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!