Lori Wilhite on Unique Challenges of Spouses of Pastors



Lori_Wilhite_podcastWelcome to the unSeminary podcast and thanks for spending some time with us today. We have Lori Wilhite speaking with us for this episode. Lori leads a ministry called Leading and Loving It targeted at pastors’ wives and women in ministry. Her husband is the senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. She went to school to become a teacher and never intended to marry a pastor. But along the way she met Jud and became a pastor’s wife. Lori admits that the first few years living this life were a struggle. She put a lot of pressure on herself and didn’t feel that she met the criteria to be a pastor’s wife. She also fought through depression and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how she fit into this role. Once God helped her battle through it all and come to a place of peace with herself, Lori realized that there had to be other women out there feeling the same things she had, and so she made it her mission to offer help to them.

  • The struggle of isolation and loneliness. // Usually the first question pastors’ wives have is, “Who do you talk to?” For most pastors’ wives, the circle of who they can really talk to is very tiny. Even if they have friends within the church, it would be inappropriate to talk about church struggles with them. “There were times when I felt like the answer is no one,” Lori admits. The truth is there are many others out there who understand that struggle. Reaching out to other pastors’ wives and getting to know and trust them can be a huge help in unlocking that feeling of isolation. Others are going through the same struggles and issues, and so Lori uses her ministry to connect these women together.
  • You don’t have to take one for the team. // Many pastors may not understand the pressures their wives are going through if their wives don’t share these struggles with their husbands. For a long time Lori felt like she shouldn’t bother her husband with her own church-related problems because he was doing what God had called him to do and she didn’t want to add more concerns to his work. But Lori notes this mentality is very self-destructive – being open with each other is key for any husband and wife.
  • Connect with others who understand your struggle. // The challenges of women in ministry vary depending on their role in ministry. The struggles that a pastor’s wife has are different than the struggles that a female pastor or other woman in ministry experiences. It’s important to connect with other women who function in the same role and understand those particular challenges. That is what Lori set out to do with Leading and Loving It. Women can connect through the online message board or through in-person groups. Additionally the organization offers several resources and other helpful content on their site as well as retreats, both online and in Las Vegas.

You can learn more about Leading and Loving It through their website LeadingandLovingIt.com. You can also reach Lori through the contact form on the site or connect with her on Instagram @LoriWilhite.

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Episode Highlights

00:29 // Rich introduced Lori Wilhite and welcomes her to the show.

00:58 // Lori tell us her background and what encouraged her to start Leading and Loving It.

04:20 // Lori talks about the biggest struggle for a Pastor’s wife.

05:24 // Lori gives advice on unlocking isolation and loneliness.

07:20 // Lori talks about Pastors being aware of their wife’s pressures.

08:34 // Rich gives an example of how his wife deals with the pressures of being a Pastor’s wife.

09:20 // Lori talks us through the resources of Leading and Loving it.

12:20 // Rich offers Lori’s contact details.

12:55 // Lori talks through the different challenges facing women in ministry today.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Zoom and Claiming Center

Ministries Following // Central, Cross Point, Church by the Glades, People Of The Second Chance and Mike Foster

Inspiring Leader // Kay Warren

What does he do for fun // Books, Movies, TV, Music, Spending time with her husband

Contact // leadingandlovingit.com and Instagram @loriwilhite

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts. So glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us today.

Today we’re honored to have Lori Wilhite with us, all the way from Las Vegas, always great to talk to somebody from Vegas. Lori leads a ministry called Leading and Loving It. I want to really dive into that today and hear all about that. They really hope to encourage women to really have healthy marriages, healthy families, healthy ministries. A great organization, Lori welcome to the show.

Lori – Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.

Rich – Nice, well why don’t you tell us, give us a bit of your story. Give us the Lori Wilhite story.

Lori – Oh gosh. Well my husband Jud is the Senior Pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. We’ve been married for, we’re almost to our 20th anniversary.

Rich – Nice, so am I, this fall.

Lori – That’s exciting.

Rich – My wife and I coming up this fall.

Lori – So I never thought I would marry a Pastor, that was never kind of in the plan. I went to school to become a teacher and then I met Jud and just thought he was the greatest thing ever and then I decided that he was the guy that I wanted to marry and really I would have married him if he was flipping burgers somewhere or doing something else. I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I became a Pastor’s wife, but I kind of jumped in blind, which maybe was the best thing, I might have been scared off if I had known what it was going to be like.

So probably the first 8 to 10 years were a struggle for me. I really struggled with just the pressures and I put a lot of expectations on myself, feeling like, “If this is the bar for a Pastor’s wife, then I’m somewhere in here and I’m not sure I can ever get up to what I’m supposed to be,” whatever that was.

I didn’t feel like I was typical, I just didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing as a Pastor’s wife, so I floundered a lot. The more Jud moved up in leadership and the tighter our circle got and the more isolated I felt and ended up spending a couple of years really struggling with some depression and trying to kind of fight my way out of that.

Then once I got healthy and God got me back on my feet, I felt more secure in who I was and trusted him, that if he put me in this world then oh my goodness, then he might know what he was doing. Then I thought, “Surely there’s somebody else out there that is like me. Like I’ll go on the internet and I’ll see if I can find them.”

I tried to find out some Pastor’s wife things and I never really found anything. So I thought, “Well I’ll just start something,” and started, almost 8 years ago, it was a pretty poorly written blog if I’m being very honest, but these Pastor’s wives were sort of like coming out of the woodwork and really quickly, I realized, no I’m actually very typical as a Pastor’s wife, who struggles with insecurity and loneliness and hurt and doesn’t understand how to deal with the criticism that you face and all of that stuff and we’re just trying to love Jesus and love the people we’re called to minister to, imperfectly, and to figure that out.

So I figured, “Oh my goodness, I am typical. So maybe God can use me and the friends that I have made to make a difference in the lives of Pastor’s wives and women in ministry.”

So we’ve doing that for the last 8 years, our hook is to try and help them become healthy so that ministries and families can be healthy. So we just spend a lot of our time pouring into them and equipping them, connecting them and impacting them. So that’s what we do.

Rich – Very cool. Why don’t we pause and talk a little bit about some of those pressures that you see, that you deal with, wives of Pastors, what are some of those that you see all the time, what would be the typical scenario that you hear about quite a bit?

Lori – Probably number one is always isolation and loneliness. It’s usually the first question we get anytime we’re sitting with Pastor’s wives, meeting with them, is the, “Who do you talk to?” question.

Rich – Right.

Lori – Because for most of us the, “Who do you talk to?” questions are very timely. Even if you’ve got some friends in your church, it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about church struggles and the staff, if they’re giving you a hard time, or if you’re struggling with the board members, those kinds of church struggles aren’t appropriate to share with your church members, because you want to push their worship experience.

So the “Who do you talk to?” question becomes really, really challenging, it becomes almost, where there are times where I thought like, the answer is, “No one.”

Rich – Right.

Lori – So I don’t know what to do with that and a lot of people are there. So isolation is a huge one.

Rich – Now how do you then coach someone in that situation? What would be some of your advice to a women that’s maybe facing that today?

Lori – Well for me, the big key to unlocking isolation was building a community with other Pastor’s wives, specifically for me as a Senior Pastor’s wife, because I don’t have to say very much and they get it and I can say, “This weird awful thing happened last week,” and they say, “Oh that happened to us the week before.”

So we kind of have a level of understanding and so what I encourage people to do is to be very proactive in trying to form relationships with other people and like roles. So we do, with a huge, with the rest of our ministry, is trying to help them do that.

So we have online groups that are based around their roles. We have local groups that people can meet at coffee shops, all of it’s kind of based in that. We have so much more in common than we have different. We may come from different nations or have different church styles or worship styles or whatever, but at the end of the day we have so much more in common and we’re serving Jesus, we’re called to ministry, we have a lot of the same common struggles. So if we can pull into community with one another, we break those isolation bonds and for a lot of people it unlocks some of their issues with depression and all of that.

So we really try to encourage people and that takes some bravery, a lot of us in ministry have been hurt relationally, whether that be from people leaving the church or being gossiped about or betrayed at any kind of level, different things that happen to us in ministry. So we build up walls and we don’t want to take those risks of community, but it’s a bigger risk to stay in isolation than it is to risk being in community. So we just try to really encourage people to be proactive in seeking that out for themselves.

Rich – Now do you find that there may be some Pastors that are serving today, that are a little bit oblivious to the pressure that their spouses are feeling? Is that a common thing or are they aware of it and they’re just not sure what to do?

Lori – You know, it probably could go either way. A lot of it probably depends on how much their wife is telling them. For me, for a long time, I just felt like, “I have to take one for the team. I shouldn’t say anything, I shouldn’t make him feel guilty. I shouldn’t bring up these issues. I’ve just got to suck it up and take one for the team because he’s doing what God’s called him to do.”

He’s great, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was in God’s world for his life. So I didn’t want to bring up, “Here are all the struggles I have, here’s what I don’t like about this, here’s what I want you to quit doing,” because I just felt like it would be hindering his ministry. So I didn’t say anything, so Jud did not know all what was going on in my mind and heart and life.

There are other wives who are much more vocal and their husbands are probably clear on what is going on. So now Jud is, now I’ve learned like, the take one for the team mentality is really self-destructive, so now we’re very, very open about where each of us are at and what we’re dealing with, with ministry, challenges.

So it probably, definitely depends on how much their wives are sharing with them about what’s going on in their own emotional life.

Rich – Very cool. I know my own wife, she does an incredible thing where she meets once a month with a group of wives of Pastors that are kind of in our close friendship. I know that has been incredibly life giving for them, because there is that moment where, I think in some ways I feel bad for her. If there’s pressure on the work front at church, I think she almost feels it more strongly than I do, because it’s hard to see someone that you love going through something that is difficult. In some ways it’s easier to be going through than it is to watch someone go through it and I know they found that incredibly life giving for sure.

Now how do you structure the ministry at Leading and Loving It? What are providing from like a resource point of view? Do you do conferences, that sort of thing?

Lori – Yeah, so we have 3 kind of arms of what we do. So we have the equip side, that’s going to be anything from our blog to our resource development, that would be bible studies and eBooks and all that kind of stuff.

We also have an online conference that is up for the year, you just hop online, sign up for it, and it delivers to your email once a day for 15 days, just little short videos from people. Like this year Bobbie Houston and Holly Furtick and Jennie Lusko and Brandie Wilson and all these amazing Pastor’s wives who share just one thing about their life, their leadership, their ministry and this year it’s in relation to Isaiah 61.

So that’s a great thing that we offer, it just drops encouragement and challenge and all that, right into your lap, while you’re doing your makeup, which is great.

Rich – Yeah very cool.

Lori – So we do that, that’s kind of our equip arm. We have our connect arm, which we have a few different things. One is our connect life groups, so like the small groups in your church, except they’re all online. So they’ll have anywhere from 10 to 20 gals in it, they meet once a month for an hour and a half, 2 hours. They look at each other in little boxes on their screen but they develop the most beautiful friendships and community. When they’re in need they’re mailing cookies across the country and they’re taking in each other’s children for summer mission things. They’re really great groups and they’re providing exactly what you were talking about, that your wife has, just people to lean on, get advice from, be prayed for.

Then we have connects local groups, there’s about 35 of those around the country and people just meet at coffee shops or at houses. It could be 2 or 3 people, it could be, in some cases 30 people and they just cheerlead each other and encourage each other.

Then we have our yearly conference which is called Retreat and our hope is that people can just come and just treat themselves to some community, some encouragement to get some life back into them, to catch their breath a little bit, so they can go back into ministry filled up. This year, that’s in the end of October in Vegas at my church and we’ll have 800 Pastor’s wives or women in ministry from around the world, last year Zimbabwe was there randomly.

Rich – Wow that’s really cool.

Lori – That was awesome. Then we have an impact arm, which is a lot of our mission stuff and just how we pull together to, not only impact the people in our ministries but globally and then each other as well. That’s where we have all of our leadership stuff.

So that’s kind of the way we have it organized and the way we’re able to kind of pour back into these people who pour so much into the ministries that they’re involved in.

Rich – Well I would encourage people, there’s literally hundreds, actually a couple of thousand church leaders listening in, and I really would encourage them to check out your website. It’s just leadingitandlovingit… Oh leadingandlovingit.com.

Lori – Right.

Rich – There’s no it after leading. It’s leadingandlovingit.com.

Lori – Right.

Rich – It really will point you in the right direction, give you a sense of everything that is available. I love what you guys are doing, I think you’re providing a great support, I think a really important support for a lot of women, both Pastor’s wives or spouses, and then also women in ministry.

Maybe we’ll pivot a little bit to the women in ministry side of the equation. Tell us a little bit about that, what would you say are some of the unique challenges for women who are in ministry today?

Lori – Well I think it varies depending on their role and it also varies depending on whether their husband is in ministry or not. We have a lot of gals around Leading and Loving It that maybe they’re leading the Children’s Ministry or the Women’s Ministry, maybe their husband’s an accountant or a judge or whatever. Some of them are leading Christian non-profit organizations and so they have more unique challenges, when they’re probably more similar to what Jud and I have, which is I’m not on staff, I’m not in ministry, it’s him. So it’s very similar to that. So they are their own unique challenges.

Then there are the ones who work at churches and their husband also works there, which brings another challenge, working together, living together, figuring all of that out as well.

Then we have the single women in ministry as well, who are trying to figure out how to balance that season of their life as well as ministry.

So it kind of depends on where they’re at and what that is like. I know there are definitely women who are trying to figure out, “When I walk into the boys’ club meeting, how do I lead in that situation, what kinds of things should I say?” and people are trying to figure that. So that’s why it’s so important, because I don’t know that world, I don’t work at our church, I like it that way.

Rich – “I want to keep it that way.”

Lori – I don’t understand those challenges personally, so that’s why it’s so important for them to be in these groups with each other with these other women who get it, so that they can really encourage each other and cheer each other on.

So I would say we have all of those people that come to Retreat, all of those people that are part of our different things, but definitely the different challenges. Women in ministry is such a wide group of women and those challenges definitely vary.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.