Life in a Pastor’s Family

I’ve been half heartedly following the case of Mary Winkler, the pastor’s wife that killed her husband in TN. I’m not surprised by it.

Now experts are coming out of the wood work to talk about the trials and tribulations of ministry families. Focusing on the the pressures and problems that often accompany the job.

Growing up with a pastor/missionary I know first hand the stresses and challenges that come with the job. The congregation often comes first and the family second.

As a kid, it’s like growing up with many parents because everyone feels like they have the right to tell you what to do. As a wife, you’re expected to perform certain duties at the church, be the perfect hostess and participate in all of your husbands functions.

Most times I wonder if the congregation actually sees their pastor and their family as people or just someone there to make their spirituality easier, expecting them to live as they wish they could or should. In most churches pastor’s families tend to become local celebrities, often talked about, judged and yet held on a pedastol. The mask we’re supposed to wear is one of joy, peace and ultimately perfection.

In grad school, one of my professors, Cameron Lee, is a leading researcher on pastor’s and their families. He’s written several books such as Life in a Glass House that discuss how clergy have no support system. They have few friends and even fewer people they can trust with their problems. They rarely get the chance to shut off and just be themselves. It takes a strong person with healthy boundaries to navigate this emotional terrain.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Mary Winkler. In time her motive will be revealed and we’ll know what happened inside their seemingly perfect ministry family.


Posted on April 1, 2006, in Psychobabbling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I wondered if you were following this. I have my suspicions about her motive.

    The former pastor at our church was a very unusual type of guy. He let all his flaws show and his wife was completely normal and outspoken. I’ll never forget the first fourth of July we went to his pool party and he was drinking beer and his wife was drinking wine coolers. His daughters are actually my good friends. They speak very openly about how difficult it is to have the stigma of PK attached to them but the whole family is very normal.

  2. so i hadn’t heard of this case before reading your post. of course i was intrigued…
    interesting sidenotes:
    1. turns out Matthew’s dad AND grandfather were both pastors and famous ones who wrote books, at that. talk about family pressure. layers of ministry family wackness there.
    2. almost every single article i saw on the case described the Winklers as a model/happy family. of course they were! they were the pastor’s family! feel free to roll your eyes.
    3. the conspiracy theories that are now flying around seem to lay blame on him: either he was gay (really? after 4 pregnancies?) or he was molesting his kids. no one seems to really be thinking that perhaps a pastor’s wife, who married young into a Pastoral Dynasty, just snapped after years of pressure to be a perfect mom and wife. if everyone thinks they were the “model, happy family” who could she have turned to if she was afraid or depressed or overwhelmed? that sort of constant emotional isolation could absolutely drive someone crazy… and if she IS bipolar, or schizo, or any number of psychological maladies, do you really think a “perfect ministry couple” would have been public enough about that to get treatment?
    i hope the dialogue about this case turns from “what did Matthew do to provoke his own shooting” to “what can pastors’ families do to be less isolated from their congregations?”

  3. It just makes me very, very sad. No one ever wants to think the worst is going to happen, but sometimes it does. Maybe she struggled with depression for years. Maybe she had other mental problems that were swept under the rug given who her husband and his family were. Who knows? Something went horribly wrong. I think a dialogue on how pastors need a stronger support system is essential. Who gives back to them? Who nurtures them? Who keeps them accountable for life balance? It’s fascinating to think of the personalities that are attracted to the position and the women drawn into that.

  4. The various reports on this story I have read report him as perfect and her as quiet/shy. My first thought and conintuing thoughts were: Hmmmm.. Her: shy? or depressed? Him: perfect or perfect f*cker?

    Won’t be surprised if there was a whole dark underbelly to this story.

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