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.
My husband left a career in the secular world for a call to ministry. We have never been happier but we also have never been so poor. There are people in our church who know how much we are struggling financially and they occasionally slip money under my husband’s office door or send me a gift card in the mail. I feel so embarrassed that we are being given benevolence money. We are supposed to be the ones giving. I’m not sure how to shake this feeling of shame.
I hear you. I lost all my pride years ago! I felt exactly like you and I swallowed a big helping of guilt along with it. I’ve cried, I’ve asked people not to give, I’ve avoided looking at people who I knew had left groceries on our doorstep. I’ve tried to figure out how to get an extra job to pay people back for what they have done for us. I’ve told myself a million times that this surely cannot be the way that God wants to provide for us.
But then, I think about my Savior and how the Bible says that He never had a place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). I remember that He sent His disciples out with nothing and told them that a worker is worthy of his support (Matthew 10:8-10) and I meditate on the verses encouraging me not to worry about food and shelter (Matthew 6:25-34). And I realize that God’s got this. He doesn’t HAVE to use the people in the church to take care of us. He chooses to use them.
I learned that lesson one year through an envelope taped to my front door. Every week, it was there, filled with cash of odd amounts. $38.53, $52.21, $78.97 – I couldn’t figure out the pattern or the significance, but I was so thankful that it kept appearing because we had a new baby and we were desperately poor. One evening, the parents of a teenager in our youth group showed up at our house. I had no idea why they were there until I saw the envelope in their hand. They explained to us that they had been watching our lives and had been moved by our frugality and budgeting. They said that they were convinced that God had told them to begin saving 10% of anything they made to give to us. On every payday, they were giving us the cash that they believed God had designated for us. They had decided to out themselves because this week’s cash was such a large amount that they didn’t want to leave it on the door. They said that they were both making more money than they had ever made in their lives and were so thankful to us for our witness and the privilege of being able to give to us.
My perceived humiliation was their spiritual victory.
I’ve learned to get over my embarrassment for ministry’s sake. I would encourage you to do the same. By allowing people to give to you, you are giving to them. Your sacrifices are their discipleship. And, there’s no shame in that.
My children see church as their domain. As soon as we get into the building, they pull away and run off. Sometimes I’m not even exactly sure where they are in the church. My dilemma is that I know some things about people in our congregation that make me apprehensive to have my children around them. How do I protect my kids from potential predators at church without scaring them to death or breaking the confidences that I know about people?
Dear Too Paranoid,
The check in your spirit is there for a reason. NEVER ignore it. As Christians we too often explain off the uncomfortable feelings we have when we meet someone who seems creepy because we so desperately want to share the love of Jesus with them. After all, Creeps need salvation too! But Jesus himself warns us that we have been sent out as sheep among wolves. He tells us to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”. (Matthew 10:16)
You have to protect your children. I’ve never broken a confidence about a church member, but I have told my kids that I don’t want them to be around particular people without me present. They were also taught early on that not everyone at church is a safe person. The approach I use in our family conversations is this:
- This is a “Ministry Conversation”. Meaning- “Don’t tell everyone, this is confidential information!!”
- I tell them that I don’t want them to be alone with ______.
- When they ask me “why not”, I tell them that they need to trust Mom and Dad because it’s our job to keep them safe.
- When they ask, “Is _____ not safe?” My answer is always the same. “I don’t know. He/She seems like a nice person, but you know that all people in the church are people with flaws. If we didn’t have sin, we wouldn’t need Jesus. And, we want all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds to be at our church. But you know, just because a person comes to church doesn’t mean that Jesus has transformed them yet. I don’t know where _____ is in that process and I want you to stay by me.”
It’s important to make it clear to your children that stranger danger applies to the church as well. I give my children permission to run, scream, fight, bite, or whatever it takes to get away whether it’s in the church building or not. They need to know that the church building is not some magical land that suddenly becomes safe when they enter the doors.
We live in a fallen world and it is ok for you to do all that you can to protect your children. I unfortunately have known several people who had children molested at church by people who seemed very nice. Their cautions have driven the approach I have taken with my kids. Maybe I’m too paranoid as well… I can live with that.
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 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!
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 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 recently discovered from my kids that people at school single them out as the “religious ones”. I must have been sticking my head in the sand all these years because I had no idea that they were being treated differently at school. They expressed feeling a lot of pressure from students and teachers to be better than other people. They said that they are frequently told, “Aren’t YOU a PASTOR’S kid?!”, when they do or say anything that might be considered out of the norm for a Christian. I’m disturbed that they are being singled out because of our choice to pursue ministry. How do I protect them from this scrutiny?
Ostrich in Ohio
I’m not sure there is a way for you to protect them from what people say or how your kids are labeled when you are not around. We can’t control other people’s actions; we can only teach our kids how to stand up under the scrutiny.
Some ideas that might help to protect their hearts:
Give them permission to be normal. Let them know that you don’t expect them to be perfect because their parents are in ministry. Tell them you expect them to be perfect so that everyone will know what great parents they have! (jk) Allow them to be who they are, not what is dictated to them by others and empower them to say that to their peers and teachers.
Make your home a “safe zone”. As much as possible, don’t allow your kids to tear each other down at home. They get enough of that at school without having to deal with it at home as well. Promote encouragement. It takes a lot of positive statements to manage the discouraging ones.
Help them make their faith their own. If your kids are going to be singled out as the “religious ones”, it might as well be because of their own Christianity and not because of their parent’s occupation. Ask your children what kinds of things they are singled out for and talk through how they might handle that situation in the future. Challenge what they believe so that they can form their own opinions about faith. Ask them to tell you what their friends believe and let them tell you what they think about that opinion. Don’t tell them what to think, but guide them toward the truth as you discuss. Then, when they are confronted at school, they will know how to express their own convictions about faith.
Keep the dialog open. Now that you are aware of what is happening at school, keep the conversation open. Do periodic maintenance checks to allow your kids to blow off any steam that may have built up over time.
Pray! Unfortunately, when we commit to ministry, our innocent children have to live with the consequences of our choices. Cover them in prayer. They have a target on their back. But here’s the good news, the God who created them in the womb knew that they would be born into ministry and He loves them more than we ever could. We have to trust that He will protect them when we can’t.
I wish there was a way to insulate our kids from the consequences of having parents in ministry. They could have been born to any number of dysfunctional people, but the Lord picked you as their parents! Stand tall in your choices, Ostrich. Dysfunctional as the ministry lifestyle might be, I prefer to believe that the consequences of obedience to the Lord is better than anything the world may offer to our children.