This article is in response to the topic, “BFF’s in the Church Pews.” I’d like to elaborate just a bit. (Please visit the original article link for context.)
I think the majority of you understood the three categories of friends I proposed. One reader shared that her Bible study teacher referred to these as Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas relationships. Another pointed out the fact that Jesus had twelve disciples but three of those comprised His inner circle. Both of these comparisons capture the spirit of how people in our lives fill a certain need where friendships are concerned.
My approach to this subject is from the viewpoint of a ministry wife’s ability to have healthy friendships within her church. While many of our girlfriends can be categorized in the areas I’ve described (with some filling more than one of these roles), there are yet many more women within the pews with whom we’ve not made this type of connection. One email I received said, “I don’t really fit into any of these areas so I guess I’ll just pray for my minister’s wife from afar.” NO, NO, NO! Afar will never do!
When ‘No’ Is Not a Good Thing
Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends I’ve witnessed where ministry wives are concerned is the withdrawing from women’s groups in the interest of protecting family time. I read an article recently by a high-profile pastor’s wife who stated, “I never attend women’s ministry events because they are just too time-consuming.”
Sister, I think I would have kept that to myself.
Bravo for learning to say ‘no’, but I’m not certain isolating one’s self from the masses will achieve the desired end. However, if you are trying to convince the women of your church they are not a priority to you, then blowing off all their gatherings should do the trick. I’m not saying you have to attend every event, but a prayer group here and a dinner there will do much more good than harm. You might even find some BFF’s in the process.
Making the Connection
As a ministry wife I feel it is part of my role to support any effort made from within the body to provide an outlet for belonging. It is extremely hard to bond without spending time with one another outside of the Sunday morning hour. It hurts me to think there are women in our pews who feel friendship within the Body has eluded them. Sometimes, church can be as lonely for parishioners as it is for the pastor’s wife.
Enter women’s ministry.
Many groups meet once a month and/or travel from home to home. In season, our women’s group has done this very thing. In different times of frequency, we eat together, pray together, laugh and cry together. And in the midst of it, we’ve become friends. There is a diversity of age and issues, but underneath is our commonality in Christ – and that’s all we need. Here there is no category, but a group of women standing shoulder-to-shoulder resolving that no one will ever feel alone. Every single one of these women are dear to me. I can’t imagine now how I’ve survived so long without meeting regularly with them.
That, girls, is what friendship is all about. Ministry wives, be open to having many friends within your congregation. Lay people, reach out to your pastor’s wife until she figures out it’s safe to reach back. You will make a connection – one that will transcend the confines of the pew.
I received an email with a question that on the surface may seem easy to answer, but in reality can be a hotbed of controversy. The answers could easily fill an entire book but obviously we don’t have that kind of space. For that reason, we will address some foundational principles on this topic and perhaps delve into it more in future articles. Here is what Patty asked:
“Besides your husband, has God given you a best friend to share your ups and downs with?”
In short, I will say yes; however, it is a plural yes. Let me explain.
There is a quote I read a few months back by Jim Rohn that says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I have no idea who this man is or what his motivation was for his comment, but I think we can apply this concept spiritually.
How you ask? Picture yourself among five other women. If you are the average, then some are ahead of you in some respect, some are beside, and some are behind. Here is how I interpret this imagery in regard to balancing my personal friendships:
- Have friends you need. I have a lot of different friends whom I consider my BFF’s and all of them for different reasons. The women who are my pour-my-heart-out-with-no-fear-of-judgement friends are ironically ones I talk to infrequently in comparison to my other buddies. A couple of these are women I consider my spiritual mothers. I can be vulnerable with them because they don’t expect me to have the answers and are truly invested in wanting to see God’s best in me. I crave their input in my life because I trust their motivations where I am concerned. Can these women be found in your church pews? I will hesitantly say yes if you use the model of a Titus Two relationship. I have benefited so much from the senior women in our congregations who have reached out with their wisdom in mothering and my walk with God. There are precautions to be taken in this area as well as the other two I will mention that we will address in just a moment.How does one find a mentor? In my experience they will sometimes find you. The two women I count on most in my life pointed out a gift they saw in me and spent some time helping me find ways to use it. However, there is another whose ministry and walk with the Lord was one I admired so I made the first step in asking for counsel.
- Have friends who don’t need you. Luke and I were talking just the other day about some friends of ours who make us laugh our heads off. They are always our comic relief when we are stressed to the hilt. I’m not saying they don’t need us as friends. Obviously, we love and pray for one another. But they are completely and spiritually healthy and when we are with them, we can be free to talk about something besides church. You may think that is a horrible statement to make, but you will serve God and your families well by giving yourself a mental break from time to time. Funny friends are a great way to do that.
- Have friends who DO need you. Now we are back full circle to where we began. I believe it is essential that we pour ourselves into less spiritually mature women of any age. No doubt you can think of one woman whom you’ve recognized a spiritual gift and is not using it to its potential. Has it occurred to you that she doesn’t know she has it? Tell her! The only reason I am teaching, speaking, and writing today is because fourteen years ago someone told me they thought I’d be good at it and created the opportunity for me to try. A fire was lit that still burns today.
I have found that if I have an unequal balance in any of these areas, friendships can become a source of stress instead of joy. If I have too many mentors, I find myself becoming needy and feeling I don’t measure up. If I have too many people who don’t need me, my zeal for relational ministry can diminish. If I have too many people craving spiritual counsel, I feel sucked dry. Your group of friends will shift over time but ideally, that is a great thing. A changing circle of girlfriends will show your congregation you are open to new relationships and give no cause to anyone accusing you of fostering cliques.
I think it is important to establish a Friend Philosophy to guide your own church relationships. You will find all these categories of women in your congregations and it is my strong belief you should seek to open your heart to the women whom you are serving. As a layperson reading this article, there are ways you can encourage your ministers’ wives and help them to feel loved. With that said, here are a few considerations for all of us:
- NEVER discuss delicate church matters with a church member. I’ve made it my own rule to never be the person who discloses new information about a person or situation in the church unless I am asked specifically to share it via prayer request, etc. If in doubt, keep your mouth closed! Layperson: Be considerate of your ministers’ wives and don’t ask them questions you know they shouldn’t be at liberty to answer.
- ALWAYS leave room in your life for a new friend. Women in our church pews need to know they are loved and accepted. You have no idea the impact of the ministry wife’s inclusion can mean to a woman whose been struggling to belong. Layperson: Do you feel shunned by your minister and/or his family? Try taking the first step and inviting them over to dinner or out for an icecream. Sometimes they don’t come because you don’t ask.
- Never air marital dirty laundry. It can be so tempting to tell a girlfriend about our latest argument with our man or how he never helps with the kids, etc., etc. but your church members, no matter how great of friends, are not the people who need to hear that. You can overlook his imperfections – your friend can use them to justify a subversive attitude by looking at him as your loser husband instead of the leader of her church. Layperson: Remember your pastor has flaws and is no more perfect than your own hubby. Give him permission to be human.
- ALWAYS have one safe friend who has nothing to do with your church.
I have a lifelong girlfriend that I can call night or day and tell her any crazy thing going on in our church or with our family. (I’m looking at you, Kelly H.) She doesn’t know anyone I’m talking about. She won’t judge. She’ll tell me if I am wrong. The blog community is also an excellent source of safe friendships where we can be more detailed in asking for prayer, advice, etc. when church gets stressful. Layperson: Don’t begrudge your ministry wife for having a close friend. Hopefully, she’s trying to do the friend thing well and is open to having you as part of her life.
I hope these pointers will help as you seek to befriend the women in your congregations. Thanks, Patty, for a great question!
I received an email from a darling girl I’ll call Lindsey. Her husband is new to the full-time pastorate and her note perfectly represented so many of us who struggle with finding a balance between the time required to effectively minister to the church versus the energy needed to keep those home fires burning.
Here’s an excerpt from Lindsey’s letter:
“We are having the hardest time finding a balance in our relationship and his relationship with the church, and I was wondering if you had any advice to offer me. He is either always on the phone or with church members, or we are at the hospitals, or a funeral. I joke with him all the time that we don’t do dinner and a movie for dates–we do dinner and a funeral.”
Been there. Done that. Got the collection of black dresses to prove it.
The way to address this particular issue can vary somewhat based on the amount of time you’ve served in your current position. Obviously, it is much easier to state your family priorities before accepting a pastorate so there can be no question later if you choose your son’s championship baseball game over Sister Susie’s cousin’s hernia surgery.
However, most of the time we find ourselves a few months or maybe even a few years into our current ministry and have zealously said ‘yes!’ to every request made in hopes of making Jesus proud and assuring the people you are worth all that money they pay you. So what do you do when the candle that has been burning from both ends finally meets in the middle?
1. Evaluate the Situation
The most important gifts you and your husband can give one another are those of honesty and patience. Is he spending too much time away from home? Does he put the needs of others in front of your family’s needs? Is his mind somewhere else when he’s with you? Then girls, it is time to talk! Don’t let those feelings fester into private resentment and bitterness. An honest assessment of where you are and where you would rather be relationally is step one in working together toward a solution.
2. Prayerfully and gently let your husband know how you are feeling.
Proverbs 21:19 rightly says, “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.” As with any situation that comes up in your marriage, the approach affects the reaction. “Honey, I’m really concerned about how hard you are working and how very little we see you”, will be received much more calmly than, “I am SO sick of you being gone all the time!”
Put yourself in your hubby’s shoes. Most likely he isn’t any happier with the situation than you are but doesn’t quite know where to draw the line between personal and church life. I can promise you he will be more willing to find a solution if you are a refuge for him rather than another battle he must fight.
3. Avoid growing bitter towards the church for your husband’s preoccupations.
It can be so tempting when things are not going well in our marital relationship to seek someone or something to blame – in this case the church who is taking him away from us. Often Our husband’s tendency to overwork has nothing to do with any actual criticism but rather his own sense of What will people think if I don’t make sure the youth have an outing every single month or if they see my vehicle at home during the 8-to-5 hours? My own husband can be guilty sometimes of putting way more pressure on himself than anyone has ever placed on him.
In Denise George’s book, What Women Wish Pastors Knew, she reports that a majority of the women who responded to her surveys, “worry that a pastor’s role leaves him with ‘insufficient time’ for his own family.1 This revelation is a confirmation to me that–though certainly unfair expectations are placed on our families–the congregation isn’t always the source of the burden. Sometimes, it is our hubby’s own work ethic and fear of being seen as the stereotypical, ‘only-has-to-work-one-day-a-week’, preacher.
4. Determine a plan of action together and be patient as it is implemented.
If you have determined that your schedule needs to change, then decide together how to streamline hubby’s calendar. Can he plan visits for one day a week instead of spreading them over five? If you are an associate pastor’s wife, can you help with some planning related to your next event (youth, choral, discipleship)? Can he publish scheduled office hours for counseling/etc. so the congregation will know convenient times to meet. Obviously, there will always be emergencies that arise and blow the best laid plans out of the water, but knowing he is trying and that you are a part of the solution instead of the ”dripping faucet” that sends him running out the door will make these times much easier to accept.
Most importantly, be patient with him as he incorporates these plans into his schedule. As with any new thing done in church life, you can’t make ten changes at once. Choose one thing and once working well, move on to the next.
5. Involve the church leadership in your plan of action. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest with the church and telling them when you are overwhelmed. There are wise and unwise ways to do this but for now just know that the same positive attitude in which you approach your husband when the schedule is out-of-kilter should be the same heart in which you talk with the leaders of your church. I believe the majority of parishioners want to love and support their ministers and are willing to do whatever is necessary to encourage healthy relationships within the body and in your personal family.
What Can a Church Do?
My husband and I are blessed to be part of a congregation who demonstrates their love in intangible and tangible ways. Here are a few ways that church members can acknowledge the importance of the ministers’ family:
- Give a gift certificate for a night out and arrange for babysitting if necessary.
- Send them to a conference you know they would enjoy.
- Do you have a favorite couples’ devotional book? Give them a copy.
- Pray for their families to be strong, healthy, and encouraged.
- Go out of your way to recognize the signs of burnout in your ministers and express your support. Let him know if he’s working too hard and give him permission to relax!
These are just a few suggestions for turning Dinner and a Funeral back to Dinner and a Movie. Thank you, ‘Lindsey’, for a great question!
1. Denise George, What Women Wish Pastors Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 138.