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’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.
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
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!
Any advice for a newbie going on their first interview? I don’t know what to expect and, truthfully, I don’t understand why I am going on the interview as the spouse. I get the point of traveling to see the area we might live in and meeting the people from the church but I’m a bit confused as to the reason I need to be in the interview meeting.
Nervous in North Carolina
Congratulations and look out below…you are entering the adventure zone! Yes, most churches want to meet the spouse of their ministerial candidate because they understand that the spouse can affect every aspect of the ministry that happens at their church. They also want you to see if you can live in their community and if you will fit in with their people. But as you climb into the interview car, I do have two pieces of advice for you: Step carefully and enjoy the ride.
Step carefully– Be cautious of how much you interject into the conversation. This church is interviewing your spouse, not you. Your role should be fly-on-the-wall. Observe everyone and take in all that your spouse will be missing as they go through the inquisition. Be your spouse’s sixth sense.
Also, beware of the “twofer”. (That’s two-for-one if you don’t speak country.) If you start hearing questions like, “Do you play an instrument?” and “Do you have any interest in ______ ministry?” you know that they have already started shopping in the BOGO section. Make a plan with your spouse as to how this will be handled if it comes up in the interview.
Enjoy the ride– Consider the interview as the dating portion of your relationship with this church. You are both trying to figure out if this will be a good match. Most churches are kind and generous when interviewing prospective pastors. This is your opportunity to learn about them and be treated in ways that you might not experience once you are hired. Enjoy the dinners, town tours, and gracious introductions while you are still infatuated with each other.
Approach this interview like God has a purpose in it even if you do not end up finding your perfect match. Pray that you and your spouse will be a blessing to these people even if it’s not the place for you. Will something you say or do help them as they search for the right pastor? There’s no guilt in saying “no” if you approach every interview as an opportunity for ministry…even if it’s only a one-meeting relationship.
So don’t be Nervous. Have fun on your first step toward the adventure zone! Churches don’t usually bite in the interview process. (That comes later.) 🙂
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!