Standing at 6-feet-tall, Jessie Roseberry of Indiana can still recall when she first fell in love with her husband. It was on the campus of her Christian college about a decade ago. She locked eyes with someone “amazingly” taller than her. At 6-foot-7-inches tall, Eric Roseberry would later become a pastor, her best friend and her husband.
In 2005, the 19-year-old was completing a dual degree in nursing and missionary studies. She said it was his “peculiar” but “attractive” height that first grabbed her attention. She couldn’t help but notice his “wide” and “bright” smile from ear to ear.
Eric Roseberry approached his future wife, and the conversation that ensued instantly revealed an “irresistible” and “romantic” chemistry. Jessie Roseberry already had a boyfriend at the time. But immediately after the encounter, she broke things off with her boyfriend because she knew she had met her future husband.
That same year, the two got married and became the Roseberrys. Four years later, in 2009, they founded a church called City of God Church in Lafayette, with Eric Roseberry serving as the head pastor. Now, the couple have four children.
As October marks Pastor Appreciation Month, the 35 year old is reflecting on the blessings and challenges she's experienced being a pastor’s wife since her early 20s.
“As a husband, Eric is very faithful and affirming. He embodies love for me and our kids, and I’m not worried about him wishing he was with someone else,” Jessie Roseberry told The Christian Post. “As a pastor, he is gifted, he preaches wonderfully and he is resilient. He is the most humble and approachable person I know.”
Being married to a pastor, she said, has been rewarding and a blessing. Not only is she a pastor’s wife, but she also helps run the church’s women’s ministry. The role hasn’t come without what she describes as “relational trauma,” however.
Although Roseberry praised the blessings, prayers and support she and her husband have received over the years, she's also experienced church members treating her differently because of her husband’s role in the church.
“But being a pastor’s wife is a unique position that many people don’t understand, and I’ve struggled in friendship relationships,” she said.
Despite the challenges pastors’ wives face, Roseberry said she hasn't felt isolated in her experiences. She's been in close contact with many other pastors’ wives through a support program called Acts 29 Wives Support Program.
The support group is run by five regional wives support coordinators across the United States to build and recruit volunteer teams, check-in with pastors’ wives monthly, send gifts, host get-togethers, bond over dinners and plan overnight retreats. Roseberry is one of the regional support coordinators.
“I grew up in a small community where I saw a lot of pastors' wives, and at first, I never thought I could fit the role when I met Eric because I’m not the stereotype of being super quiet, running children’s ministry or the front-row-churchy girl,” Roseberry said. “But after I joined Acts 29, I learned that I don’t have to be the stereotypical first lady of the church, and I don’t have to fit into a certain mold that society has created for the role of a pastor’s wife. I have made a ton of friends, and it’s been an incredible journey.”
Discerning people’s real motives
On a few occasions, Roseberry said congregants have pretended to be her friend, but later discovered they only wanted to spend time with her to get closer to her husband in hopes of having certain sermon topics covered or receiving preferential treatment from the pastor.
“They used me to get to the pastor, and because of that, I have had to learn how to have healthy boundaries by refusing to be a liaison between them and my pastor-husband,” she said. “Sometimes, I experience fears that if I wasn’t the pastor’s wife, would these people desert me. This is a real fear.”
It can be painful to feel like an “other," Roseberry said, because she's the pastor’s wife.
“People tend to assume that I’m supposed to look and act a certain way,” she added. “Real friendship relationships are possible for pastor’s wives, but it usually involves digging past all that and discerning what people’s real motives are.”
Acts 29 surveyed hundreds of pastors’ wives about their perception of how their churches treat them. The responses were gathered from two questionnaires sent to Acts 29 pastors’ wives earlier this year.
Out of 300 responses, the percentage of pastors' wives who strongly agreed that they “feel supported by their church family” was 44%, and 45% said they “agree” with that statement.
About 17.2% of pastors’ wives surveyed said they strongly agree that “friendships within the church come easily” to them, while 42.45% said they “agree,” 26.84% responded with “neutral,” and 11.02% said they “disagree.” Just over 2% said they “strongly disagree” that friendships in the church come easily to them.
Acts 29 Director of Wives Support, Kirsten Black, 46, has been married for nearly two decades to her husband, Vince Black, the pastor of The Town Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. The church was planted in 2010.
The two met at a Christian summer camp as young adults and bonded over their love for Jesus. They have been married for 21 years.
“Being a pastor’s wife brings many challenges to relationships because all your church friends are tied to your husband’s work,” Kirsten Black told CP.
Because she and her husband have a teenage son battling leukemia, she is in and out of hospitals and can't be more actively involved in volunteering within her church.
Black said she's experienced church members being hesitant to talk to her because they think she is “holier” than other women in the church. She's also experienced people only wanting her friendship because of her connection to the pastor rather than genuine bonds.
“People tend to view the pastor as sort of like a celebrity, and they see it as significant to know the pastor’s wife,” she added. “Sometimes people even make the assumption that the pastor’s wife has the same gifting as the pastor or that the pastor’s wife has more gifting than other women in the church — which is not always the case.”
“Making friends with congregants as the pastor’s wife always takes careful navigating and seeing which relationships you have to be more guarded in and which ones you can be more open in,” she continued.