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 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!
What do you do when it seems like no one is responding to your ministry? How do you keep going when the sacrifice doesn’t seem worth it? It’s hard for me to watch my spouse struggle day in and day out when it all seems futile. These people are never going to change.
Disillusioned in Denver
When you come to this point in ministry, it’s time to reconnect with “why” you began this journey in the first place. I know you have a few mountains around your area. Escape to one and have some serious alone time with God. Ask Him to remind you why this is worth it. Ask Him to show you His view of your sacrifices. Ask Him to help you remember those that may have been touched by your ministry.
When I think back over some of the most difficult ministry situations we have faced, it’s always that one person who “got it” that made all the sacrifice worth it. I’m heartbroken for the hundreds that missed what God had for them, but I recognize that this path is narrow and Jesus said that most people will choose the easier way. We serve and sacrifice for the few who will respond.
Some suggested questions for your escape time with God:
- Is my discouragement about this church or is it about our calling to ministry?
- Have I been serving in my own strength instead of God’s strength?
- Is our ministry coming to a close at this church?
- If I never see another life changed, is it enough that I was obedient to God’s call?
- What can I do to encourage my spouse? How can I make our home a place of respite and peace from the struggle of ministry?
“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3
Can you talk about how to handle questions from people at church? It seems like as soon as I walk into the door of the worship center, I get pummeled with a thousand questions about my spouse’s ministry. “What time does this start?” “Who’s teaching today?” “Do you know what’s going on with so and so?” “Let me tell you all my personal information and have you pass it on to your pastor spouse…” I feel uncomfortable answering questions that I don’t really know the answer to and the list of “memos” that people want me to pass on to my spouse is never ending- I know I’m going to forget something. And, my pet peeve: I hate taking money from people who forgot to put it into the offering plate or who want to “make a payment” for this or that. Please talk about how to handle these situations. Besides making myself invisible, I don’t know what to do.
Longing Not to be Noticed
Dear Longing Not to be Noticed,
Thank you for bringing up this issue. I believe that it is common for ministry spouses to be seen as an extension of the pastor. People find it convenient to approach the spouse with their question or issue because the spouse doesn’t have a line forming around them on Sunday morning and the pastor does! I can’t make you invisible, but I do have some thoughts to share that might help make Sunday less secretarial for you.
- 1. The Less You Know, The Less They Ask– If you appear to be a good resource for answering questions, you will become their “go-to” person. You have a choice to make- become an expert on the church bulletin and schedule so that you can answer every question or play dumb. Shhhh…don’t tell everyone, but sometimes I know the answer to their question but I say “I’m not sure” because I want them to look it up for themselves. You can do that too. Unless you want to become the mobile Church Information Booth, I’d recommend it. Teach them where to find the information so that when you are not around, they can find it for themselves.
- 2. Never Take Church Money from People – This is a danger zone. When you are handed a camp payment or someone’s tithe on a busy Sunday morning, it is so easy for that money to get misplaced or forgotten. I tell people that I don’t feel comfortable taking their money and point them towards the nearest deacon, elder, pastor, sound guy, whoever, but I won’t take the money. I’m not trying to be unhelpful, but I am trying to show them that I am not the right person to take their Church money.
- 3. Filter Information Given to You for Your Spouse – If Miss Martha wants my husband to know that someone left dirty dishes in the fellowship hall sink, I say, “I’ll try to remember, but I’m not sure if I will so it’s best if you call the office.” But if someone tells me that they found drugs in their son’s room last night, I take the memo. I still ask them to call my husband but that information is noted by me. Only the most critical of information will ever get passed on in my household. If Miss Martha asks me next Sunday if I told my husband about the dishes, I let her know that I forgot (which I probably did). Enough forgetting and I am no longer deemed a reliable information highway. J
I don’t lie to people but I also don’t make it easy for them to use me as their go between to the pastor. That is ok. Your worship time is valuable. Don’t waste it being your husband’s secretary. The church pays people to do that.
I have a 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.
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.