Category Archives: Identity
I had an interesting talk with the Senior Pastor’s wife at my church the other day. She told me that she NEVER opens her home up to people because she wants to keep it as the one place in her family’s life where they have peace. I hadn’t thought about it before our conversation, but she doesn’t have parties or people over to her house at all. Our socializing is at coffee shops and restaurants. Do you think a pastor’s house should be open or closed?
Locked Up Tight in Louisiana
Dear Locked Up Tight,
I think there is value in both trains of thought on this topic. On the one hand, I understand the need to have one “safe” place in your family’s life where you can hide away from the pressures and eyeballs of those who keep us in a constant ministry spotlight. On the other hand, when we keep our lives behind closed doors, we deprive a desperate world of the opportunity to know how a godly family can thrive in stress and struggle.
Personally, I lean towards a more relational style in my household. It’s in our family’s DNA to be open with all of who we are including keeping our door open to every stray person that wants to stop by and talk. We like it that way and are willing to sacrifice routine and peace to accept people into our home, however, this style of ministry can easily get out of control. When I start to see my kids wincing as I throw an extra roast in my grocery cart, I know that we are in the red zone on the open door policy.
On the other hand, your pastor’s wife is wise to protect her home and declare it a place of peace. Boundaries are good. In ministry, we have a tendency to forget that it is ok to take a Sabbath and limit access to ourselves. Jesus disappeared frequently to be by himself. He didn’t keep himself in the middle of the crowds at all times and neither should we. There’s balance in making sure that your family has a place of solitude.
There’s no denying that it’s biblical for pastor’s spouses to be hospitable. I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make hospitality a ministry requirement for pastors. The New Testament is wrought with scripture encouraging Christians to be welcoming in their homes. How and when you exercise that hospitality needs to be a family discussion. A parade of people in and out of your home may not be for you. Either way, it’s important to define how your home will run or others will define it for you.
I’ll leave you with this thought: Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of sitting around in your underwear all day.
I’m finding it difficult to trust people. In our first church, I had a really good friend who was one of the deacon’s wives. We got along great until I found out that she had shared something with her husband that I had told her in confidence and it came up at a deacon’s meeting. Every since then, I have avoided friendships at church. I am struggling because I know that avoiding people is not the best way to minister to them! How do you become friends while maintaining your distance? Is that even possible?
Hermit the Wife
Dear Hermit the Wife,
Yes, it is possible. It’s time to come out of the shadows and start to mingle with the masses! Now, I’m not going to pretend that this issue is all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I want to retreat and find a hole to hide in as well. You have asked a difficult question that requires some trial and error and finesse to work out in your own context. But, thankfully, you have already started the process with your first betrayal. (Didn’t know you could be thankful for that did you? 🙂 )
Your betrayal has taught you some things about yourself, about your trust level, and about how congregants respond when they hear a confidence that they think is too big to keep secret. But just like you are discovering, I don’t believe this means that we as ministry spouses have to keep our heads down, our mouths shut, and practice our most trivial of niceties to get us through social events at church. It’s a matter of figuring out the balance of how much is too much within each friendship you make.
Through my own betrayals and missteps, I’ve learned to ask myself two questions when I am in a relationship with someone from church and I’m considering how open I can be with them:
1) If I tell this to them and it gets out, will it damage the church in any way?
2) If I tell this to them, will it change their perception of the church and/or affect their worship experience?
The answer to these questions dictates what is appropriate for me to share with that person. They allow me to have a depth of relationship while still protecting the church, protecting the person, and protecting me. Your friend from church might be the best listener when it comes to blowing off steam about your frustration with your mother, but you may not want to share with her the latest incident with the lady in the choir who complained about the dress you wore last Sunday. You can have a deep, loving, trustful relationship that limits the topics to what is appropriate for that person at that time.
So Hermit, I hope you take a chance on trusting church people again. I don’t want you to miss out on the fellowship that God intends for us to have in the body of Christ. And, fellowship includes Pastor’s wives too!
I think I have a disease. Every time I buy something, I feel the need to make sure everyone knows that I got it on sale or that I used money I had saved up for a long time. Just this week, someone in our Bible Study group noticed the new flat screen TV in our living room and my first reaction was to make sure she knew that it was a gift from my in-laws. The disease part of this is that I’m not telling people these things because I think I got a good deal or because I want people to know what great in-laws I have, it’s because I don’t want them to think that we are wasting “God’s Money” on frivolous things. I feel like I’m being judged when I show up to church with a new dress. I feel anxiety when I get my hair done. It made me nervous when I bought my son an iPod for his birthday because I just knew someone was going to see it and wonder how we could afford it. We don’t make much money serving in the church and there are people who know that we struggle financially. I don’t know how to stop feeling the need to explain every penny we spend. Please help!
Dear Julie Justification,
You are right. You do have a disease. Actually, it’s more like a virus. I’ve caught it off and on throughout our ministry. It’s called the I-am-focused-more-on-what-church-people-think-about-me-than-on-what-God-thinks-about-me virus. The symptoms start out subtle like not showing off the new ring your husband bought you because someone might think he spent too much money. It progresses into feelings of guilt or dread when you buy or do something that might elicit a comment from someone at church. And, if left untreated, the virus morphs into full-blown “plasticity” where you either hide the real you from church people or you make decisions and behavior changes based on what people at church might say or think about you. This virus will make you really sick- sick of church, sick of people, sick of ministry, and sick of your spouse’s calling. The last stage of the virus can cause complications of bitterness which, everyone who reads this blog knows always leads to wrinkles!
The only way to combat this virus to focus on the opinion that matters most in your life. Are you wasting “God’s Money”? Can you stand before Him without guilt? Are you living a life pleasing to Him? Then it doesn’t matter what other’s might think or say. It’s exhausting trying to guess who you should be to make everyone in the church happy with you. So don’t do it. Stop justifying your purchases and actions. I have a feeling that you are more conscious of what is being spent at your house than anyone in your congregation. And even if you are not, God is the only one who can change the heart of someone who is so ridiculously judgmental. Your qualifying statements won’t change a thing.
You know, it’s ALL “God’s money”. When is the last time someone at church called you up to justify the new boat they bought or reported to you that they just got another credit card so they could go on a vacation they can’t afford? So stop stressing. Enjoy your gifts. Focus on what matters and avoid those wrinkles!
I’ve never said this out loud because it sounds so selfish, but I really want to know. WHEN IS IT MY TURN! The entire time we’ve been married, I have been submissively standing by my husband’s side while he pursued ministry. I’ve been a great pastor’s wife. I’ve been at every church service. I’ve volunteered for a zillion ministries. I’ve stood by him and consoled him in every joyful and painful situation we have ever faced. I have endured years of sacrifice while he pursued his seminary degree and now his doctorate. But when is it my turn?
Pouting in Peoria
Dear Pouting in Peoria,
Thank you for having the courage to admit this out loud! I think that a lot of pastor’s wives silently wonder if the only purpose they have in their lives is to stand by their husband’s side and support him while he pursues all of his ministry dreams. They throw off any dreams they may have had before they got married because ministry seemed so much more noble and godly than anything they had planned for themselves. After all, ministry has eternal value. “God’s work” wins out every time when you think about that journalism career you wanted or your dream of being a nurse. And this thought is perpetuated by the voices in your head that accuse you of selfishness and neglect for even daring to think you could pursue being more than “just a” pastor’s wife. Sometimes those voices come to life in our congregants and maybe even in our husbands. I once had a pastor tell me that his wife’s purpose was to stay home and raise their children so that he could do ministry. How small we make God when we limit ALL that He can purpose for His creation.
Pouting in Peoria, NOW is YOUR turn. If you think that God may be prompting you to be more than what you define as your role as a pastor’s wife, you need to tell your husband. Give him the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in your life. Most godly husbands want to encourage and please their wives. Open the discussion door and see what happens. Our spouse often sees more in us than we see in ourselves. And don’t negate what God may have planned for your future by making the assumption that it won’t work in the context of your ministry lifestyle. God is very creative and He can do so much more than we could ever ask or think.
I can’t close without pointing out the tinge of resentment I sensed in your letter. Guard your heart from bitterness. God does ask us to sacrifice but He only wants it if it is presented with wholeheartedness and joy. Be careful not to lay the whole responsibility of the loss of your dream solely at your husband’s feet. It’s not selfish to want your turn unless it comes at the cost of rejecting all that you have pursued together up to this point.
I am writing to you with bleach-cracked hands and the smell of toilet cleaner in my nose. Our church janitor was fired recently and the leadership committee decided that it would be a GREAT idea for everyone to pitch in and take a shift to clean the bathrooms after each service. Of course, I signed up to take a shift because EVERYONE was going to help out and clean. Well, guess what? Two months later and I am the only one still showing up to clean. I am trying to have a good attitude about this and be a humble servant but I can honestly say that my sacrifice is not wholehearted before the Lord. In fact, I’m sick of it! I don’t know how I get into these situations. It seems like I am always getting roped into volunteering for something I don’t really want to do because I am a pastor’s spouse and I need to lead by example. How do I get out of this habit?
Chained to the Bathroom
Dear Chained to the Bathroom,
What makes you think that it’s a great example for you to be cleaning all of the toilets in the church by yourself? Is it the fumes?! Get out of the bathroom and maybe you will have a better perspective! It sounds to me like you are letting your congregation take advantage of your willingness to serve and sacrifice. Even Jesus said that there is a point to shake the dust off your feet and move on. In this case it’s time to throw down the toilet brush!
Seriously, the church will ask you to do as much as you let them. This volunteering habit of yours will keep you smelling like scrubbing bubbles unless you learn a beautiful two-letter word- “NO”. You will never be able serve wholeheartedly when you are volunteering out of an obligation “to be an example”. You need to start focusing on what God is prompting you to do rather than on what the leadership committee deems is best for you to do. Plus, as long as YOU will do this kind of stuff, no one else in the church is going to step up to do it. The church won’t ever need to hire a custodian because you will be filling that role for them.
A part of leading by example is joyfully operating right in the center of God’s will. Hosea 6:6 says “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Saying “NO” to things that are not God’s will for you is a way for you to show love to your congregation. If you are serving with a sense of resentment, you are serving in the wrong place. You will never be the godly example you desire for your congregation until you do them the honor of serving them wholehearted in the center of God’s will. Anything else and you are doing a disservice to them, yourself, and God.
And I promise you, those toilets will smell much fresher when someone who is called to do it is cleaning them!
Can you talk about how to handle questions from people at church? It seems like as soon as I walk into the door of the worship center, I get pummeled with a thousand questions about my spouse’s ministry. “What time does this start?” “Who’s teaching today?” “Do you know what’s going on with so and so?” “Let me tell you all my personal information and have you pass it on to your pastor spouse…” I feel uncomfortable answering questions that I don’t really know the answer to and the list of “memos” that people want me to pass on to my spouse is never ending- I know I’m going to forget something. And, my pet peeve: I hate taking money from people who forgot to put it into the offering plate or who want to “make a payment” for this or that. Please talk about how to handle these situations. Besides making myself invisible, I don’t know what to do.
Longing Not to be Noticed
Dear Longing Not to be Noticed,
Thank you for bringing up this issue. I believe that it is common for ministry spouses to be seen as an extension of the pastor. People find it convenient to approach the spouse with their question or issue because the spouse doesn’t have a line forming around them on Sunday morning and the pastor does! I can’t make you invisible, but I do have some thoughts to share that might help make Sunday less secretarial for you.
- 1. The Less You Know, The Less They Ask– If you appear to be a good resource for answering questions, you will become their “go-to” person. You have a choice to make- become an expert on the church bulletin and schedule so that you can answer every question or play dumb. Shhhh…don’t tell everyone, but sometimes I know the answer to their question but I say “I’m not sure” because I want them to look it up for themselves. You can do that too. Unless you want to become the mobile Church Information Booth, I’d recommend it. Teach them where to find the information so that when you are not around, they can find it for themselves.
- 2. Never Take Church Money from People – This is a danger zone. When you are handed a camp payment or someone’s tithe on a busy Sunday morning, it is so easy for that money to get misplaced or forgotten. I tell people that I don’t feel comfortable taking their money and point them towards the nearest deacon, elder, pastor, sound guy, whoever, but I won’t take the money. I’m not trying to be unhelpful, but I am trying to show them that I am not the right person to take their Church money.
- 3. Filter Information Given to You for Your Spouse – If Miss Martha wants my husband to know that someone left dirty dishes in the fellowship hall sink, I say, “I’ll try to remember, but I’m not sure if I will so it’s best if you call the office.” But if someone tells me that they found drugs in their son’s room last night, I take the memo. I still ask them to call my husband but that information is noted by me. Only the most critical of information will ever get passed on in my household. If Miss Martha asks me next Sunday if I told my husband about the dishes, I let her know that I forgot (which I probably did). Enough forgetting and I am no longer deemed a reliable information highway. J
I don’t lie to people but I also don’t make it easy for them to use me as their go between to the pastor. That is ok. Your worship time is valuable. Don’t waste it being your husband’s secretary. The church pays people to do that.
I have a problem. It seems like every time I turn around, someone is asking me to volunteer in the church nursery or the children’s ministry. I’ve even been told by some church people that it’s my “duty” to volunteer since I have children. Oh yeah, and did I mention that my husband is the Families Pastor at church? My issue is that I don’t particularly like babies and kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I love my OWN kids, I just don’t particularly care to play with or care for other people’s children. I don’t think I’m good at it. And DW, I have tried! The last Parents Night Out my husband planned, I was there, doing my “duty”. I came home exhausted, resentful, and feeling guilty that I hated it so much. What am I going to do?! I feel torn that I don’t want to participate in this aspect of my husband’s ministry at all. And I know that there are expectations from church people that I should be involved. My husband said that I could bail on him if I want to. He knows that the Children’s ministry is not my thing. But, I want to be supportive of him and I also know our church- if I’m not there, he will hear about it. So for now, I’m off to the nursery to rock some babies because the regular volunteer is sick. Help me, please!
Kid Min H8tr
Dear Kid Min H8tr-
Listen to me closely…You have permission to quit! Get out now. For the good of everyone, bail on your husband! Would you want a volunteer like you ministering to your children? Would you put them with someone who really doesn’t want to be there but who continues to show up out of obligation? Of course not! God doesn’t want that kind of service from you. He’s looking for wholehearted commitment. You need to be real with yourself about what kind of ministry God has created you to do because this is obviously not it. If it was, you would have joy and peace when you serve, not resentfulness and guilt.
Support your husband in other ways than “direct care” with the children. What gifts and skills do you have that would benefit the church and particularly your husband’s ministry that do not require you to be “hands on” with children? This would be a much better way to support your husband than begrudgingly volunteering in the Children’s ministry. Being a ministry spouse doesn’t mean allowing other people to dictate HOW you are going to serve God. That’s still uniquely between you and the Lord. You and your husband need to set some boundaries with the church and within your family about how you are going to serve in ministry. The church will define your place of service unless you define it for them first (as you have already discovered). You and your husband need to make a clear stand for what you are and are not going to do in the church.
Look, there’s no shame in knowing what you’re good at and living in that sweet spot and there shouldn’t be any shame in knowing what you’re bad at and avoiding it. There will be people who do not understand. But ultimately, the only person you have to please is God. And how can you do that when you’re miserably stuck on diaper duty!
Do you ever want to disappear? Live off the “grid”? My kid said to me the other day that our family was “weird”. When I asked what he meant, he said, “you know, because of the ministry-thing”. I didn’t even know he was old enough to realize that our lifestyle was different from other people much less that he would attribute it to ministry! It made me want to call it quits and be like normal people. Go to church when I want to, not when I have to. Have one boss instead of a whole congregation full of people who think they can tell our family what to do and how to live. Choose where to live based on family connections or how good the schools are in the community not on how close we are to the church.
How easy normal people’s decisions must be…only thinking of what THEY WANT TO DO, not even considering “what does God want” and “where can I best be used”. I know that leaving it all behind is all a fleeting fantasy though because the truth is I’m committed. I couldn’t walk away from what I know God has called our family to do even in my weakest moments. God sacrificed so much for me, the least I can do is give Him my life. Even if it makes our whole family weird!
Dear Mrs. Oddball,
How my heart resonates with yours! And I’m embarrassed to say how often I have to remind myself not to “sit in the seat of scoffers” because their way is not God’s way. I blush to admit that I forget that my “reward is in heaven” and that I shouldn’t “lose heart” because the “momentary affliction” that I experience in this world is not as important as the things that God deems as “eternal”. Or even to confess to you how many highlighted passages I have in my Bible that refer to how God repays those who “secretly slanders his neighbor”.
Yes, I do sometimes share your fantasy of going dark, escaping my commitment to God, and living like “normal” people. Heck, I’d even take living like most Christians! But, just like you, God’s grace always calls me back to reality. And then I think, WHY would I ever WANT to be normal!! How boring that life must be. Never living on the edge of knowing whether or not God was going to perform a miracle in your life today, always knowing that you can do everything yourself without His divine intervention. Choosing your own path and missing the excitement and adventure of letting God lead your steps even though you don’t know where you will end up. Sacrificing every comfort for the sake of sharing Jesus’ grace with the world and being allowed to see God transform a life right before your eyes while you realize that God is using you as His creative tool in that life.
No, I’m not normal. I’m a part of a peculiar people, adopted as God’s chosen one and I’m not willing to deny my heritage for any house in a nice neighborhood with a husband whose job is always stable and affords me to shop at the mall twice a week. I’m gonna let people say what they want to about me and my family because I know that there is really only One person that I’m accountable to in the end. And He says that He handsomely rewards Oddballs.
What is happening to me?! I feel like I just walked into bizarre-o world! Several weeks ago, the pastor called us up to the front of the church and told everyone that we were in the process of becoming full-time missionaries. Our close friends have known this but not many other people until recently. Since it was announced, I can’t seem to set foot in the church building without people feeling compelled to give me their opinion! Not just on becoming a missionary, but on everything- my kids, my spouse, my clothing!! Up until a few weeks ago, I was just a church member, but this announcement seems to have put me into some alter-world category that makes people I have known for years feel the freedom to openly run with diarrhea of the mouth. I never asked for or invited this kind of attention. How do I make it STOP!?
I’m not a pastor’s spouse!
Dear “not a Pastor’s spouse”,
While your spouse may not be a pastor, you have unwittingly found the key and unlocked the door that leads to the Secret World of Pastor’s Spouses. Unfortunately, it’s too late to retreat. This “bizarre-o world” has begun to take over, but the good news is, you do have control in your new alter reality. I’m sure that you have already recognized that some of these people lavishing you with unwarranted attention do have good motives. They want to encourage you and, in some small way, be a part of what you are doing for the Lord. In fact, I believe most people THINK that’s what they are doing when they feel compelled to give opinions. But, being in the Secret World of Pastor’s Spouses is kind of like when a woman is pregnant. Everyone, including strangers, feel compelled to tell her pregnancy stories (to help her out, of course!). They also like to reach out and touch her in places that they never would touch if she wasn’t pregnant. It’s uncomfortable. Privacy and sometimes decency are encroached on in this world. But it’s mostly harmless and with time you do get used to it. In a few more weeks, you will be able to figure out who is safe, who you need to smile and nod at, who you need to avoid in the hallway, and who might become a new friend.
There is no way to avoid this attention. We can’t control other people’s actions or stupidity. But you can filter the comments, judge actions rightly, and respond transparently. When you feel like someone has crossed the line, it’s ok to tell them so.
You may not have invited this kind of attention, but God may want to use your new platform for His Glory. Don’t be so quick to slam the door and throw away the key because of the initial shock of what you have experienced. Come in. Look around. There’s beauty in this secret world too. I hope you discover it soon.
My husband handles all the technical aspects of our church ministries. He was hired with the title Minister of Media. The problem is that he spends a lot of his time just fixing the computers in the church office. What happened to the “minister” part of his title? I don’t think that the staff sees him as a REAL pastor. He recruits and ministers to a large team of volunteers who run the all the tech in our services. He leads those volunteers in Bible Study and pastors their families. He has a religious undergraduate degree and he is a licensed minister. Why do they treat him like the IT guy? My husband tells me to blow it off and not worry about it. He’s a lot less concerned about this than I am, but I’m irritated. How do I get past this attitude?
Insulted in Indiana
This may be one of those things about ministry life that you are going to have to just let go of in order to find some peace. It is definitely our first reaction to defend our spouse when we see an injustice taking place. Especially when we think they deserve so much more respect than they are receiving at church. Changing your attitude starts with:
- Recognizing that while man sees the outward appearance, God sees the heart (I Samuel 16:7)
- Realizing that no matter what happens with the staff or congregation, we do our work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24)
- Start claiming God’s promise that what is sacrificed to Him in secret will be rewarded (Matthew 6:4-6)
And don’t diminish what your attitude can do for your spouse. It may be that the reason your husband can accept his relegated role so easily is because you see him as so much more. Sometimes it only takes one person, the most important person in our lives, recognizing the work we are doing to give us the strength to push through when ministry is difficult. Balance your admiration of your husband with the viewpoint that the only person you are really trying to please is God and I think your attitude will swiftly find adjustment.