I’m pregnant and I’m married to a minister. I am very uncomfortable with all the attention that I am getting. I don’t want people touching me. It’s not ok. But for some reason, EVERYONE wants to pat my belly and talk about my body! What happened to decorum and privacy? Did I lose that when my husband started receiving a paycheck from the church?
Barbara Baby Bump
Dear Barbara Baby Bump,
What I want to say to you is “Absolutely Not! The church didn’t purchase your privacy when your husband accepted the position.” It is true. But if I am going to be completely honest with you, I have to say that ministry does require the loss of some privacy to be effective. These people are doing life with you. They are excited about the things that are happening in your life. And they are looking to your family as an example of how to navigate their own lives.
By virtue of your husband’s position, you have become somewhat of a “local celebrity”- whether you wanted to or not. Your congregation will want to participate in what is happening with you. And, because a twitter feed is probably not the best way to update them on your progress, they are going to be in your personal business!
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t tell the “paparazzi” what their boundaries are. You can control whether or not you are touched and politely ignore questions about what kind of delivery you are going to have. It’s ok to tell them what makes you feel uncomfortable.
But do expect for this behavior to continue. People are excited and sometimes it’s difficult for them discern where your line is. Since hiring bodyguards probably isn’t the best option, be patient with them. Most of this behavior is sincerely out of concern and love for you and your family.
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 have three children under the age of six. My husband is a youth pastor at a relatively large church. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of demands on his time. Our children are now getting old enough that they are noticing how often their Dad is gone. How do I explain to them why Daddy is frequently not with us without making them resent the church?
Patty and the Preschoolers
Dear Patty and the Preschoolers,
You have asked an excellent question and have tapped into fears that I have carried with me since the day I said “I do” to my husband. We have all heard the urban legends of PK’s gone wild because they resented the time their parents spent at church. I’m still working this one out myself, but I’ll tell you a few things that I keep as driving principles when explaining ministry sacrifice to my children:
1. Your children will reflect back what you project to them. Those little faces have a way of being the perfect mirror of everything we say and do. If we as spouses are resentful of the time Dad spends at church, our children will be too. Ask these questions of yourself: Do you see time spent at church as valuable, worthy, and meaningful to God’s kingdom work? Is it for an eternal purpose? Is it worthy of sacrifice? If you can say “yes” to these questions, you should have no problem explaining why Dad is not home. He’s a HERO helping a desperate world know Jesus! But if you are having trouble seeing how the annual Whipped Cream Fight has significance in God’s work, you have some talking to do with your husband before you can explain anything to your children. (see post 8/29/11, Alone Again)
2. We are all called to ministry. Whether we are at the church with Dad or not, we are a part of what Dad is doing. One of the ways that we serve and worship Jesus is by giving up some of the time that we could spend with Dad so that he can minister to other people. Include them in the work of Dad’s ministry in age appropriate ways so that they understand that they are a part of what Dad is doing. Whether that is drawing pictures for a teenager in the hospital, helping clean up after an event, or praying while Dad is in a counseling appointment, they need to see that they contribute to the ministry as well.
3. Never take their sacrifice for granted. Now that your children are becoming aware of their own sacrifice for ministry, it’s definitely time for them to experience the same appreciation that any ministry volunteer might expect. Frequently tell them “Thank you” for their patience with Dad’s absence. Have Dad (and the student ministry) write them notes of encouragement and appreciation when he’s gone. And never underestimate the power of a “treat” when Daddy finally comes home. Let them know that without their sacrifice and support, Dad could never serve Jesus in the way that he does.
Finally, I want to caution you that there’s a warning signal in the words, “Where’s Daddy?” Just like those little birds that miners used to take down into the mines with them as an alert to when the air was getting dangerous, out of the mouths of babes comes the reality that our home life is getting out of balance. Heed their warning signals as if your family was running out of air.
I hope this gives you a good start Patty.
Please feel free to give Patty and the Preschoolers additional advice in the “comments” section below!
I am a youth pastor, married to my amazing wife for 10 years now (just celebrated it!) and have 2 amazing kids.
Over the years we have been married, there have been times that my wife has been jealous of the women I work with in the churches where I have served. Recently, she is more apprehensive than ever about the women I communicate with at church, whether it is a high school girl, a mom, or the reason I am writing today, an intern.
I am proud to announce that I have never been unfaithful, physically or mentally, with any woman. I don’t know what motivates her jealously. I do know that over the years I have had an issue with being on my phone too often at home or falling asleep early during our time together in the evenings. I also know I need to speak her love language more clearly.
I know that she believes me when I tell her that I have stayed faithful, but she still doubts that I will remain that way because I may be tempted in the future by a woman. Luckily, that has never been a struggle for me. I know my wife comes first and I will never betray that.
So what do I do? Any help would be great.
Dear Steady Eddie,
Each time I read your letter, whistles and sirens go off in my head that won’t stop screaming “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!” I feel nervous just writing back to you because I see your family walking through some danger zones that could be ministry-enders, maybe even marriage-enders, if not addressed very soon.
I can see that you have done some serious soul searching in trying to figure out why your wife might feel jealous. A good starting place for you would be to aggressively address the issues that you already know are a problem in your marriage. Make a concerted effort to turn off the phone when you are at home. Set some solid boundaries between family time and ministry time. Organize your ministry schedule so that your wife gets you when you are most alert and fresh, not when you are struggling to stay awake at night. And, yes, if you know her love language, speak it loud and clear. She is definitely having trouble hearing you right now.
Steady Eddie, instead of wondering what is making her feel so insecure; ask what it would take for her to feel more comfortable when you are interacting with other women. Let her determine the “rules” for your interactions with women. She may be seeing some things that you are innocent about when she is around these ladies. Whether founded or not, it’s always a wise thing to not dismiss the insecurities of your wife. You may be doing everything right, but it isn’t in a way that she can see it or you wouldn’t be having this issue. My guess is that you may also be having some communication problems. I would urge you to get some professional counseling to help navigate your way through this shaky time.
Finally, I want to caution you that no one is above temptation. Your wife might be ultra sensitive, but she’s right in telling you that there’s always an opportunity for a fall. Satan loves to surprise us by turning our strength into a weakness through sin. Remember, Peter? It only took hours for him to go from Jesus’ greatest defender to acting as if he didn’t know him. Take heed of her warnings. Guard your heart and always look for that way of escape from temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). Your wife’s apprehensions may actually be providing you with an escape that you never knew you needed.
You’re a good guy, Steady Eddie. It’s obvious you love your wife and kids. It’s time to do whatever it takes to stabilize your marriage. Make this your priority right now. You will never do any greater ministry than the one you do for your family.
I am heartbroken. I have moved to a new church and I have lost my mentor. When we entered ministry seven years ago, the pastor’s wife at our church took me under her wing and helped me assimilate into the ministry lifestyle. All of the pastor’s wives at our church were really close. In our new church, the pastor’s wife has barely spoken to me. I don’t understand why she is not reaching out to me as the new person. I am really lonely and I desperately miss my mentor. I guess I’m just looking for some encouragement.
Friend-less in Friendswood
Dear Friend-less in Friendswood,
It sounds like you had the joy of being in a very unique situation in your last church. I wish that all spouses had a warm and welcoming ministry spouse to assimilate them into ministry. The reality is that most churches are more like the one you are in now. (Sorry to break the bad news!)
My greatest encouragement to you is that you don’t let the legacy that your mentor gave you go to waste by waiting for someone to reach out to you. Even though you are the new person on the block, be the one to make the first move. You obviously know more about being inclusive and hospitable than the other spouses at your church. Set the example. Be the change you want to see in others.
I have this vision of Pedro talking to Napoleon Dynamite about how he is going to ask the most popular girl at school to a dance. “I’ll build her a cake or something…” Of course, you think that there is no way that this tactic is going to work and… it doesn’t. But, it’s obvious that somewhere in Summer’s heart, she has found a soft place for Pedro. Reaching out to other ministry spouses may be something like that scene from Napoleon Dynamite. It will be awkward and uncomfortable. You might feel like a dork. You may not get the response you want. But if you keep baking enough cakes, eventually, someone is going to respond. (Deb went to the dance with Pedro!)
A lot of spouses are lonely in ministry. We need more Pedro’s who have the courage to reach out to others even though they are the new kid. Pedro affected a lot of change at his school in his own gawky way. You can too.
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!
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.
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.
I am spent and used up. I don’t think I have anything else to give these people. They have taken all that I have and then some. I’m worn out and I’m not sure how to recover from this. I love serving in ministry with my spouse, but this church and it’s people have been such a struggle that I just want to go home, lock the door, and never come out again. But then, on the other hand, I know that they desperately need the Jesus we have to offer them. I just don’t know where I am going to find the strength to give them what they need.
Dry and Parched
Dear Dry and Parched,
You have arrived! Now, you are in the perfect place to do REAL ministry. YOU are empty. YOU don’t have any more to give. YOU can’t do it anymore. Now, GOD can work in you and through you to accomplish His work. There’s nothing left of You to get in the way of His Will, His Love, and His ability to meet the needs of this stubborn and contentious people. God says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
God’s given you a blessing by letting these people wear you out. It’s only in our ultimate weakness that God’s power is perfected in us. He wants to give you the strength to finish this task. I can hear in your words that even though you want to hide, you still are seeking the strength to love and lead in this ministry. I only know one place to go when I’m at my end. Words that I have shared with others a million times take on new meaning when I don’t have anything left in me to give. Go to God’s Word. Drink deeply from His well. It never runs dry and you will be refreshed. I’ve listed some familiar verses below for you to start meditating on today.
Also, don’t try to bear this burden alone. Seek out safe places to be real about the struggles you are facing. You need people who can pray you through this rough time in ministry. Your spouse needs to be one of them, but be careful that you don’t use your spouse as your only source of encouragement. Go to your support system. And if you don’t have one, now is a great time to start seeking one out.
God’s ready to unleash his power on you, through you, and to His people for His name’s sake. He chose you for this task and He will accomplish it. Thank goodness it’s not up to us! .You can do this because God can do this. And when His power is released, there is no complaining woman, power-hungry deacon, whiney teenager, fussy old lady, or exhausting senior pastor that can stand in His way!
Isaiah 40:31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Galatians 6:9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
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.