Locked Up Tight
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 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!
Newbie wants to Know
I am very new to ministry. It’s only been about 4 months since my spouse joined the church staff. We are very excited to be here! But, I have to admit that I am already feeling some differences between what it was like to be a regular church member and what it is like to be married to a staff member. What is your best advice for a new ministry spouse?
Newbie wants to Know
Hmmmm…my best advice: Don’t panic, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!
Ministry is difficult. Even the best churches have their share of behind the scenes disunity, politics, and posturing. When you read books like Corinthians, Ephesians, and Galatians, you realize that none of these issues are new. The church is made up of people and people are inherently flawed. What you will see and experience has happened to the saints before you. You are not alone in your struggle no matter what happens.
Hold on tight–
It’s important to nurture relationships. Avoid isolation like the plague. Your ministry, sanity, and marriage depend on it. It’s easy to draw inward when difficulties come your way, but the best medicine for combating isolation is to reach out to others. Some ways to hold on tight:
- Immerse yourself in the Bible. Find a Bible study group to join in addition to your personal Bible study.
- Ask your best/lifelong friends to pray for you and then, stay in touch. –
- Reach out to new friends at church and try your best to befriend the staff and spouses. Be the inviter, don’t wait for an invitation.
- Find mentors (they don’t have to know they are your mentor) and learn from their experience. Your mentors should be people who have character traits you want to emulate. It’s not a requirement for them to be in ministry.
- Engage with those who can relate to your experience as a ministry spouse through conferences and denominational events. Seek out pastoral staff/spouses from other churches in your community and search for online support groups.
Enjoy the ride–
No matter where this adventure takes you, know that there is always a reward. Nothing that God ordains is futility. We are sometimes privileged to see the results of our sacrifice, but other times we are not. Many Bible verses point to this truth, but one that I have been meditating on lately is Hebrews 10:35-36, “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (NLV) It’s a joy to be chosen to participate in God’s plan for His church. Don’t let hardships blind you to the joy of the journey.
Hope this helps as you continue to follow God in excitement with your spouse!
Really, I’m Not a Nag!
I am a very supportive ministry spouse but recently I am starting to feel a little taken for granted. It seems like at least once a week my spouse springs another “activity” on me- usually one that I’m solely in charge of or one that requires me to drop everything and clean the house before people come over! Do you have any advice to help my spouse understand how I feel without sounding like I’m complaining?
NotANag in Neosho
*Pastor, if you are reading this, stop, pick up the phone, open an email, or immediately find your spouse and tell them how much they mean to you and to the ministry you do! Have you done it, yet? I meant it…I’m waiting…
I talk with so many ministry spouses who feel just like you described; supportive towards ministry but overlooked when it comes to courtesy and appreciation. Unlike our pastor spouse, we don’t get paid to do this job but like many pastoral job descriptions say, we are expected to “perform all additional duties as assigned by the pastor”!
You are right. It doesn’t make you a nag to speak up or ask for a break from hospitality duties occasionally. It does not make you a nag to want to step aside from being your spouse’s #1 volunteer. It does not make you a complainer to want to be thanked for what you do. But I hear in your letter some doubts or maybe some accusation that you complain too much about ministry activities. Either way, this is something that you and your spouse have got to talk about. Avoiding the “Nag Tag” will be easier if you set apart a quiet, private moment to really talk about how you are feeling. No sideways comments while you are working in the church cafe for the 4th Sunday in a row because no one showed up or sighing as you are handed the preschool curriculum 5 minutes before class starts. Schedule time to seriously discuss how you feel. And, yes, I do mean schedule. It’s obvious that you are both very busy people.
Just like any other church member, you should be serving in the places of your giftedness and God’s leading. Of course, there will be moments of taking on extra for the sake of your spouse, but it’s unfair to you and to your spouse’s ministry for you to always be the one taking up the slack. And that’s not nagging!
Any advice for a newbie going on their first interview? I don’t know what to expect and, truthfully, I don’t understand why I am going on the interview as the spouse. I get the point of traveling to see the area we might live in and meeting the people from the church but I’m a bit confused as to the reason I need to be in the interview meeting.
Nervous in North Carolina
Congratulations and look out below…you are entering the adventure zone! Yes, most churches want to meet the spouse of their ministerial candidate because they understand that the spouse can affect every aspect of the ministry that happens at their church. They also want you to see if you can live in their community and if you will fit in with their people. But as you climb into the interview car, I do have two pieces of advice for you: Step carefully and enjoy the ride.
Step carefully– Be cautious of how much you interject into the conversation. This church is interviewing your spouse, not you. Your role should be fly-on-the-wall. Observe everyone and take in all that your spouse will be missing as they go through the inquisition. Be your spouse’s sixth sense.
Also, beware of the “twofer”. (That’s two-for-one if you don’t speak country.) If you start hearing questions like, “Do you play an instrument?” and “Do you have any interest in ______ ministry?” you know that they have already started shopping in the BOGO section. Make a plan with your spouse as to how this will be handled if it comes up in the interview.
Enjoy the ride– Consider the interview as the dating portion of your relationship with this church. You are both trying to figure out if this will be a good match. Most churches are kind and generous when interviewing prospective pastors. This is your opportunity to learn about them and be treated in ways that you might not experience once you are hired. Enjoy the dinners, town tours, and gracious introductions while you are still infatuated with each other.
Approach this interview like God has a purpose in it even if you do not end up finding your perfect match. Pray that you and your spouse will be a blessing to these people even if it’s not the place for you. Will something you say or do help them as they search for the right pastor? There’s no guilt in saying “no” if you approach every interview as an opportunity for ministry…even if it’s only a one-meeting relationship.
So don’t be Nervous. Have fun on your first step toward the adventure zone! Churches don’t usually bite in the interview process. (That comes later.) 🙂
Could it be the Fumes?
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!
Pressured to Please
I have a two year old child and a six month old baby. I am pretty picky about who babysits them. There’s a lady at church who keeps offering to have her daughter come over and watch the children for me. She says she wants to give me a break and that it will be good “practice” for her daughter. I don’t want this girl to “practice” babysitting on my kids but this lady keeps insisting. It’s getting to where I try to avoid her in the hallways so I don’t have to talk to her. I know that she is trying to be nice and give me a break, but I don’t think that her daughter is old enough or experienced enough to take care of two toddlers. I feel really bad for being ungrateful for the offer. I don’t want to hurt her feelings but I’m running out of excuses at this point. I feel like I’m going to have to let this girl watch the kids so that this will end.
Dear Picky Mommy,
You are in no way obligated by mandate of ministry to allow people to practice babysitting on your children. This does not make you ungrateful, it shows your wisdom. These children were entrusted to you by God and just because your husband is paid by the church doesn’t mean that the church people get to do, say, or practice whatever they want on your family. It’s good to draw clear boundaries early on when you have children in ministry. There is no reason for you to feel bad about letting people know what is acceptable and not acceptable in regards to your household. Do you think this lady would want you dictating how her daughter should get to school in the mornings or how she should wear her hair? Do you think for a second that she would hesitate to tell you that you are not welcome to make those decisions for her? Why would you let this woman decide for you who is going to babysit your kids? You do not have to feel pressured to please everyone in the church who has some suggestion for your family no matter how noble the offer may be.
I would encourage you to draw a strong line with this lady. Stop making excuses; she’s not getting the subtle approach. Kindly thank her for her offer but let her know that you are picky about who watches your kids. If you still feel the need to spare her feelings, tell her that you already have a regular babysitter. What would you rather do, save face or protect your children? That pit in your stomach is not going to go away as you pull out of the driveway with the children in the care of this woman’s daughter. Your lack of confrontation will only complicate the matter. Stand up now. Good grief, if you are going to have a reputation for being ungrateful or unkind, it might as well be over something that really matters like your children!
A lady from church just approached me and asked if she could take me out for a makeover. She was very humble when she approached me and she said that she wanted to give me this makeover as her special gift. I told her I would go next week but I have mixed emotions about it. I mean, really, do I look like I need a makeover?? Is she just trying to be nice?? I don’t know! And that is bothering me. I don’t want to over think this whole thing but I’m a little uncomfortable. On one hand, I want to call her up and cancel, and on the other hand, I really would love to have a makeover and get to know this lady a little better. I feel crazy for being suspicious of her motives. I’m not sure what to do.
Dear Skeptical Sally,
Sometimes living the ministry lifestyle forces us into an attitude of cautiousness. Jesus himself said that we should be as “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. * (Interestingly enough, He was giving instructions to a group of people He was sending out to do ministry!)
I know you have mixed feelings about this lady; however, I don’t think that you should let your apprehension limit the “Church” in the way that they want to bless you. If your feelings about this lady make you sick to your stomach, it may be time to graciously bail out of the date. But, if you have gotten to the point in ministry where you are suspicious of everyone, it may be time to allow God to stretch you beyond your comfort zone. You know when you are getting a Holy Spirit stop sign and when you are letting past trespasses get in the way of new friendships.
Just because someone offers you a makeover doesn’t mean you have to take it, but check your heart. Be shrewd AND innocent. This may be just the opportunity you need to prove that some church people are worthy of your trust.
Kid Min H8tr
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!
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.