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 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!
I need to confess. Sometimes, when we are really busy at church, I feed my kids dinner from the vending machine. There it is…I’m a bad mom! I feel so guilty, but I don’t know what else to do. At least they are getting fed, right?
Dear Little Debbie,
Before I start, I have to admit, my kids have gotten a few Star Crunch dinners in their lifetime too! I don’t think that makes you a bad mom, but I do think it makes you a busy one. The best way to combat those busy times in your life is planning, planning, planning!
Generally, most of us know when the busy seasons at church are going to happen. As you see the busy times approaching, make plans to take care of the kids first. Whether that’s finding babysitters, planning convenience meals, or asking someone to bring food to the church, it’s important to make sure that your kids are not the last thing on your TO DO list. This planning is less about having a candy bar for dinner and more about what you are communicating to your kids when you don’t plan for their basic needs in your busy day. No matter how important ministry is in the lives of those you will touch through your church service, there are no people on this earth that you will influence more than your own children. Pre-planning elevates their status to “more-important-than-church”. Ministry kids are usually pretty flexible. Most understand a chaotic lifestyle and are willing to sacrifice and eat chips and honey buns for dinner occasionally! The problem comes in when we consistently make them second place to decorating for the church social or running copies for VBS. Force yourself to become organized. Bow out of things that other people in the church can do. Focus yourself on the most important relationships in your life.
Plan to make your kids the number one priority over church duties and vending machine dinners won’t be a source of guilt. Those moments will become a treat and a memory-maker.
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!
My wife is on staff at a church. Any time she needs anything, I am there for her. I build sets, I haul stuff, I sponsor events, I even fill in when she needs a last minute volunteer to help with something on stage. I am very proud of her and I love being a part of what she is doing. How do I tell her that I need a break?
Dear #1 Volunteer,
When I read all that you do for your wife and her ministry, I’m almost sure I heard a collective “aaahhhh” from the ladies out there. Do you do dishes too?! What a blessing you are to your wife, her ministry, and your church!
However, no one can do it all, not even the perfect husband! It’s convenient and easy to ask our family members to be the “fill-in everythings” at church. It’s more difficult to ask a church member to make those sacrifices. But, in the long run, it will be better for you, your relationship, and her ministry for her to expand her volunteer base. At this point, you may not be able to just step out cold turkey. I suspect that she has become a little dependant on what you do for her. I would start by telling her that you need a break. Let her know that you love supporting her in ministry but you need to step back. Pick the one thing that you are most passionate about helping her with in ministry, and let her know that you will continue to do that one thing only. Make plans with her to take a total ministry break sometime in the near future. The break should have a definite starting time and ending time so that she knows you are not going to be gone forever! When you come back from break, you won’t need to be her #1 go-to-guy because she will have been forced to develop alternative solutions to her volunteer needs in your absence. This may be a little rocky to employ, but every minister wants their volunteers to be fresh and excited to be serving in the ministry. If you don’t step back now, you may begin to resent being the #1 Volunteer later. And that would be very disappointing for all the “aaahhhh” ladies who read this blog!
I am a very opinionated person and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. Can someone be too mouthy to be a pastor’s spouse?
Dear Big Mouth,
Good News-there’s no mold; God calls all kinds of people to be pastor’s spouses…even the mouthy ones! I don’t think that you have to go through a personality lobotomy to be a ministry spouse. God uses all that we are for His glory.
However, having said that, I do think that it is important for ministry spouses to consider that they have a much bigger influence and responsibility than the normal person in church. As a ministry spouse, your opinions not only represent you but can be mistakenly assumed to be the opinions of your spouse, your spouse’s ministry, and/or the whole church staff!
Consider your audience when you give your opinion. Is this something that might influence their spiritual life negatively if I say it? “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:5-6
Use your mouthiness as a vehicle of grace. It’s an honor and a trust for God to give ministry spouses such a big of a sphere of influence. Be who you are. God chose YOU for this role, not some mousy, shy, fading flower. Trust that He knows what He’s doing.
Last week the church secretary approached me during the worship service and commented on my dress. She made sure to mention that it had been a long time since I had worn a dress and it was nice to finally see me in one. The week before, a different lady told me how nice it was that I wear dresses every Sunday because it had become so rare to see that in church. WHAT?!!! #1) Why do they care so much what I wear? #2)Whatever is clean is what gets put on the body that Sunday. What’s up with the fashion police!? Next week I think I’ll go naked and see what they have to say.
Au Naturel in Jacksonville, FL
Dear Au Naturel,
Wow! I guess you didn’t realize that when you became a ministry spouse you instantly turned into Jackie O. How does that verse go- “Church ladies look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”- something like that (I Samuel 16:7).
You made me laugh and I think that is the only way to deal with situations like yours. Of course it is utterly ridiculous that these ladies have expectations of you regarding what you wear to church, but realistically, nothing you say or do is going to change their expectations of how you should clothe yourself for worship. There are some things as a ministry spouse that we have to be sensitive about when it comes to the congregation and their opinions and feelings about us. Clothing should not be one of them as long as you are biblical in your expression of it; “ Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” I Peter 3:3-4. Be careful not to put too much stock in the ignorance of flippant comments. Ministry is stressful enough without indulging every single expectation church people have of you. Be comfortable in your own skin by knowing that you choose to please God first, the “paparazzi” second. And as for going naked….intriguing… somehow I think your husband might appreciate that much more than the church ladies!
I am so tired of the people at church. Sometimes I wish I could just melt into the wall and pretend that I don’t exist. Their comments rub my raw nerves and leave me crying in the corner. However, this week I received a note from a lady in my church who told me how much she appreciated my sacrifice of time by allowing my spouse to minister to her family. I hate it when these church people ruin my negative perception of them!! I want to be angry and then they go and encourage me. Church people SUCK…and then they don’t.
Boggled in CT
Thank you for sharing your raw and honest opinion of church people. I think that most of us as ministry spouses go through a myriad of emotions when it comes to people in the church. It’s people like this lady who sent you the note who make it all worth it in the end. The ones who acknowledge that the lifestyle you lead is not the easiest and then seek to support you. They keep us going in ministry. But people of this quality seem to be few and far between. It seems that our congregants have not read the verse in Hebrews that says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NLV) That’s why it is so important to cling on to those few beautiful and rare moments when someone blesses you in ways you did not expect. When church people SUCK, pull out your note and remember the blessing. When you want to disappear, remember the few people who you would miss if you were gone. When you want to cry, think of the small appreciations that you have known. Release yourself to love church people despite what they do and God will surprise you with those rare few who give you the blessing of serving with joy. Besides, anger is not profitable for producing anything but wrinkles! 🙂 I choose joy!
I am a youth pastor’s wife who loves to serve in the student ministry with my husband! For years, I’ve gone on all of the trips and have been a partner in every aspect of the student ministry. Recently, I gave birth to my second child and I am finding it more and more difficult to be a big part of what is happening at church. How do I manage two kids while being heavily involved in the student ministry?
Dear Baby Blues,
A wise woman once said to me that our lives are marked by seasons. It may be time to admit that this season of your life demands some lifestyle changes. Does that mean that you can no longer be a part of the student ministry? No way! But it may mean that the role you play in the course of the ministry will have to change for a period of time. This may be hard for you since you have been so immersed in serving “hands on” in the youth ministry. Think creatively about your new role. Pre-kids, you could go to the church building, go on trips, and go to events. Post-kids, instead of “go”-ing, you may need to have the events come to you. Get creative in the way you personally interact with teenagers. Some ideas for ministry that you can do with children in tow:
Host a small group in your home
Invite a few teenagers to help you with the kids
Become the taxi service for the ministry
Run errands for the upcoming youth events and ask some teenagers to come with you to pick up the items
If you are still feeling distant from the ministry, pick one major overnight event each year that you will attend and have someone else watch the children. Remember, the biggest impact and ministry you and your husband will ever have is on your own children. Your church teenagers need to see a successful, loving Christian family as a part of their discipleship process. This will require temporary sacrifice on your part that is well worth the time away from the ministry. You may find out that this season will teach you and your husband how to maximize your ministry time and give you ideas for student ministry that you would never have considered pre-kids. Before you know it, your kids will be older and you will be trying to figure out how to manage your own teenagers in your youth ministry!