.’”

* “Beginning at least with $40K a year to help with the debt they start out with.”

* “It depends on experience of course. My husband works a lot harder and gets paid much less than many older pastors in our area. That is at least as bothersome as comparing ourselves to what people in other professions make.”

* “Every congregation is different with unique needs, required different skills sets and hence different salaries.”

* “This is a silly question.”

* “His salary was okay, but now our health, eye, and dental have been taken away.”

Figure 22

29. The Problems Facing a Pastor’s Wife Today – comparing 1980s to 2011

Top 6 Disadvantages in the 1980s

1. Time pressures due to husband’s heavy schedule

2. Husband, serving others, neglects own family

3. Financial stress

4. No one ministers to the clergy family

5. Lack of family privacy – a goldfish bowl existence

6. Children expected to model church’s expectations

Top 6 Disadvantages in 2011

1. Time pressures due to husband’s heavy schedule

2. Financial stress

3. Husband on call 24/7

4. No one ministers to the clergy family

5. Lack of personal friends

6. No in-depth sharing with other church couples