A Minister’s Wife Admits, “I’m Struggling.” Can You?

by | May 5, 2020 | Faith, Uncategorized | 50 comments

Merchandise is Here!

When you’re a minister’s wife, it can be hard to be vulnerable and authentic.

I have been friends with many pastor’s wives over the years, and the amount of scrutiny and judgment they go through is huge. If their kids act up in nursery, it causes a stink that it wouldn’t if it were other people’s kids. It’s tough.

When I started writing back in the early 2000s, I attended a Christian writer’s conference here in Ontario, where I met Karen Stiller, an editor at a big magazine, but also the wife of a minister belonging to a well-known Canadian Christian family. She was smart, gentle, and compassionate, and she thought deeply about spiritual issues. But she was also a lot of fun, and we became fast friends.

Karen Stiller

We don’t see each other often (we’ve never lived near each other), but we’ve kept up with each other. In many ways, Karen set me on the path I’m on now. In 2006, I believe, she asked me to write a cover story for Faith Today, Canada’s national Christian magazine where she was an editor, about sex. I hadn’t written on it much yet, but she needed SOMEBODY. From there, I was asked to write for some Christian men’s magazines, and whenever Crossroads TV in Canada wanted a guest to talk about sex, they had me.

If it hadn’t been for that, I may not have written The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

All that is to say that I love Karen, and I’m so excited about her new book, The Minister’s Wife, which launches today. It’s her memoir of holding on to faith and family in a strange role that no one is really prepared for, and I know many of you reading will relate. I asked Karen to share about authenticity today, and here she is!

The Minister's Wife by Karen Stiller


There was a woman in a church my husband once served as a young associate pastor, who was kind and generous to me and our small children.

She would arrive every Tuesday afternoon at the rectory in which we lived – which was located in a much nicer part of the city than we ever could have afforded ourselves – and babysat our three kids, so I could have a few precious hours to myself.

Usually, I went grocery shopping. Back then, when I could go alone, a trip to Stan’s No Frills groceries was as restful and exciting as a trip to the spa, or so I imagined (a trip to the spa being as unlikely as a trip to the moon back then).

We would also have a cup of tea and talk about this and that, and one week we touched on envy, for a reason I can’t remember now. I confessed to my older friend that sometimes I envied people who seemed to have so much more flexible income than we did, and were able to buy things like good, thick leggings and better coffee without a second thought.

“Oh Karen,” she said. “Don’t say things like that!”

I could see she was embarrassed for both of us that I had made such a bald statement. Shame, my old companion, appeared almost immediately and smothered me with his heavy, wet weight, like so much emotional concrete. I wished I hadn’t said a word.

In the days to come I experienced what shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown so helpfully and precisely calls a vulnerability hangover.

Yes. I was hungover with vulnerability.

While it is true that we should wisely choose our audience for our most naked soul moments, I have learned that vulnerability is worth the risk, even if we sometimes make mistakes. If I could go back in time, I would not share with my wealthier and very generous friend that I sometimes sank into envy. That conversation didn’t help either of us.

But my experiences with vulnerability and transparency have also taught me the opposite lesson time and time again, and I am so glad. The lightness from sharing has mostly outweighed the heaviness of shame.

It is good to share the truth about ourselves.

Being married to a minister – a vocation that can bring with it a heavy load of assumptions people make about you and sometimes your spiritual giantdom (for example, that you would never be a person wracked with legging envy) – means that I have been forced to face my true self over and over again.

Someone may assume I’m deeply self-sacrificial and always ready to lend a hand, and perpetually pleasant and never envious. I know I’m grouchy and selfish and as covetous as the next person in the pew, and often very tired, to top it all off. I choose to tell the truth about myself to help us both recover.

Even though I’d really like to be more like the ideal, we all fall short and fall on our face, and then, later and hopefully, on our knees to ask for a little more help, pretty please.

And so, even though sometimes we overdo it and might wind up with the throbbing headache and dry mouth of a vulnerability hangover, I have chosen the path of transparency more times than not. To say what I’m really thinking, and say out loud who I really am, has been a survival strategy for me but it’s also, I’ve come to believe, been a kind of gift and relief to my communities, when used well.

Minister's Wife Support Group

I remember one Bible study in particular, years ago, in the basement of our church. I love women’s Bible studies, for the motivation they give me to read Scripture regularly, for the break from my work, the gathering and the gabbing, and yes, for the lemon squares with their wonderful crust and tangy fillings.

One day we were studying a tough passage, one of those ones that you know you’re supposed to believe and embrace, but it’s so hard. I don’t get this.

I said this out loud.

Sometimes, because you’re married to the minister, people assume you will get it, and love it, and understand it, and be able to preach it as well, if your husband is down with the flu. But that day, that simple bit of honesty opened the room up. “Oh Karen,” said one of the women (in a good way). And someone else said, “I love you.” I knew what she loved was that I had dared to tell the truth, and so, because of all those wrong ideas people have about clergy always having it all together, it helped her in some small way to hear me say that I didn’t understand either.

Then, we could have an honest conversation about a tough passage, and move through that discussion to a richer understanding. Then, there was space for all of us there, in that room, and in that conversation.

Minister's Wife being Honest

Honesty begets honesty. Transparency creates transparency. This is true for all of us, almost all of the time.

Vulnerability does not have to lead to a hangover, after all.

Ultimately, what our honesty brings us is space in the room. Our true stories connect us to each other, and help us to live through the most difficult things, and to know we are not alone. Women can be so good at this, at opening our hearts and our most tender selves so that a friend can say things like: I hear you and I understand. I’ve been there too, and friend, you’re actually not that bad.

It will all be okay.

Read more of Karen’s insights and experiences in The Minister’s Wife!

Have you ever had to maintain a “role” in Christendom that was difficult? Are you a minister’s wife? Let’s talk in the comments!

Karen Stiller is a writer and editor, and author of the newly released spiritual memoir, The Minister’s Wife: a memoir of faith, doubt, friendship, loneliness, forgiveness and more (Tyndale House, 2020). For anyone who has ever struggled to maintain authenticity when a role is thrust upon her, this is a great read (along the lines of Jan Karon!). Find more here!

Karen Stiller

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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50 Comments

  1. Jeff

    Excellent points! I remember years ago, my former pastor told me that there were many times he felt so depressed and had no one to talk to about it. It is a tough job. I wish they would open up more, they are people after all…..

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      We’re in the process of trying to find a church closer to home, and I think I’ll email my minister’s wife from our previous church and tell her, “any time you need to talk, I’m here,” because we don’t run in the same social circles. She could say stuff to me and not worry about it.

      Reply
      • AnnE

        Yes, please please check in on your pastor’s wife! I am in pastor’s wife and both of us do not get checked in on often especially during these times. The leadership is the one checking in on everyone else but they aren’t always checked in on.
        This is the second email I got today on this book and I’m looking forward to reading more about it especially since I’m a pastor’s wife. It is a very hard “job” And I work hard at being authentic, but I still often feel like I need to live up to expectations sometimes. When I do this it always ends up bad and exhausting, so I try to be real in ways that I can be. But I still feel very alone as a pastor’s wife with who I can truly be open with.

        Reply
  2. Jane Eyre

    “sometimes I envied people who seemed to have so much more flexible income than we did, and were able to buy things like good, thick leggings and better coffee without a second thought.”
    And?
    There is a difference between longing for the high life and longing for a life with less worry about money. Worrying about money is just exhausting and takes a tremendous toll on your mental health. There is some interesting research into this: up to a certain threshold (about $75,000 a year for a family), more money actually does make you happier. Beyond that, however, a higher income does not correlate to being happier.
    Not sure why we have to pretend that this is not a thing or that being a minister’s family makes you different. Seems like maybe it would be nicer to acknowledge that it is, in fact, a sacrifice.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good thoughts, Jane! I’d read that stat too before. That’s actually quite interesting, isn’t it? May be worth a post of its own!

      Reply
    • Madeline

      I completely agree, Jane! I feel like a lot of people who haven’t had to struggle financially don’t get it. I’ve recently heard more than one person say curt things like “Its really not that hard to save; just don’t spend all the money you make. That’s how you get out of living paycheck to paycheck.” Well, if you have to spend every penny you earn in order to survive, it just isn’t that simple. Sometimes people genuinely don’t have anything leftover after paying for the basics.
      It’s not that those tips are completely wrong; I really do believe in saving. Yet I wish people didn’t act like its so *obvious* when in reality, its much more complicated for so many people.

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        Good grief. Dave Ramsey, the guru of getting out of debt and living below your means, says that if you’re earning below a certain amount of money, you need a better-paying job or a second job.
        I’m not saying everyone needs to earn a quarter-million a year to be happy, just that earning a very tiny amount of money is massively stressful, does not allow you to save, and means that lack of money runs your decisions.
        As one example, both my husband and I had large car repairs in the last few years. In both circumstances, we decided that the most financially prudent thing to do was to repair the car, rather than purchase a new one. In both circumstances, we paid for the repair out of our savings. If you aren’t earning money, then your choices are to put the expensive repair on a credit card or buy a used car with extensive financing. Those are the choices, even if repairing the car is the best move financially and avoiding credit card debt is a good thing.
        Those decisions happen many times over. There’s the saying that you cannot out-earn bad money management, but you also can’t out-manage tiny earnings.

        Reply
        • Madeline

          “…you cannot out-earn bad money management, but you also can’t out-manage tiny earnings.” Exactly. And ugh, Dave Ramsey. I won’t say anything more about him because that’s probably straying too far from this post but my guess is that we have similar thoughts on him.

          Reply
        • kmmb

          A part of me agrees with you but another part sees the priviledge position you are in. You said ”my husband and I”. Some people are single moms. Some people have chronic physical or mental illness prohibiting them from working even more hours.
          Just having a husband/partner gives you way more priviledge. Even if you are a stay-at-home mom, having a partner to share the struggles/stress is a game-changer.
          You said ” you cannot out-earn bad money management”: well sometimes, it’s not ”bad money management”. Sometimes, there JUST isn’t enough money (even if you don’t have a car, if you shop at thrift shops, etc.).

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I agree–but I also do think that’s what Jane was saying.
            You’re absolutely right, though. Single parents have it all so much worse when it comes to money. It really is difficult, especially with COVID.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Exactly!

          Reply
    • Anon

      My dad had one pastorate role where they deliberately paid him less than a living wage because ‘a Christian leader shouldn’t be motivated by money and it means you will have to live by faith.’ We had to be self-sufficient in fruit and veg because we couldn’t afford to buy all our food (and dad had to grow that in his ‘leisure time’!), mum had to sew reusable sanitary pads out of old rags because she couldn’t afford to buy any and I was dressed in hand-me-down clothes from other families which had been stored in their attics for years. Funny thing is, it never seemed to worry them that their expensive lifestyles might mean they were ‘motivated by money’ or ‘not living by faith’ – but then, as a pastor/pastor’s family, we were supposed to be living to a much higher spiritual standard…weren’t we?!

      Reply
      • Madeline

        Anon, I don’t even know what to say to that. Deliberately paying a pastor (let alone a pastor with kids to feed) less than a living wage and coming up with some flimsy spiritualized excuse is just pitiful. Besides, as Jane said above, money stress really takes a toll on your mental and overall well-being. Wouldn’t they want a pastor to be as mentally healthy as possible?

        Reply
        • Anon

          It wasn’t too bad for me, as I’d never known anything else (I remember being surprised to find out that not every kid prayed with their family for a replacement coat when they were outgrowing their current one!), but incredibly tough for my parents – my mum came from a very wealthy home and my dad had given up an extremely well paid job to go into ministry, so they were both used to having plenty in the past. They had always been generous with what they had when they had plenty, and they continued to share what they could when they didn’t even know where the next meal was coming from. I learned so many valuable lessons from my upbringing, but I believe God blessed us in spite of the treatment by His church, and not because the way the church treated us was right.

          Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, dear. What an awful church situation! I’m so sorry.

        Reply
  3. Nathan

    We all need to remember that pastors, and their families, are just as human as we are, and aren’t necessarily on a higher spiritual plane.
    At one church I used to go to, the ministers teenage son would often act as a wild rebel precisely because he was expected to be “better” than everybody else.

    Reply
    • Kristen

      That was my brother lol. Our parents are pastors, and there were plenty of boys in the church who acted terrible through the years, but it was never quite as scandalous as when my brother acted out.
      Thank you for the kind words, though. Sometimes pastors themselves need to remember that they are human, too, especially when it comes to their kids. Because many times, kids need them to be their parents before they are their pastors, if that makes sense.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I’ve seen that in a lot of families, too. It is a burden to be a pastor’s child. I think all of us should give them a lot of grace!

      Reply
      • unmowngrass

        I was told, by a pastor’s kid, that with pastors kids it tends to either go one way or the other… head girl, best academically in the whole school, plays multiple parts in the orchestra, really popular to boot… (I knew her) … or it’s bullying and being attacked and being disbelieved and held to unfairly high standards and just general Really Bad Things. (the one who told me this was in the latter group)
        But maybe there’s a spiritual part of that too? The enemy making certain people more of a target? (For visible stuff, that might get a parent told to stop doing ministry and look after their own child…)

        Reply
  4. Allie

    I can certainly relate. My husband joined the ministry 7 years ago and money is still a struggle. He has his fingers in so many pies just to make ends meet. Sometimes it can be really hard to focus on ministry when you’re having to worry about paying the bills (mind you, we live in a tiny low rent home and our vehicles are 7+ years old). We thank God for our families who have helped us and supported us through the years. We wouldn’t have made it without them. Currently I’m a SAHM and I’m working on a professional degree so there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a long road and I’ve learned a lot but it will be nice to not have to carry a calculator around the grocery store to make sure I don’t go over my $100 budget…

    Reply
  5. HeatherC

    I am not a ministers wife, but I do work at our Church, in a pretty recognizable role. I handle all our event registrations, handle attendance, maintain our database and mailing list, and make most of the copying and whatnot. My name and contact information is all over our website as well. So people if they don’t know my face right away (it’s a pretty big church, 1,000 – 2,000 people every weekend), as soon as they hear my name, they instantly know who I am. I have found since taking the job, that people now look at me differently than they did before, (we have attended this church for 16 years now, and I have worked there for 5) All the sudden, people assume that I am ok, that I have it all together, and the minute I say otherwise, I stop hearing from them. This darn virus has made it all that more clear to me, that I don’t have any close friends at the church. I have been checking up on everyone I know through all this, texting, calling, etc.. And not one of those people reached out to me first. Sure they all asked how we were doing, once I reached out to them, but nobody thought that they needed to reach out first. I know it probably seems a silly thing to be upset about, but it is just one more instance of this happening for a while now. Every time I think I am getting close to a group of friends, they distance themselves. The last 2 years has been extremely difficult for our family. My moms cancer came back, my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia, and then passed away, my grandmother almost died about a month before my grandfather did, and my husband and I are their primary caregivers. I have 2 kids with ADHD and learning disabilities, who have been struggling in school, and a husband who travels frequently for work. I had to essentially “break up” with the women I thought was my closest friend, because she couldn’t/wouldn’t be there for me, it was all about her, and if I wasn’t there for her, I was the one being selfish. I just couldn’t do it anymore. So now, I am very lonely, but can’t really open up about it, because every time I do, the people I open up to, people I thought I could trust to talk to, suddenly walk away, and I don’t know what to do about it, other than look outside of our church for that open, close relationship that I am craving. And with everything going on right now, even that is going to have to wait.
    Sorry for the long comment! I guess I needed to get it off my chest!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Heather, I’m so sorry! Don’t worry about the long comment at all. I think many, many people can relate to you. I’ve heard that from so many, too–“I check up on everybody else; no one checks up on me.” That’s a very lonely place to be in. It’s okay to acknowledge that.

      Reply
      • HeatherC

        Thanks!! I think once we are allowed out again, things will improve. I think the social distancing is magnifying everything right now!

        Reply
      • Meghan

        I’ve walked away from several friendships that way. A few years ago I realized I was always the one to initiate, so I stopped initiating so much to see what would happen. And there were so many people who didn’t even notice I had even taken a step back, so I just kind of stopped altogether. Haven’t heard from them in over 5 years.
        I figure if the other person never reaches out and doesn’t even notice when you stop, then maybe the friendship wasn’t really all that important to them to begin with. And I just don’t have the energy to pour into a bunch of one-sided relationships.

        Reply
    • Anon

      I’m so sorry. I don’t work in ministry (I’m “just” a stay at home, homeschooling mom) but I’ve also experienced many of the things you mentioned. You are not alone.
      Our previous church let us down in so many ways. My husband lost his job (because of a union dispute the plant closed-not his fault) and our “pastor” never once bothered to pray with us or ask how we were doing. Even when I posted on the Facebook group that I was struggling spiritually!!! So many other examples.
      I also realized my “best friend” didn’t have the capacity to care for me and understand the depth of despair we were going through so we had a breakup.
      Maybe it’s not *just* that you’re in ministry or anything about you personally, but that people are generally so self absorbed that they just are incapable. I’m sure there’s a ministry component tho. Don’t give up!!! <3
      Remember, the way people treat you generally says nothing about you but EVERYTHING about them.

      Reply
  6. Nathan

    Heather, I’m sorry that you’re going through this.
    > > All the sudden, people assume that I am ok, that I have it all together, and the minute I say otherwise, I stop hearing from them.
    A few months ago, our pastor was talking about writing sermons. He said that he often had doubts about being able to write a good sermon and would often worry that his material just wasn’t good enough. I heard many gasps of surprise/dismay around me. We all need to understand that being an important person in the church does NOT mean that you’re always strong, independent, confident and assured.
    Hopefully you can find others to bond with.

    Reply
    • HeatherC

      Thanks!! I was talking about it with my husband the other day, and we both agreed, that I probably need to start looking outside the church, join a book club, bowling league, that sort of thing. And keep praying about it of course.

      Reply
      • E

        Hey! I completely understand how you feel. It has been such a struggle in my heart feeling selfish to want friends who care and being a friend like Jesus and checking up on everyone. My husband works at a store so we have been able to get specific supplies. So made me a little sad that I finally heard from a friend because they need supplies! Trying not to be bitter about it all. Anyway I would love to be your friend if Sheila would pass on my email address. ❤️

        Reply
      • Jane

        I’ve also had a really great time joining other church’s groups. I run a ladies group at my church, but also attend a ladies group at another church. It’s so lovely to just show up and be a part of something, but not run it myself. Plus it’s a different social circle so I feel I can be a little more of myself.

        Reply
        • Diane

          Yes I found this too. It helps to be a participant and not a leader. And being out of your own church where people cannot see you for yourself.

          Reply
  7. Bibliosworm

    Vulnerability hangover.
    You know those moments when someone names the thing you’ve experienced and you suddenly realize you aren’t the only one who experiences that? That it’s actually so common there’s a name for it! This is one of those moments.

    Reply
  8. Ina

    Yup… my dad isn’t a pastor,buy he was one of the main leaders and teachers for our home group. This was entirely volunteer position done on top of his “regular” job of a school teacher and vice principal. It was exhausting.
    Every seven years though, he’d take a sabbatical. One year he was criticized for “being a shepherd who abandons the sheep. ” still, he took the time off and we went to Israel as a family and then housesat in Northern Ireland. My husband flew to visit us there (and propose! ) and he still, years later, talks about how different my dad was on break. He was so relaxed, so funny, so playful. My husband had never seen him healthy and unstressed before. He has since stepped down to take a break again, which I think is really good.
    Anyway, people in ministry definitely need our prayers and grace, not to be held to a ridiculously, perfect seeming standard!

    Reply
    • Madeline

      A shepherd who abandoned the sheep?? For going on sabbatical?? No wonder pastors burn out so hard.

      Reply
  9. Kya

    Some of my husband’s and my best friends are a minister and his family. They live and work in a town several hours away from us, but they have told us repeatedly how vital it is to have friends and families that do not live in their community or attend their church. No matter how rough things are–and even if their church knows that things are rough for them–they feel like they can’t truly open up to the people in their congregation because of the image they are supposed to maintain. They love their congregation, but they feel like they can’t have a completely open and honest friendship with anyone in it. I understand why, but it’s sad.

    Reply
    • Diane

      It is also about integrity and confidentiality.
      As a pastors wife for 20 plus years I would say to any pastor and family to keep your old close friends so you are not always ‘the pastor’ and can relax.
      Or make friends outside your church circle at sports clubs etc. This is so important for your mental health and well-being and for your longevity in ministry and even so your kids can feel they can relax without being judged.

      Reply
  10. Anon

    I was a pastor’s child and grew up with the expectation that I would be ‘perfect’ because of that (and also grew up with knowing I’d let umpteen church members down by NOT being that perfect child!) I remember saying more than once that I didn’t really want to get married to anyone, but if I HAD to get married, it would never, ever be to a church minister.
    And now, here I am, engaged to a church minister and getting married just as soon as this lockdown will let us! It’s weird, but when our engagement was announced, it was like the church suddenly moved me into a different ‘category’ of person – one who has no doubts, worries or anxieties, never needs any help or support, never has a bad day and has a degree in theology. (In case you hadn’t guessed, none of those things is true!) I’m guessing the ‘perfect pastor’s wife’ image is going to be even more impossible to live up to than the ‘perfect pastor’s fiancee’ or ‘perfect pastor’s daughter’ roles were, so I am definitely buying a copy of this book as soon as it’s available over here!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I don’t know why we do that to pastors and their families. I really don’t. It just reminds me to treat those I do know like real people.

      Reply
  11. Madeline

    I totally relate to “vulnerability hangover!” Sometimes even if the person I shared with reacted well or neutrally in the moment, later on I ask myself if I said too much or I wonder if they just didn’t want to tell me that I was making them uncomfortable.
    Lately I’ve been thinking about how so many, if not all, of us have deeply painful experiences related to other people, particularly with people from our own communities. It makes sense that the people closest to us have the most opportunity to hurt us (and for us to hurt them). For me, talking about my most painful experiences is so difficult, I hardly ever share in that way. But like Brené Brown says, owning our most difficult stories, rather than disowning them, helps us to feel whole, to be wholehearted. How do we handle it when the person who hurt us is in the same community as most of the people we would be most honest with? For example, if your friends still go to a church that was harmful for you (but maybe not for them) how real should you be? Even more troubling for me personally, how do you speak openly about childhood trauma with people in your own family? Or even people who know your family?
    Boiled down: How does one be truthful without slandering or potentially causing division among others? How does one balance authenticity with honoring other people? I hope this comment isn’t too long or off-topic. I would love to hear thoughts from anyone who has been in this position.

    Reply
    • Anon

      It’s so hard to know sometimes, isn’t it? I ask two questions – 1) am I sharing for my own healing or for the other person’s benefit? If I can’t answer ‘yes’ to either of those, then I don’t share it. 2) Is this person able to accept what I will tell them or will it cause pain or harm to them?
      I was abused by a distant family member who was also a very respected preacher in local churches. Some people still tell me what a great blessing his messages were to them – I know that telling them the truth would be incredibly painful and might cause them some spiritual issues, so I just leave them with their false view. Most of the family also bought into the ‘perfect’ image too. I found support from people who were outside the situation for my own healing, and now, I only mention it if I believe it will be helpful to the person with whom I’m speaking (so many people have turned their back on Christianity because of abuse from someone who claimed to follow Christ, so it can be helpful to share in these situations)
      I guess that’s why it’s helpful to have trusted friends across a wide area/variety of churches. It’s one advantage of having moved a lot – I can usually find someone I can trust to share with who isn’t closely connected with the situation I want to share about. If you don’t naturally have this in your life, I think it’s worth trying to build it in – deliberately making friends from different areas/church backgrounds.

      Reply
      • Anon

        P.S. Obviously, if the person who caused the problem is still living, and if they are in a situation where they might potentially be causing harm to others, then you also need to ask yourself ‘is telling this person going to help prevent harm coming to others’.

        Reply
    • Ina

      One question I ask is: Am I ranting/venting or am I sharing/asking for help or benefitting the other person? I have one or two close friends I rant to. Ranting easily gets out of hand.
      Another is to consider the relationship between the person I’m talking to and the person that is involved in the issue. Will what I say colour their relationship somehow? For instance, I try not to complain about my mother in law to my mother because I don’t want any family feuds. I also look at what someone has told me in the past. Has this person passed on info to me about others that made me uncomfortable because it was not appropriate for me to know? Then they aren’t a safe person to confide in because they will almost certainly pass on anything I talk to them about.
      Does the person I’m talking to have the spiritual maturity to validate my feelings but also speak truth over me or will they encourage me to stay in bitterness and victimhood?
      It’s messy. Relationships are hard!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great questions!
      The church one I’ve dealt with. I didn’t phone people up and announce why we were leaving, but if anyone asked, I was very honest. When i don’t think a church is healthy, I tell people why, but then I leave them to make their own decisions. But I don’t feel any compulsion to protect it. It’s not gossip to talk about what you think is toxic.
      As for family, I’ve been open about my own wounds, but the problem is they came from family members I don’t have much contact with. It’s much trickier when you still do, and that’s a tough one.

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  12. Susanna Musser

    If you read these comments putting one spouse in the place of the pastor and the other in the place of the congregation, one would conclude that one spouse is neglecting, guilting, manipulating, controlling, shaming, gas-lighting, disrespecting, enslaving. and generally mistreating the other spouse. Wow. Why is it seen as a mild “too bad” situation when a church is mistreating its pastor? This is just as morally reprehensible as the opposite situation, wherein a church leader is abusing his power for self-serving reasons. And do you know what? Religious abusers are getting away with it, because it’s way too easy to use God-words to enable abuse and silence the abused.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      “Why is it seen as a mild “too bad” situation when a church is mistreating its pastor?”
      Exactly! This really is terrible. And many elders’ boards and churches are truly abusive. I’ve seen many pastors be chewed up and spit out. It is terrible.

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  13. Kristin

    I’m a fan of yours, and a huge fan of Karen’s. I haven’t met her yet, but her and I overlap in some areas. I’m a minister’s wife, and I read through Karen’s book yesterday in full. I laughed, and I cried, and I recognized a lot of myself in her words.
    There is often a feeling that minister’s wives have it all together. We do…just as much as anyone else around us does! Meaning, sometimes yes, but much more often, no. At the same time, it is often isolating. I often do miss being a regular member of a church.

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  14. unmowngrass

    One thing I realised when I was reading this and the comments… do pastors and pastor’s families hold themselves to a different standard? Away from regular friendships in the church? like, they’ll come round for dinner if you invite them, and be very pleasant guests, but then they don’t put forth the effort to invite people round to theirs. Not individually. They’ll host a lot of things, bible studies or whole church socials, but they don’t host individual people/families or initiate hanging out at all. And that’s metaphoric too… they remain pleasant and friendly but never really open up emotionally, unless it’s in a vague way from the pulpit. Sometimes they even say no if you ask them to socialise.
    And I realise that in some ways it’s like a chicken and egg kind of question, but isn’t at least some of it coming from the pastor and the family themselves?

    Reply
    • Anon

      I guess it depends on the church and the pastor. My parents regularly invited people back for meals, especially those who were new to the area or living alone. We always had a table-full for Sunday lunch. And in many churches I’ve attended since, the pastor has either had an open house or had people around on an invitation basis regularly. One pastor had a point of making sure every regular attendee of his congregation came round for lunch or dinner at least twice every year.
      But I can understand pastors being reluctant to do this. In most churches, inviting people round with any regularity would mean having someone for a meal nearly all the time – that can be hard on the family. Ok, so the partner of the pastor has gone into this by choice, but what about the kids? And in the past, most pastors were full time, with wives who were full time at home/helping in church, so full-on mass hospitality was a lot easier. These days, a pastor may be juggling a ‘part time’ (there ain’t no such thing!) pastorate with a part-time job, and his/her spouse may be working full time. Plus a pastor who ‘socialises’ with his church is never off-duty – at any point, he can get asked theological questions or to help with personal issues. So it’s a little unfair to expect him to spend his ‘free time’ socialising with people who will expect him to work!
      Also, if the church expects its pastor to be ‘perfect’, there is an added strain to socialising with the church, since you are constantly expected to be ‘above’ everyone else in your behaviour, while not making anyone else feel uncomfortable! I’ve had first-hand insight into this – I attended my current church for over a year before I started dating the pastor, so I had an outsider’s view as to how he was treated. People would invite him to social events and then make nasty remarks – however he behaved, it was wrong – either he was too ‘like everyone else’ and a pastor is supposed to be different or he was ‘too spiritual’ and made everyone else feel uncomfortable!!! Is it any wonder that some pastors are reluctant to expose themselves to constant criticism in their ‘leisure time’?!

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      • Anonymous

        I can personally speak to this question, having been a pastor’s wife for the first sixteen years of our marriage.
        While there were many kind-hearted people in both churches my husband pastored, they were all very human people, and the pressure of high and often conflicting expectations never let up, so I never felt I could let down my guard. The pressure of this close and critical scrutiny, tied to our livelihood, was nearly unbearable for me at times. By nature, I’m a generally open and trusting “people” person. But I felt it would be favoritism if I grew closer to some church members than to others, so I held myself back. This dynamic isn’t conducive to building genuine friendships, but we were so financially strapped that we couldn’t afford a second vehicle to allow me to get out of the house during the day while my husband had office hours or in the evening when he had church meetings to attend. During half of those years, we lived a distance away from family and friends and were unable to take part in family gatherings or get together with friends. It was an extremely lonely time.
        Another consideration was that we had a much lower income level than the vast majority of the congregation, so we lived in tiny spaces and couldn’t afford to keep buying ingredients for meals nice enough to share with folks who were used to living in large houses and eating much better quality than we could afford. We had several small children as well. Yes, we were criticized by some for irresponsibly having too many children, because it made us less available for real ministry and made our financial need greater, and we have known this criticism to be leveled at other pastoral families.
        Another dynamic that was constantly present was what an above commenter mentioned. We were always trying to walk a line between being too this or too the opposite. Don’t drive a junker or you will embarrass us, but too nice a car would mean we’re paying you too much or you’re unwisely taking on debt. You must dress appropriately for every occasion, because we want to be proud of our pastor and his wife, but it should not be too fancy and not too shabby. You must not embarrass us by making yourself look foolish, but you shouldn’t be so uptight and unable to bend a little to have fun with everyone else. You’re too strict with your kids, but your kids must be well-behaved. This list could go on endlessly. We experienced more criticism during any given year of those sixteen years in “the ministry” than we have received total in the eleven years since.
        Either the whole system is set up in a pathological way, or we just experienced the seamy underbelly, but what we experienced was not conducive to the mental health of the pastoral family. And I fully expect that some who read this will critique me for saying that.

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        • Diane

          Well said. Did anyone else get a headache just reading this…now try to live it!!
          However there are many blessings too and mostly not the ones you can see.
          I had to dig deeper into my relationship with God to get a sense of well-being and acceptance from Him. He led me to the peace in times of trouble. We did not have too many financial pressure times but often political pressures within the church were excruciating!

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  15. David

    Unless you go to an organized denomination, the personality and preaching methodologies of a church, changes just about every time there is a change at the pulpit.
    In most of those cases, I felt like my kids were singled out to behave at a much higher standard than other kids in the congregation and in some cases, even higher that preacher’s kids.
    This made life very difficult for my kids and if I had to do it all over again, things would’ve been different, I would’ve had a backbone.

    Reply

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