>> April 18, 2011
Dear Pastor's Wife,
"Why doesn't your husband dress 'nicer' on a Sunday morning? Does he really need to wear jeans? That is just so hard for me to get used to."
The encounter was early in my days as a pastor's wife. She was an older lady who was unaccustomed to the laid back generation coming up behind her. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she was well-meaning. However, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with such a statement.
Why she was telling me? Was I seen as responsible for my husband's attire? Did she want me to talk to him? Was she just making conversation? How was I to graciously respond to that?
"The music is too loud."
"He doesn't give enough altar calls."
"I don't think so-and-so is very good."
"I don't think that was a good decision."
"He was too blunt in his preaching."
So many times, as pastor's wives, we find ourselves backed into corners, listening to unsolicited advice, grievances, or "concerns" regarding ourselves, church leadership, or our husbands. In an effort to "better" the church experience, people make strong suggestions and test their influence, particularly with the pastor and his wife. These little needles of criticism can over time leave us worn down and frustrated.
We can't please everyone (and as a pastor's wife our control is very limited), so what are we to do when negativity is placed at our feet? My husband and I are learning in this area and these are the guidelines we try to set in place.
- Seek to understand the person, not just the criticism
Usually what is being said is a peek into what is going on deeper inside of a person's heart, and we must look past the words and into their being. You've heard the phrase, "Consider the source". Do they have a reputation for this? Are they hurting? ...because we all know that hurt people hurt people.
Have they earned the right to be heard in your life (i.e. do you have a relationship with them, are they an authority over you)? Are they godly people speaking from a place of the Holy Spirit? What does their criticism say about their heart...is the criticism valid and loving or bitter and controlling?
Beware of people who say "God told me to tell you...." or claim to have the gift of prophecy or discernment and therefore feel they have the right to tell you something that God has not already told you Himself. Just sayin'...
- Sift through the truth and the lies
Is this a sin issue or is this a preference issue? What part is true and with whom does the responsibility lie? It may truly be their issue that they are trying to place upon you.
- Practice the presence of God in the moment
The simplest response is always the best. Fewer words mean you can spend those conversational moments praying... for grace, for wisdom, for words and for love. As you listen, remember to keep perspective, for in the scheme of things it probably isn't that big of a deal. Setting your mind on the Lord and His nearness will help you to do that.
- Work on getting over any vestiges of people-pleasing
In other words, grow some thicker skin. People-pleasing and criticism do not mix. When you can stand confident before the Lord about an issue, it is so much easier to give others grace when they voice their opinions.
- Don't jeopardize your own integrity.Don't get caught up in the gossip.
Don't give them cause to support the criticism of you.
Don't get defensive, emotional, or caught up in a power struggle. Just because someone is bringing you their "stuff", doesn't mean you need to engage in the same way.
How to handle criticism aimed at our husbands:
This is a difficult one for me because I can handle criticism about myself much better than I can handle criticism about my husband. I think it is probably a love and control thing.
So often, people think that they can influence the pastor through the pastor's wife. I tend to just let them know up-front that this isn't the case with me. I'll say, "I am sorry, I don't usually pass on information like that to my husband. Have you talked to him directly about this?" Either they already have and didn't get the response they wanted, or they haven't because they are too afraid to.
I had to learn early on not to take up an offense for my husband. He is very capable of handling himself and I don't need to be mad at others on his behalf or defend him. Because of this, I even request that my husband not tell me everything negative that happens at church. I want to be free to love people well. Ignorance allows me to do so.
How to handle criticism aimed at our church leadership:
On a very real level, criticism about another church staff member is the same as criticism about another lay person.
It is gossip.
Again, they need to go to the source and we need to cut off the conversation as soon as we can. (I suppose there are rare exceptions if we are in a specific leadership position ourselves and we can do something to promote unity, but if there is little we can do to help, we need to redirect).
Speak highly, yourself, of all those in leadership at the church. The enemy loves nothing more than to see division among staff.
How to handle criticism aimed at our children:
This, too, is a tough one because it brings out the Mama Bear in us. The bottom line? We should not parent any differently just because we are in the spotlight. We must carry on as we would normally do if we were not the pastor's family (hopefully that is in a wise and godly way).
Say, "Thank you for sharing". Make sure your children are not around to hear it, and then move on.
How to handle criticism directed towards ourselves:
Just like anyone else, we can encounter criticism about our faith, our parenting style, our dress, our friendliness, our friendships, our attendance, or our ideas. How we handle it is an indication of our humility as evidenced by our willingness to grow, learn, and change.
Rhonda Baker from Central Christian Church taught me this principle:
- Process the criticism over three days, giving it a death, burial and resurrection. On day one, feel the pain, sting and hurt of the criticism. Allow yourself to grieve.Finally, in all of this, remember Jesus. He didn't always answer His accusers. He knew His position was secure. He, too, endured criticism and in the midst of it all He remained humble. Oh, that we would follow His example.
- On day two, go silent and don't talk about it. Just let it set with you and allow the Lord to work within you that which He wants to you learn.
- Then on day three, process it to a place where you can take away a truth that will help to make you better in Christ. At this point, we must filter it through the grid of God's Word, discarding the lies and keeping those things that are valid.
- During this process, ask someone whom you know loves you (and will be honest with you) if there is truth in what has been said and use that for the good.
Then, dear one, move on. Life is too short, and there is too much ministry to do to allow ourselves to become stuck or bitter in the criticism of others. Thinking too much about the criticism is thinking too much about yourself.
God has called and anointed us to help lead our churches and we must move forward in that calling. Leave the criticism behind and walk toward the glory of serving our God.
Growing stronger and wiser with you,
Growing up in a pastor’s home, Joy Dombrow was molded and shaped by a life of ministry and service. While studying Human Development/ Education at a Christian college and then teaching, she partnered with her husband in youth ministry at four different churches, a calling that continued for 15 years.Currently, Joy’s husband Joel serves as lead pastor of Willamette Christian Church, where she serves in a wide variety of teaching, serving, counseling and advisory roles. She is passionate about helping women understand and apply the truths in God’s Word and enjoys using speaking opportunities to do so.
In her free time, Joy writes, cheers her kids at sporting events, plays board games, chats with friends, reads five books at any given time, and makes references to her beloved television show Little House on the Prairie... all while sipping on a cup of peppermint tea.
Joy and her husband make their home in the Portland, Oregon area, along with their two school-aged children, Nathan and Elisabeth.
She has graciously shared this series as a guest writer for CLUTCH. You can read more about her life, ministry and family on her personal blog here.
Use allowed by express written permission only.
Tweets, trackbacks, and link sharing encouraged.