Intentionally or not- are you hurting your Pastor’s Spouse? This is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time with Pastors specifically but haven’t written a lot about their families.
Today I want to talk a little bit more about ways Pastor’s Spouses are harmed… by you.
Six Things You do to Harm Your Pastor’s Spouse
I have a passion for Pastors… but I have seen what happens when the spouse of a pastor gets hurt by.. well, things like this noted by Thom Rainer:
Six Ways Pastor’s Spouses Get Hurt
- Complaints about their spouses. A student ministry spouse heard complaints for months about her husband. The great tragedy was when the head of the personnel committee told her that her husband was about to be fired. The husband had not heard that news.
- High expectations about ministry involvement. A pastor’s wife shared with us about an elder calling her house looking for her husband. Upon informing him her husband was not in, the elder asked her questions about the upcoming elders’ meeting. When the wife was not able to answer, the elder complained about her lack of knowledge about what was going on in the church.
- Complaints about the children. One of the ways to inflict the greatest pain on someone is to attack his or her children. It is beyond belief how many church members expect a model of behavior for the minister’s family well beyond expectations of their own families. Cut a child and the parent bleeds.
- Isolation. Some church members don’t know how to interact with ministry spouses, so they ignore them altogether. Vocational ministry can be lonely. Being the spouse of a vocational minister can be lonely as well.
- Gossip and murmuring. Some churches have a modest level of gossip and murmuring. Other churches are pretty vocal with gossip and murmuring. At some point a spouse of a minister will hear something about his or her spouse. That hurts. That hurts a lot.
- Going to the spouse with problems about the minister. A worship minister shared with us this tragic story. He was caught up in some worship wars, an all too common reality. The worship leader, however, was pretty thick-skinned, and moved forward despite the criticisms. When the critics saw they were not making progress with the worship leader, they began to attack his wife with their issues. She went into deep depression, and the worship leader ultimately left the church for his wife and family.
How We’ve Gone Wrong
Every time I hear about something like this my thoughts go to “What year is it?” Seriously- why are we not past the notion that a Pastor’s spouse is somehow press-ganged into free service just because the love of their life has for some reason chosen the life of loneliness and poverty that is the modern pastor?
Seven Tips To Care FOr Your Pastor’s Spouse
I’ll keep this simple- read the article for sure but keep in mind a few things the next time you feel like complaining about or to the pastor’s spouse… or generally ignoring their humanity.
- Complaining leaves everyone worse than you found them. I’m not expecting you to be perfect here- but if you’re reading this site you probably already know… we want to leave the world better than we found it. So this one is key: Complaints ruin relationships. They make you feel worse, not better. Test this- when have you complained about something and actually felt better? I bet an hour later you feel worse, not better. But most importantly: Do not confuse appropriate feedback with complaining.
Complaining leaves everyone worse than you found them. The Pastor's Spouse are too often the victims. Click To Tweet
- Be appropriate about how you give feedback. There is a time and a place for every kind of thing you’d like to see different about where you worship. It is pretty easy to think that the best ear for this is the one that goes home with the Pastor. I cannot stress how inappropriate this is. It puts the spouse in a HORRIBLE place of having to figure out how to share or not share what you’ve said as ‘feedback’ (or complaining, let’s be honest). The appropriate venue for feedback is in private or a written note, both happening directly to the person and only after you’ve given time to think, pray and discern about it. Otherwise you’re just being unkind and selfish in almost every case.
- Think past yourself and your needs. This is often tough because most complaints heard in the church are often about the unmet needs of others. But I encourage you the next time you have a thought like that- is it really about what you think… or is it that you really just want to be heard. Be honest here. Most of us have a natural tendency to want to be ‘the one who finally says something’ – the hero of the congregation. Guess what? You’re serving you, not the pastor and certainly not their spouse. So- before you have said anything to either of them… what have you done to help meet their needs? Have you encouraged them? Served them in some way? If not, I submit that you have little grounds to stand on to bring up concerns before you have brought support. But bigger than that even… how about valuing them as a person outside of their status as Pastor’s Spouse? Find things to complement them on that have nothing to do with the Church. Pastors tell me over and over again that hearing their spouse spoken well of means far more to them than if you enjoyed their sermon.
- Keep in mind that there are humans involved here. Your pastor’s spouse married a human being. They are also, in point of fact, a human being. It is time to start thinking in those terms.
- Pastor, not slave. This is what really kills me. Are you really so self serving that you’re going to demand your hired servant, the Pastor, bend to your whim or face your wrath? Because most of the time- that is how complaints sound, especially when delivered via the spouse. It may not be your intention- but that is how it comes off when you don’t address things directly.
- The Pastor’s spouse is a person, not a messenger. How would you feel if your spouse suddenly came home one night telling you all about the earful that they got from your coworker? They are confused and scared. Why has this person told me all of these things? Why don’t they just talk to my spouse? Why don’t they treat me… like a human being?
The Pastor's Spouse is a person, not your messenger. Click To Tweet
- Pastors make mistakes too. I hate the notion of the perfect pastor. Mostly because I see the strongest people in the bible being anything but perfect. So why do we suddenly expect our Pastor to suddenly have attained the perfection of Jesus? What is worse- why do we expect our Pastor’s spouse to have attained it? We all make mistakes, and so do those in ministry. How about some grace?
- Beware gossip and isolation. If you hear someone talking about someone and the person being discussed is not in the room: that is gossip. Gossip is perhaps the most destructive and utterly satanic influence in the church. It is never productive and serves one thing for sure: to isolate people from each other. This is even worse for the Pastor’s Spouse, who is already under far more public scrutiny than they really signed up for. But honestly- you should also be aware of just how LONELY being in the family of a pastor can be. They don’t get invited to parties. In fact- people react with shock if they see them out and about at all. Much like the child who can’t comprehend seeing their teacher at the grocery store, we often change our demeanor, speech and general poise when we realize our Pastor or the pastor’s spouse is present. How would you feel if every time someone saw you they suddenly changed how they were acting? How would you feel if you heard a conversation suddenly cease as soon as someone made eye contact with you across the room? Further- we need to publicly defend pastors socially. As in, not just in the walls of the church. Now- that all being said… don’t be offended if they don’t friend you on Facebook. They need their space too and honestly- it isn’t easy to be vulnerable with everyone. Give them space to say no, but still invite!
We need to defend Pastor's Spouses socially. Click To Tweet
- Pray for them. I don’t mean the typical holding hands and asking Jesus to “Just… Just… take care of our pastor and… just bless his wife…”
I’m talking about really praying against all the things that they are being attacked with. All the notions of wanting to leave and take the kids with them (If I hadn’t seen this exact thing several times just in 2017 I wouldn’t say it like this). All the thoughts of suicide. All the depression, anger and displaced rage.
They can all be addressed. But let us be honest- it will take more than just us having a better attitude. It will take supernatural support. Go to God with it, and get REAL.
- Leave your Pastor’s family better than you found them. Here’s the thing- your pastor probably has gotten pretty practiced about seeming like they have it all together; and you know- maybe they do. But their family may not have the polish and practice. So I encourage you to pour yourself into caring for them appropriately. Even if it’s just a gift card or offering to care for the kids for a night so they can go out on a date… But better than that… pour your life into them. Encourage them and thank them for who they are… more than who they married; more than what they do. Serving those who serve you is required if we are going to help those that make an impact make an impact!
I have been passionate about this for quite some time now, in fact- I gave a talk about this in 2016:
I also want to hear from you- Do you think this is a message that should be given more focus? Is this something I should put more resources towards in this platform? Would you like me to come speak to your congregation about this?
Or better yet- If you are a Pastor’s Spouse, I’d love to hear from you if you think this is helpful or if you have additional tips!
Let me know in the comments or use the contact form to get in touch with me.