Pastor's and Their Wives

My mother shared an article with me today that both moved me to tears and encouraged my heart.  The article was written by Joe McKeever for the website “Church Leaders” and is entitled “Pastor, Remember Your Wife is the MOST Vulnerable Person in Your Church“.  If your pastor is indeed a man, please read the article.  I promise you it will provide insight into the weirdness that is her life and will provide you with ideas for encouraging and building her up (and, consequently, building up the entire family AND your pastor!) (Disclaimer – it may all work in reverse if your church has a Pastor’s husband or it may not.  Just don’t know enough from conversations with those men to say adamantly one way or the other!)

Just have to share a few of the quotes that most touched my heart and left me saying, “Yes!  That, right there.  That’s completely how I feel!”

“You might not think so, but she is the most vulnerable person in the building. That is to say, she is the single most likely person to become the victim of malicious gossip, sneaky innuendo, impossible expectations and pastoral frustrations.” Sadly, this has been true in every church where my husband has served as a member of the ministerial staff.  Things that would be perfectly acceptable of every other woman in the church would earn me a glare or vicious words.  I’ve watched others start new ministries or alter the structure and function of existing ministries and no one pitches a fit.  But let me make a suggestion or try something new and I’m in danger of setting off World War III.

“Her pain is magnified by one great reality: She cannot fight back. She cannot give a certain member a piece of her mind for criticizing the pastor’s children, cannot straighten out the deacon who is making life miserable for her husband, cannot stand up to the finance committee who, once again, failed to approve a needed raise, or the building and grounds committee that postponed repair work on the pastorium.” To the phrase “She cannot fight back” I would add “She cannot just go find another church.”  If the average person sitting in the pew finds herself in constant conflict with another member of the church and every attempt at resolution or reconciliation has failed, she can choose to find another place to worship.  Theoretically, I suppose I could to.  But the times I’ve heard of that happening have not ended well.  It often causes the church to lose trust in their pastor, increases tension and conflict for him, and will likely lead to his being asked to leave or choosing to leave to avoid the strife.

“Since her husband is subject to being called away from home at all hours, she is expected to understand this and have worked it out with the Lord from the time of her marriage—if not from the moment of her salvation—and to have no problem with it. If she complains about his being called out, she can expect no sympathy from the members. If she does voice her frustrations, what she hears is, “This is why we pay him the big salary,” and “Well, you married a preacher; what did you expect?” I have sent my husband off to the Emergency Room because a member of the church family was failing and his comfort was needed.  What few people realize is that I often spend a significant chunk of time praying for him to have the right words, for the family to find some measure of peace in the midst of their grief.  I cannot necessarily be there with him but I rarely sleep well until he is home.  And the next day I am up and off to work, sleep deprived and brain slightly foggy because it is what I have to do.  And it is my honor to hold him and the family up in prayer like that.  But there are times that people want their pastor to bail them out of situations that are not truly emergencies, merely an inconvenience.  It is not his job to run your child to school or pick your loved one up from work.  This may fit easily into his schedule without any inconvenience.  But if it doesn’t please understand that his family needs him too.  Here’s the kicker – my hubby was not in full-time ministry when we got married.  As a matter of fact, we will celebrate our 26th Anniversary in January of next year and he has been in full-time ministry for only about 10 of those.

I LOVE hearing my husband preach.  His work as a pastor has shaped him into an amazing man of God who seeks nothing more than to follow the leading of the Spirit and I love him to the moon and back for that!  But dealing with all the other nonsense – the judgment, the gossip, the anger, the expectations – can get exhausting.  I have been blessed to have a former pastor’s wife in our current church and she is one of the sweetest, most encouraging, most positive people I know.  She is truly a gift.  I have also started building a friendship with a young lady whose husband has plans to be in full-time ministry and it breaks my heart to hear her speak of these kinds of personal pains as just being a part of the whole clergy package.

This is obviously an issue that is near and dear to my heart because it’s not the first time I’ve blogged about it.  But it keeps happening.  Not only to me but to other wonderful clergy spouses I know.  Guess I’ll have to keep talking till people start listening.

Care and Feeding of the Pastor's Family – Part 4 (REBLOGGED)

Last installment of the re-blogged series.  You can find the previous parts at the links below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Lest I give the impression that life as a member of a pastor’s family is nothing but hardship, I wanted to share a funny story from life as a Pastor’s kid.

I was not allowed to go to movies growing up.  And as much as that rule might have bugged me I did appreciate the fact that my mother was consistent and said she didn’t want to own a VCR.  We had never owned a machine when Beta was all the rage, and she wasn’t interested in changing that policy when the format changed.

Then came Christmas, my Sophomore year.  The church always held the Sunday School Christmas program on a Sunday night in place of the weekly evening service.  It was tradition, at the end of that program, for the church to present a Christmas gift to the Pastor and his family.  My dad had just taken that particular position in October of that same year so we’d only been there a couple of months.  (Side note – we had attended this church in the past so when my dad took the job we basically “came home”.)

The program ended, and the family was called up on the platform so the presentation could be made.  They brought up a huge box and my dad opened it.  It contained a brand new television (which we desperately needed since our old one was barely hanging on; someone had apparently been observant when the family was moving in).  But they had gone beyond just a television.  They had also bought us (drumroll) a brand new VCR.  My sister’s and I were so tickled we almost couldn’t contain ourselves!  All the teens were laughing hysterically because they knew my mom’s “No VCR” policy.  My mother, bless her heart, kept a smile on her face and said just loudly enough for her family to hear, “We’ll discuss this later.”

My mother was gracious enough to keep the gift but she did insist that our movie choices consist of classics and musicals so from there till I graduated it was a steady diet of Bing Crosby, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers . . . you get the idea.  And you know what?  I loved it!!

Care and Feeding of the Pastor's Family – Part 3 (REBLOGGED

Find the previous parts of this series here – 

Part 1 or Part 2

In my previous posts I’ve mentioned the fact that your Pastor’s family may live FAR away from extended family.  True, this is not always the case.  But the closest I have lived to my parents since I got married was 2 hours.  When you add the “every-single-weekend” demands of Pastoral life, you can understand why an honorary extended family means so much!

Sometimes it can mean the difference between the Pastor’s family feeling like they are truly “home” or feeling like outsiders.

(Reminder to self – kid gloves on, tread gently here cuz this could get touchy!)

Most of us long for some sense of community.  We want to feel connected – VITALLY connected – to people and events around us.  It’s important for us to know others miss us when we are unexpectedly absent from an event.

This is especially true for someone living in a Pastor’s family.

I’ve said before that the members of a Pastor’s family prefer not to have extra expectations placed on them simply because they happen to be related to the man in the pulpit.  But they want to “belong” in your church.  They want it to feel like home and this desire is magnified significantly if they are a long distance from siblings/cousins/aunt/uncles/grandparents/etc.

Can you imagine leaving all of those familial bonds behind – and leaving friends as well – to come to a new place because of dad’s new job and then discovering that they had a list of expectations you were to live up to AND that they had no intention of building a relationship with you?!

I’ve spoken with so many Pastor’s wives and kids who have been there.  It hurts.  They are spoken to warmly in the walls of the church building and complained about if they don’t speak to every single church member when out in the community (never mind that those complaining didn’t speak first – apparently members of a clergy family are expected to speak first!).  I’ve heard stories of holiday’s spent alone because the Pastor’s family can’t travel on Easter (or on Christmas if it’s on a Sunday) and it just doesn’t seem fair to constantly ask extended family to travel to see you!

MAJOR CLARIFICATION – the type of lukewarm welcome I just described is not at all what we’ve experienced in my hubby’s current ministry.  We are, after all, in the midwest!  Midwesterners are some of the most amazing people in the area of welcoming newcomers to the community! The weekend hubby candidated at the church, he was offered the position and accepted on the spot.  Before we left that Sunday, I had collected several phone numbers from people who wanted to help expedite the move on the “arrival” end. One “new friend” offered to coordinate food for the day of the move so that my family and the movers would have sustenance.

We showed up at the house on December 30, 2009, to a spread of food that was overwhelming!!  (One thing you should know about Baptists – we like to eat and will use pretty much any gathering as an excuse to do so!) On the way into town, one of the other mom’s in the congregation wanted to know if we had plans for New Year’s.  I laughed.  We were, after all, moving into a new city on DECEMBER 30.  Plans? Uh, no. I responded “I’m pretty sure we’re free.”  She then invited us to hang out with them at their home to ring in the New Year.

Since then we’ve had bonfires at friends homes, watched various sports events in their living rooms, hung out “just because”, filled a snow day with a visit to or from friends, engaged in a game or two of Mexican Train dominoes, hung out at a local restaurant after Wednesday night choir practice, and, in general, felt pretty loved on.

There are a few older people in the church who have lovingly reached out to my kids, too.  Whether it’s the older couple who have been married more than 60 years but who have the enthusiasm of a couple MUCH younger or the widow who is a former Pastor’s wife who is just genuinely happy to see my kids, it matters a great deal.  When any of my kids is involved in a performance – whether it’s a school, the summer youth theater or a community choir performances – there are certain people that my kids know will be there and will speak to them after the performance is over.  I know this is the case because my kids tell me they are looking for them to be there.  And you know what?  They almost always are!

Let me get down to brass tacks now that I’ve rambled a bit.  Invite your Pastor’s family over just to “hang out”.  Include them in a family holiday celebration if they are far from relatives (this one is ESPECIALLY important to me around Christmas – I’m just a big kid!).  If you visited a church for several weeks in a row and didn’t feel welcome, would you keep going back?  My guess is probably not.  The simple fact is your Pastor’s family doesn’t have that option.  Oh, I’ve heard stories of Pastors whose wives attended a different church.  Those Pastors never stayed in that particular place for very long!

Most church people are good-hearted individuals who want to take good care of the Pastors and there is a simple way to do that.  Take care of their families as well. Build relationships with his family.  Especially his wife.  She needs friends and connections or she will start to lean VERY heavily on him to make her feel connected and her frustration with her LACK of connectedness to the church will land on him, putting him in a tough spot!  (Believe me, I’m speaking from experience!)  Don’t get me wrong, my involvement in local performing arts activities has given some very dear friends outside of our congregation.  But I have a special place in my heart for my “church family”.

December 30, 2012, will mark our 3rd anniversary in Iowa.  There are times I cannot believe it’s already been that long because we are still discovering new things about our surroundings.  There are other times that I cannot believe it’s been “only” three years because I have connections with some members of my church family that make me feel like this has always been home.

Care and Feeding of the Pastor's Family – Part 2 (REBLOGGED!)

I am reblogging some past thoughts about the “weirdness” of life as a Pastor’s wife.  If you missed part 1, you can catch it here.  Read on for Part 2!

Are you ready for part 2? I’ll be honest – this one could be tough.  Are you sure you are ready?  Okay – here goes.

Say “Thank you”.  Often

Sound simple?  Or maybe a little ridiculous?

Let me explain why it matters.  Your pastor is on duty 24/7.  Literally every day of the year.  Sure, he may take a vacation.  But I assure you that if a major crisis came up – for example, the death of a church member or an illness that put them in serious condition – there is a strong chance that your pastor (and his family) will lose their vacation so he can be there for the person in crisis.  Those big family holidays that so many choose to visit family for?  Your pastor can’t exactly do that.  He has to work on Christmas Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. . . you get the idea.  In the last post I mentioned the fact that a Pastor and his family may live several hours away from extended family.  If he’s working Christmas Eve and the family lives several hours away (in our case, 10 or 17 depending on which family we would visit) he will either have to fly ($$$) or spend most of Christmas Day driving.  His family too.

I’ve had date nights cancelled because a church family member had been rushed to the hospital. Other dates have been interrupted (sometimes repeatedly) when we ran into members of the congregation around town and hubby stopped to chat.  Same goes for family outings.  It’s just the nature of the “business”.

And Sunday?  Craziest day of the week in my house!  I was once chatting with another pastor’s wife when someone joined our conversation.  Somehow we got on to the topic of Sunday and this third person made the comment about Sunday being a day for slowing down and spending time with family.  My pastor-wife friend and I looked at one another for a moment and, at the exact same moment, burst out laughing.  Sunday is pretty much the complete opposite of slow and family-focused in my house!  Most pastor’s families would say the same thing.  I love hearing my hubby preach so that’s the trade-off for me.  But he is busy working, connecting with church members, etc. from the moment he arrives in the building (before 8 a.m.) until we get home four hours  later(or thereabouts).

In every congregation, there is that one person who is just never completely happy with the pastor (or his spouse or his kids) and is very willing to let the pastor know when he or a family member has failed to meet expectations.  My hubby once got a complaint because my son was slouching in church.  My son runs the computer that is hooked up to the projector and it sits on the pew next to him so sometimes he slides down in the pew to be able to see the screen and click the arrows at the right time.  To me, griping about slouching is silly and petty but hubby still has to field those complaints and I’m so grateful he does!

I’m not sharing any of this to gain sympathy or point fingers.  There is no other profession that I know of that requires a person to be on-call, ready to go at a moment’s notice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In a discussion with other pastor’s wives about this very issue, one of the women said, “Since we can’t change the 24/7 demands of the job, what do you think would make it easier?”  There was a moment of silence until one of the wives spoke up and said, “Thank you.”  We looked at her, confused, until she explained:  “It would be nice for hubby or the family to hear a ‘thank you’ now and then.  I’m not looking for more money or more days off.  Just some appreciation.”

Want to ease the strain of a 24/7 on-call lifestyle for both your pastor and his family?  Let them know how much you appreciate his willingness to be so available and how grateful you are for the families willingness to roll with the schedule changes that happen at a moment’s notice.  A simple “Thank You” means more than you can possibly know.