Jesus Wasn’t Calling: How I Learned to Walk Away from Perfectionism and Self-Inflicted Martyrdom

Jesus wasn’t calling.

Okay, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus is still in the calling business. Hang with me here and I’ll do my feeble best to try to explain my muddled thoughts.

batman-slapI have to admit it was quite a shock to realize all those years I spent doing and running, spinning my wheels and frantically trying to be a good, little Christian girl for Jesus weren’t for Him at all. They were for me.

When the truth hit, it slapped me hard.

I’ll never forget that night. Curled in on myself, sobbing on the mat of our bathroom floor into the wee hours of the night. My physical body had reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.

drowning

I remember curling the long, soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists and clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to all right, but it wasn’t by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people love me and I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It took awhile for me to realize all those ‘good’ things I was doing, all the activities pulling me away from my family and draining the peace and joy from my walk with God weren’t “callings from Jesus”. They were the hungry cries of a broken girl who desperately needed the approval of people to feel loved. I blamed “Christian service” for my inability to say no, servant-hood for my perfectionism and worse yet, developed a martyr mentality to mask the ever-growing resentment welling up inside.

please love me

Jesus has called us to many things, but living a life where we exchange His rich, vibrant, unconditional love for the weak, oscillating approval of man is not one of them. Excellence is good but trying to sacrificing the rest He’s promised in order to cram in more is not. Serving in church programs and ministries is wonderful, but only if you’re doing it from a heart that yearns to love others instead of a need to be seen by others.

That’s what I meant when I said Jesus wasn’t calling. I had confused my Christian service with people pleasing. And like it always does whenever the moving target of people pleasing and perfectionism can’t be hit, resentment fills in the void. Self-inflicted martyrs make poor servants.

My journey with Jesus is vibrant now. Full of joy and adventure, freedom and rest and yes, serving too. The difference is I’ve learned why I do what I do and I’ve learned where my worth lies…in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Now when He calls, I can hear His voice plainly. john-1027-28 I don’t confuse His gentle whisper with the screaming shouts and harsh demands of the world around me, or even with the old self-condemnation that creeps in from time to time.

I had to learn the hard way though. You don’t have to. Look inside. Check your motives. Make sure that it’s Jesus calling.

You can read more of my story here:      https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487684657&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson      

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The One Christian Cliché I’ve Tossed for Good

Thees and Thous.

Hedge of protection.

Traveling mercies.

Let go and let God.

So many odd phrases pepper our western Christian culture. Some are rooted in Bible and some have been twisted over time. Some were never in scripture to begin with.

Over the past two years, I’ve meditated continually on 1 John 2:6.

“…the one who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

walking

Okay. So if I want to be like Christ, I just need to walk like Jesus. I gotta say, that seems like a tall order. It’s like being told in order to be pretty, I should just look like Cindy Crawford. I can’t do that. I’m not her.

Thankfully, I’ve learned walking in the same manner as Jesus is possible. It’s allowing His Spirit to mold me into His image. Letting God chip away the hard places in me until I resemble His Son. It’s a journey of imperfect progress of dying to self as I learn to think like Him. Speak like Him. Love like Him. Having my heart so intertwined with His, that the things that cause His heart to grieve, to dance, to rejoice, to become angry, to weep, eventually become the things that cause mine to do the same.

In the middle of this journey, I’ve come to the realization this process might include unlearning some of the popular Christian clichés of the day.

Christianese is a strange, funny, twisted mess, y’all.

One Christian cliché that makes me giggle is “hedge of protection”. What does that mean?  If you’re going to ask for God’s protection on my behalf, could you ask for more than a string of azaleas, please? Maybe a wall? Particle board? Anything more substantial than shrubbery.

stuck-in-window

Or how about “when God closes a door, He opens a window.” What? So God isn’t big enough to open another door? He’s going to make me crawl through a window? (Or, ahem, pardon my snark, but has anyone forgotten that the enemy can open and close doors too?)

There’s also “God helps those who help themselves”, or “Everything that happens is part of God’s plan.” Both of these are false. There are countless others but one in particular has been bugging me for some time and I’m determined to kick it from my repertoire for good. Yes, I’ve been guilty of saying this Christian cliché classic….

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

What is so wrong about this particular phrase? It sounds Biblical and we know God does not tolerate sin.

“For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.” (Psalm 5:4)

The issue with this little nugget of Christianese is the beginning. “Love the sinner…”

If I want to walk, talk and be like Jesus, I must view people with the same heart Jesus did. Jesus never once told his disciples, or anyone else, to ‘love sinners’. He said, “Love your neighbor”. (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark  12:31)       love-your-neighbor                                                                                                        

When we set up a precedent of saying “Love the sinner”, we are in effect placing ourselves in a place of spiritual comparison. Of superiority. “My sin is not as bad as theirs.” Can you hear the pride and condescension now?

Jesus died for all men and women, boys and girls, race and nationality, offender, dictator and criminal. He loves us all. I don’t have time to be worrying about everyone else’s sin issues. I have enough of my own.

I pitched the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” cliche for good. I think a much better thought would be “Hate sin. Love your neighbor. Jesus will handle the rest.”

hate-sin-love-your-neighbor

For a funny look at other Christian cliches, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuK4sZdR36s

Are there Christian clichés that drive you crazy? I would love to hear about it!

When Mother’s Day is Painful

baby feetMother’s Day is a day I both cherish and dread. Cherish, because of the sweet bond my three living children and I share. We giggle and play, worship and love. Yet, I also dread this holiday too. Why? Because I have two babies in heaven.

I wouldn’t wish them back for anything. (I often tell my audiences that I have five children. Two are with Jesus and the other three are stuck with me.)  But Mother’s Day is a sharp reminder of their absence in my arms. It fuels my longing for little Taylor and Morgan and resurrects memories of the heart-rending moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe from the pain of loss.

I doubt I’m alone.

Anyone who has battled infertility, anyone who has lost their own precious mother or has suffered the death of a child, anyone who has a mother in prison or is estranged from their children, or anyone who had an outright abusive relationship with their mother might feel the same.

Do you know what makes this day doubly hard? The Mother’s Day themed services in church.

Please don’t get me wrong. I adore my fun-loving mother dearly, as well as my sweet mother-in-law. They deserve all the praise and love my heart can offer. But I think many church leaders forget something in all their planning. No, make that two things. One, not everyone had a loving, kind, June Cleaver type of mom. Two, we go to church to worship Jesus, not women.

Having every song resolve around our ‘dearly departed mother’, or ‘the faith of mom’ or the irreplaceable love of a mother can feel like a slap in the face to those whose loss is fresh, or worse yet, is desperately longing for a baby to fill their arms.

I once mentioned to my own mother that someone had asked me to sing a Mother’s Day song that went along the lines of, “I remember when Momma used to read to us from the Bible, but she died and now she’s sitting with Jesus…” Mom scowled. “I’m not dead yet! Sitting with Jesus would be wonderful but don’t kick me out of here before He says I’m ready!” I want to enjoy and celebrate the time we have together now…not wallow in the sadness I’ll feel when she’s gone.

HPIM1336.JPG

Along those same lines, focusing every song, every word, every moment on mothers doesn’t leave much room for Jesus. He’s the reason we come, after all. (Or should be.) When my focus is on Him, my own pain doesn’t seem so deep. Motherhood is wonderful but we ought not let it push Christ from the center of our worship. I’d much rather kneel at the feet of the One who made us than be put on a pedestal from which I’ll surely fall.

So what am I saying? Just this: be sensitive. Be aware. Mother’s Day is not a wholly delightful day for some. It’s a mixed bag. And sadly, there are others who find it to be pure emotional distress. (I’ve known a number of women who choose to stay home on Mother’s Day Sunday because they cannot deal with the distress it stirs up.) The last thing I want to do is inflict more hurt on those battling through the hard things.

Be thoughtful. Be sensitive. Honor your mother. Worship Jesus. If we can do that, it will be a blessed day indeed.

shepherd staffFor those of you in the middle of a difficult Mother’s Day, you are loved by God. He sees. He knows and He’s holding you in the palm of His hand. You are not alone.

What about you? Do you struggle on Mother’s Day? Are there things you wish churches would do differently on holidays? What is the best way you’ve found to honor your Mom? 

 

A Wounded Shepherd: When Pastors Suffer With Depression

depression 2

It’s taboo. A major no-no. Pastors never deal with stuff like depression. They certainly are never suicidal…right?

Um, no. Talk of depression among pastors is often pushed under the rug. Oftentimes, by the pastors themselves.

Thom S. Rainer says, “Depression was once a topic reserved for ‘other people’. It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?”

I’m a PK (aka-preacher’s kid for all those non PKs out there). Being in pastor’s family helps you see all aspects of ministry: the good, the bad and the ugly. Believe me when I say that depression is a very real issue among pastors today.

According to Lifeline for Pastors (a publication from Maranatha Life):

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. 90% said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
  • 90% said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.

To be honest, I’ve had a hard time finding people willing to talk with me about this. Most pastors I approached about this topic admit they have struggled with it but when asked if I could interview them, they said “No! If my congregation knew, I would lose all my credibility!” The stigma especially seems strong if the pastor is taking medication for his depression.

Dealing with mental illness is tough enough, but Christians can make it worse by “over-spiritualizing” depression. Believers uneducated in understanding mental illness dismiss this issue as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.

denial

So rather than have their faith questioned, many pastors suffer silently. Avoidance becomes the goal.

A Wounded Shepherd

Pastors are often called ‘shepherds’…the overseers who lead their church flock. The question is then, what is wounding these shepherds so deeply?

1) Spiritual warfare. “The enemy does not want God’s servants to be effective in ministry. He will do whatever it takes to hurt ministers and their ministries.” (Thom S. Rainer)

2) Exhaustion. “A pastor is like a 24-hour ER who is supposed to be available to any congregant at any time…we create an environment that makes it hard to admit our humanity.” (Steve Scoggin, Warner) Workaholism leads to burnout. Burnout leads to depression. stress

3) Unrealistic expectations. Pastors are expected to be at everyone’s beck and call, deliver ground-breaking sermons each week, visit the sick, have perfect children, be hospitable, counsel the hurting and lead the entire church body through teaching and example. These expectations are enormous and unrealistic.

And let’s face it: pastors are dealing in weighty stuff. When you consider that their work impacts eternity…well, the pressure can be crushing. Sometimes the demands don’t only come externally; they are often self-imposed. So when they think they are failing, they can turn their frustration back on themselves. A sure recipe for hopelessness.

4) Criticism. There is a wide-spread fable that ministry is a romantic line of service. You know…kneeling down in the streets of Calcutta, offering water to an orphan who later grows up to declare that due to your devotion and God’s love, they will now spread the gospel in Africa.

Let me stop right here and say ministry is not always warm fuzzies and sweet memories. Honestly, ministry is all about serving others…others who happen to be sinners. There are a lot of crazies out there doing things ‘in Jesus’ name’. I’m convinced that if people knew half of what went on behind the scenes in a church, they would be shocked.

cranky 3

People can be critical. Harsh. Opinionated. And sometimes, down-right mean. And the pastor often gets the brunt of the criticism. In addition, in our modern world there is even more exposure. Facebook, twitter, podcasts, youtube…which all have great potential to spread the Gospel, but also create even more opportunities for a pastor to take a hit.

4) Family problems. The average pastor is often torn between his never-ending duties and spending time with his family. If he’s not careful, the wife and kids will feel neglected. Then add in financial stress. Ministers are often underpaid and take a bullet on their taxes as well, since they are taxed as ‘self-employed’. The church family’s needs will sometimes creep in and affect the harmony of the home. And the pastor’s wife is supposed to be okay with sharing her husband. My mother is a pastor’s wife and jokingly quips that someday she will write a book about being a minister’s wife. She plans to title it Others May But You May Not.

You may wonder why I picked the title A Wounded Shepherd. Pastors are supposed to lead, protect and love God’s lambs.But oftentimes, the picture is more accurate of a shepherd fallen on the ground, while a wolf attacks him over and over. The sheep stand nearby, calming chewing on their cud. As he fights for his life, one of the sheep leans over to the other and says, “You know, he could be doing much better at taking care of us. And honestly, I don’t think he’s done an adequate job feeding me lately…” sheep

Meanwhile, the shepherd is exhausted and bleeding, begging for relief.

Elijah

This really isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been going on since Bible times. Consider Elijah.

In I Kings 19, Elijah had just defeated the false prophets of Baal. This was a huge spiritual victory! And all done in a very grandiose, public fashion. He should have been on cloud nine.

Yet, one discouraging message and threat from the evil queen Jezebel, and Elijah panicked and ran. running away

He himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep….” (verses 4-5)

Elijah had insisted that his servant leave him. He was isolated and alone. Refusing the encouragement of fellow believers, especially when we’re already down, is a prime time to begin listening to those negative thoughts. When all we have is our own depressed viewpoint, the company isn’t good.

“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (verses 5-8)

Such a beautiful picture of God’s care. The Almighty sent an angel to care for Elijah’s physical needs. God is concerned about every aspect of our lives. And depression very much involves giving attention to our physical bodies, as well as our emotional and spiritual bodies.

It’s easy to forget that God doesn’t just care about our spiritual state: He cares about each and every part of us. He wants us to be whole, complete and happy in Him. Did you notice that in this passage, God took care of all three of Elijah’s needs? He gave him food, water and rest for his physical body, comforted him emotionally and then addressed the spiritual issue that had caused Elijah to run in fear. God is the ultimate holistic healer!

The passage goes on to say that God Himself came to comfort Elijah and remind him that he was not alone in his struggle.

For the Church Member: Lending a Hand…or Two

*Pray for your pastor. The best way to ward off satanic attack is to cover him and his family with prayer. pray

*Encourage vacations. “Make certain your pastor takes time off every year. Vacations must be mandatory. He likewise needs to take at least one day off each week. Look for signs that he is not giving sufficient time to his family, and help him to find the time to do so. His wife and children cannot be neglected.” (Thom S. Ranier)

*Financial. Work as a church to make sure your pastor is being given adequate compensation. …the worker deserves his wages.” (Luke 10:7)

Some churches won’t allow the pastors to work second jobs, but also can’t afford to pay him near what his family needs to survive. So his wife ends up having to work one, or sometimes, even two jobs. This puts an enormous strain on the family. You have to be willing to pay the pastor what his family needs to stay afloat or at least allow him to work. It creates a lot of resentment on the wife’s part too if she has to do all the bread winning and her husband is always gone taking care of everybody else.

Remember, if you can’t live on it, your pastor can’t either.

*Don’t be a time hog. give me, i need Driggers says, “Be respectful of your pastor’s time. He needs his study time. You know, just respect those boundaries. And of course, the world is so different now. Pastors today never get a break at all because of this,” he declares, as he pats the cell phone case on his hip. “This has totally changed everything about ministry. I cannot tell you how many times a day our senior pastor gets called. It’s absolutely nonstop. You know, call on your pastor for the emergencies but don’t call him to tell him how your runny nose is doing. A good rule of thumb is call on the Lord more than you call your pastor.”

*Encouragement and gifts. Encourage your pastor to share at other churches when he has the opportunity to preach in other venues. It will do his heart a world of good to minister to fresh faces now and then.

And who doesn’t love an encouraging card from time to time? Verbally encourage him, slip a gift into his office at random times (Not just on Pastor Appreciation Day). Listen to him if he needs to talk. Organize a ‘food pounding’ from the church: a special time set aside to give his family dry goods, gift cards, etc. Those special moments of ‘loving’ on your pastor will make a world of difference in his work.

For the Pastor…

*Take time to relax. Even Jesus took time alone to pray and recharge His battery…sometimes for an extended period of time.

exhausted pastor

*Make your family a priority. Your family is a ministry too. Don’t be afraid to think long term about how your children will grow up to view God’s work and ministry.

A pastor friend of mine offered this nugget of wisdom. “One thing I always tried to do was make my kids part of the ‘rewards’ part of ministry. If a church gave me a $200 Christmas bonus, we would give a good chunk of that to our kids and tell them, ‘We know it’s hard in ministry sometimes, but there are also spiritual and physical benefits too. I’d like to share my bonus with you, because you are such a huge support to me.’ I think it’s important for pastors to help their children recognize the advantages and blessings of working in ministry; not just griping about the hard stuff.”

*Set boundaries. I think of Moses; how did he manage to lead and pastor over a million people without cracking? And you know, those Israelites did some complaining! “We’re hungry…we’re thirsty…we want meat…we’re sick of meat…we’re tired of manna…it was better in slavery…Moses, are you trying to kill us?”

boundaries

His father-in-law Jethro even noticed how badly the people were draining Moses. He encouraged him to set boundaries and delegate responsibility. Moses heeded Jethro’s wisdom and saved himself from years of mental and physical anguish.

*Find a confidante. Ask God to send you a friend, a fellow pastor or confidante that you can share openly with; someone who will listen, point you up to Christ, pray with you and can keep a confidence.

*Seek medical help if the depression persists. Contrary to popular belief, needing medication does not mean you’re crazy. It means your human with a mortal body that wears out from time to time. Medication is simply a tool God has provided to help until we receive those glorified bodies He’s promised us. Medical help treats the symptoms while the Holy Spirit helps reveal the cause.

*Nurture your relationship with God. You can’t give what you don’t have. You will have a hard time dropping love and truth into the church folks if you are dry and empty.

When asked what advice he would give to young pastors, Bill Driggers offered this wisdom: “If you want to stay in it for the long haul, you have to maintain your closeness to the Lord. Everybody is going to be pulling on you from every direction and you have stay close to Him if you want to make it. And being a pastor is more than just studying; it’s about serving people and loving them.”

Recovery from the landmine of depression is possible. Hope abounds. Reach for it. Reach for Christ and the rest He can give.

To learn more about depression, people pleasing and a host of other problems that can make a Christian feel ‘unvictorious’ in their walk with God, hollow victory check out Hollow Victory here: http://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443011206&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson

Life in the Ministry Trenches: the Pastor’s Wife Part 2

by Tara Johnson

Ministry is difficult and no one knows this better than the pastor’s wife. In Part 1, we looked at the God-given talents that make each pastor’s wife unique as well as some of the unrealistic and often damaging expectations that pastor’s wives have placed on their shoulders, whether by church members or themselves. To refresh, some of these expectations are:

  1. Their children should be perfect.
  2. They know what to do and say in every situation.
  3. They feel comfortable leading a class or taking on leadership roles.
  4. Someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it won’t hurt.
  5. They should be forced to work if the church can’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Let’s move on to several more expectations facing the pastor’s wife.

  1. Their home should be open to the church’s needs 24/7.

Boundaries are extremely important. They protect our families and many times, our sanity. But let’s face it…life happens. There are medical, emotional and spiritual emergencies that cannot wait. A pastor is like a doctor who is always on call. Most pastors will tell you they expect these to happen from time to time and are happy to comfort and help however they can. But emergencies are not what I’m talking about here. peeping toms

I’m talking about dropping in on the pastor’s family whenever it suits you. Contrary to popular opinion, the pastor’s wife does not always keep a tidy house, nor is she always pulling warm, homemade cookies from the oven. Her life is often stressed and scattered…just like yours. If there are days when you don’t feel especially hospitable, neither does she. Children misbehave, dinner burns, the washing machine leaks…you get the idea.

Respecting the pastor’s time with his family is one of the most loving things you can do for him and his wife. Call before dropping in. Don’t text them incessantly while they are on vacation. (FYI: every time a pastor’s family leaves for vacation, it’s a guarantee that something will happen within the church family.) Every time you call or text your pastor, you are pulling his time away from his family and his study time. The wife, if she’s not careful, can end up feeling resentful and lonely.

Before you send out that text or hit call on your phone, consider the importance of your message. Can it wait until a later time? Is it something that somebody else in the church can help you with? A good rule of thumb is to call on God more than you call on your pastor.

Several wives have confessed boundary issues are especially pronounced if the church has provided a parsonage. This leads to an interesting question…to parsonage or not to parsonage?

The Parsonage welcome mat

Parsonages are tricky things and the opinions on their usefulness has been much debated. Can it be a blessing? Yes. Is it ideal? No. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  1. It’s usually free housing for the pastor’s family. Parsonages are tax exempt and the congregation usually foots the bill for the mortgage. The arrangement for utilities vary. (Some churches offer to pay these and some don’t.) Parsonages are also exempt from property taxes.
  1. Easier Transition for the New Pastor. Often times, when a new pastor is elected he must move his entire family to the new location, sometimes quite a distance. It’s usually a relief to know that housing is already provided and waiting. (FYI: The average tenure of a pastor in the US is less than five years.)

Disadvantages:
a. When the pastor resigns, his family is essentially homeless. As soon as the pastor announces his departure, it’s time to get out of Dodge (aka the parsonage) before it’s needed by the next pastor. The scramble to find someplace to live, often with no direction on where God will move him next, is extremely stressful and often expensive.

b. Conflict and Criticism. criticism 2 Not only can church members argue about carpet color, appliances and decor, but it’s common to see them criticizing the pastor, his wife and children for a toy-filled yard or grass that often more than an inch high. There can be arguments about pets, decorating….you get the idea. This is especially true if the parsonage is next door to the church. When conflict arises, it usually comes down to “the church owns this so we (the church members) have the say” versus “we (the pastor’s family) need to know that you will still love us and show us grace on the days when we don’t have it together”.
c. Intrusions. Living next door to the church isn’t easy. When people lose or forget their church key they knock on the pastor’s door. When the cleaning people realize there’s a leaky sink, they knock on the pastor’s door. I’ve even heard a church member say, “The church owns the parsonage, so as a church member, I can stop in whenever I want.” This attitude is inconsiderate and can cause much stress and anxiety for your pastor and his family. (And on a lighter note, for the majority of us, the bank owns our homes. I don’t particularly want them stopping in whenever they feel like it!)
d. Sub-standard living conditions. broken down houseIf you wouldn’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either. Insisting your pastor live in a house with a leaking roof, broken appliances, mold, little to no insulation and vermin infestations is a hardship that only makes his work more difficult and to his family, can even be dangerous. This is not the norm but still, it happens more than people think.
e. Preparing long term. Many pastors, although thankful for shelter and a comfortable house can become frustrated in their inability to be able to build equity in a home. As they get older, this need becomes more and more apparent. With few retirement options, expensive health insurance and no equity, preparing for the golden years can be a dark shadow that looms over the pastor’s head.
A good alternative? Instead of parsonages, some churches offer a ‘housing allowance’.

So going back to the original ‘expectation’, a pastor should be available and is usually happy to do so, but don’t abuse the privilege. The wife often takes the brunt of the criticism when it comes to the home, whether living in a parsonage or not. They hear complaints about the way they spend their income, what cars they drive, how much they eat out, what gifts they buy on holidays…they are essentially living in a fishbowl. Grant them the courtesy of respecting their family time as much as possible. After all, their children are a ministry too. (A thought that’s very important to remember from the pastor’s kids’ point of view.)

  1. Being compared to other pastor’s wives.

fishbowlNothing makes a person feel more unloved, devalued and vulnerable than being compared to someone else. This includes comparing pastor’s wives to each other. Oddly enough, some members are crass enough to vocally voice their disappointment or comparisons to the pastor’s wife herself.

A poll was recently conducted asking people to list what they expect for their pastor’s wife. Most gave the typical answers—godly women, loving, etc.,— however, some members went a step farther, insisting their pastor’s wife be friendly, outgoing and give selflessly to the church

As I was scanning the poll results, I noticed one common phrase in each response. “What I want from my pastor’s wife is…” “I just want…” “I want…” Isn’t this really the problem? We have an expectation of what a pastor’s wife should be, how they should dress and how they interact with people. It’s about ‘what I want’ from my pastor’s wife. But it’s not up to you, me or anyone in the church: your pastor’s wife is only responsible to God to live the life he gave her, with her unique talents, gifts, family, personality and flaws. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “It doesn’t really matter what I want from my pastor’s wife. She only needs to focus on being who God created her to be.” Those they claim they want their pastor’s wife to ‘be a certain way’ are inadvertently stating that God can only use one type of personality in ministry…and this simply isn’t true.

Living in Grace

Along the same lines of interesting polls and statistics, do you know what the number one struggle expressed by pastor’s wives is? Loneliness. Their husband is often called away. They struggle to work full time and keep things running smoothly at home. They feel they are judged if they build close friendships with one or two women in the church so they distance themselves to keep the peace. They know the messy bits of life that go on behind the scenes in a church but can’t say a word. This isn’t always the case but it is a very real struggle for many.

What to do? Pray for her. Love her. Thoughtful gestures and kindness can speak deeply to her heart. Extend grace. Have a sense of humor. Remember she’s not perfect. She struggles in her walk with God just like you. She will mess up from time to time. But then again, so will you. Aren’t you thankful for grace? grace

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.

 

Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife Part 1

by Tara Johnson

People are messy and since ministry is all about serving people, ministry is often messy. Forget all the romantic notions you’ve heard about the glories of serving ‘in the  Lord’s trenches’. Is it victorious? Sometimes. Is it exhausting? Overwhelmingly so. Is it worth it? Absolutely. But it’s hard work…an uphill climb that will entail the enemy attacking God’s people whenever he can.

People often mention the need to pray for their pastor, the need to encourage him but they often forget to mention someone who works side by side with the pastor. Someone who is often overlooked…the pastor’s wife.

Church members, and even non-church members, tend to lump pastor’s wives into the same stereotype. There is an unwritten code of “dos” and “don’ts” for pastor’s wives, all of which vary from church to church and culture to culture. The problem is none of these expectations are talked about until the pastor’s wife fails to live up to them. And I can tell you with absolutely certainty that pastors’ wives are not a stereotype. perfect wife

Some are eternally optimistic. Some are exhausted and burned out. Some have the gift of hospitality, while others build strong boundaries around their privacy. Some are control freaks and some are laid-back. Some have no problem picking up everything and moving to a remote country. Others have major anxiety at the thought of moving five miles away. Most have a unique sense of humor, sometimes even a ‘Far Side’ style of humor—a God-given way of coping with stress. So, if pastor’s wives and their personalities are incredibly diverse, why do we expect them to all ‘act’ the same way?

“The pastor’s wife is the only woman I know who is asked to work full time without pay on her husband’s job, in a role no one has yet defined.” ~Ruthe White

A poll was recently conducted asking pastor’s wives to name the most frequent expectations put on them, either by themselves or members within their husband’s pastorates. The most common are listed below:

1. That their children should be perfect.

No matter how well-trained and behaved, kids are kids. They are sinners, just like all of us. (If you don’t believe me, volunteer to teach the tiny tots sometime.) They are going to whisper in church, tell lies, fight with their siblings and make a mess at potluck…even the preacher’s kids. But sometimes the church members holds the pastor’s children to a higher standard than they do their own.

pk

I might mention also that not all PKs are ill-mannered or sneaky. Neither are they perfect little adults just because their Dad is the pastor. They can’t interpret Ezekiel any better than you can. (Although, speaking as a PK, I can tell you that preacher’s kids are excellent at making it sound like we know what we’re talking about. In other words, we’re excellent bloviaters of Christian-ese.)

One pastor’s wife told me that what she really loved about their current pastorate is that the church has allowed her children to be kids, with all their flaws and quirks. They need love and understanding…not constant criticism.

 2. That they know exactly what to say and do in any situation.

Everyone reaches a point where they hit a wall, a situation that is so overwhelming and crushing in its intensity that there are simply no words to ease the pain. No matter how much experience, the pastor’s wife can and will be overwhelmed in trying to comfort someone who is at their breaking point. Here’s a good rule of thumb for anyone trying to help a heartbroken friend: pray with them, hold them while they cry. It’s okay to say that you don’t understand why tragedies occur but reaffirming your love and just listening will help tremendously. pastors wife

3. That they feel comfortable leading a class or speaking to a large group or taking on a leadership role.

Just because the pastor may be a naturally gifted leader doesn’t mean his wife is. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Husbands and wives tend to balance each other’s personalities. If the husband is extremely outgoing, the wife may be shy and quiet. Assuming that all pastor’s wives are comfortable teaching a class, being VBS director or playing piano is a grave mistake. God has given each of us a unique set of talents and it is up to each of us to discover those talents and use them. The pastor’s wife is no different.

One pastor’s wife told me, “I was miserable for years because I kept trying to live up to everyone’s expectations. I volunteered to do all that stuff…lead out in every single ministry in church and, to be honest, I was exhausted and unhappy. I finally realized those things are not my job. My service is in supporting my husband. If I feel God leading me to do something, I gladly hop to it, but now I understand it’s not required. The biggest help to my husband is to keep things running smoothly at home. Taking charge over the kids, fixing the meals and just making his load a little lighter.” people pleasing 5

 4. That someone can criticize them, their husband or children and it should not hurt.

Pleasing people is a moving target. It can’t be done. So in leadership, you are sure to get plenty of arrows aimed your way from disgruntled church members. Some complaints may be valid and some may be absolutely ridiculous. For some reason, people often feel comfortable criticizing the pastor directly to his wife and she is expected to not feel the sting of rejection. Let me promise you, she may smile and seem unflappable but those criticisms hurt…they hurt a lot. criticism 3

Your pastor and his family are not perfect…far from it. They are learning and growing just as you are. The only difference is they have hundreds of eyeballs scrutinizing them as they do. Before you criticize, remember that many things go on ‘behind the scenes’ of church life that the members know nothing about. Hairy, horrible, shocking things. I know, and have witnessed, stories that would curl your hair. Ministry ain’t for wimps and your pastor’s family carries the weight of those messy things with them as they serve. Be patient. And remember, if you can’t back up your complaint with scripture, it’s probably just your opinion and not worth fighting about.

A well known trick in Christian circles is to spread gossip about others under the guise of ‘asking prayer for them’. This same tactic is often used in criticizing a pastor. Some folks use his wife as a filter to let him know what he could do better. Nothing makes a sweet pastor’s wife turn into an angry Momma Bear like a member criticizing her husband or children. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, the best way is the path Jesus laid out: go directly to the person who has offended you and talk it out. And to you pastor’s wives out there, gossiping about a church member to another church member is a sure way to bring disaster.

5. That they should be expected to work if the church doesn’t pay the pastor enough to live on.

Among smaller church congregations, there is an issue about how much the pastor should work outside of his ministry calling. They want to have his undivided attention. The problem with this is that they can’t pay him enough to live on but they don’t want him to work either. So what happens? The wife has to go to work to feed and clothe their household. This is an unjust and unrealistic demand to place on your pastor’s wife, especially considering that pastors already take a huge hit on their taxes since they are considered ‘self-employed’ in the eyes of the government. Insurance is often a huge factor as well. They either go without insurance or have to get a full time job to get insurance. It’s a double whammy.

The pastor’s wife should not be forced to support her husband and family. Not only does it cause tremendous stress in their family, it’s not even Biblical. If she chooses to do so, that’s well and good but it’s unrealistic to have church members paying her husband minimally with the expectation that she will make up the shortfall in income. Remember, if you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Life in the Ministry Trenches: The Pastor’s Wife as we discuss hospitality, ‘to parsonage or not to parsonage’, the danger of comparison, loneliness and how to help your pastor’s wife. Say a prayer for your pastor’s wife today!

If you don’t want to live in it, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If you can’t live on it, your pastor’s family can’t either.

If you don’t like criticism, your pastor’s family doesn’t either.

If your kids don’t always behave, your pastor’s kids don’t always either.

If you get depressed sometimes, your pastor and his wife do too.

If you want to be loved unconditionally, your pastor’s family does too.