I’ve been mulling over something in my mind for a while now. I’ve discussed it with several people, and I’m now ready to put it out into the “blogosphere” to see what others think about it. It’s this idea of pastors and their wives having friendships inside of the church. I’m starting to wonder if it’s really possible.
Over the last 20 months, there have been some people who have come into our life through the church that we have gotten to know and love dearly-and I mean dearly. I find myself kind of in awe of God that He would surround us with such loving, supportive people. It’s one of the greatest honors of my life that people would actually believe in what we’ve put together, and dedicate so much of their time and energy to serve alongside us. It’s an honor, and an awesome responsibility.
All that withstanding though, there are some challenges that I am just now fully realizing.
Here is what I always thought about Shaun and I: we are young, hip, cool, and down to earth leaders that other people our age would enjoy being around, hanging out with, and serving with. We weren’t bringing into the church leadership structure any high and mighty, I know God and you don’t, parental oversight and dictatorship. We were of the people and for the people. In every way, we were just one of the people who just so happened to be the starters of this church. We always rejected any special treatment (no silly anniversary celebrations, no elaborate birthday gifts, etc.). We were just two leaders among many.
This is what I thought of us until recently. What I’m now coming to understand is that while most of that may be true, our church members will never look at us nor treat us like we’re just one of them. Particularly if they’re on the staff of the church, I think it’s pretty much impossible. We are different, and will be given “special” treatment. I started taking note of some behaviors that brought this fact to light. I’ll detail them below.
#1. I started noticing how new people reacted when they were introduced to me. Someone who had been attending the church would invite someone. They would see me in the hallway and introduce me as “Rai.” It would go something like “Hey visitor friend, I’d like to introduce you to Rai.” The visitor would look at me, smile politely, and say hello. Well then the member would say “this is our Pastor’s wife.” Then the face of the visitor would change, even light up a bit. They’d say “Ooo” shake my hand again, smile a little bit bigger, and say “it’s so very nice to meet you.” I’m not making this up. I promise. I’ve noticed it several times. Introduce me as ‘Rai’ and it’s the run of the mill polite hand shake. Introduce me as the Pastor’s wife and all of a sudden I’m important. I get it. I really do. I guess it is cool to be introduced to and hold a conversation with the wife of the person who started this church you’re attending. I guess it does give the conversation a new level of significance. The message: I’m different.
#2. I started noticing that people aren’t always truthful with me. I’ll have a conversation with someone-someone that I have a close relationship with-about a particular area they are serving in. I’ll ask them how things are going, what challenges they may be facing, etc. For the most part I’ll get that everything is just fine, that it is an honor for them to be serving in this capacity, they don’t really need anything at all, on and on and on. But then, I’ll hear later on that things really aren’t ok. They really aren’t too thrilled about what they’re doing, and there are some challenges they neglected to discuss with me. And I’m stumped! I’m like, really? Why didn’t they just tell me how they were really feeling or what was really going on? I’m starting to see that people will not talk to Shaun and I as openly and honestly as they will other members or even other leaders at the church. The message again: We’re different.
This really should not have surprised me. If I think back, it was the same way at other churches we’ve attended, except the shoe was on the other foot. People would always come to Shaun about complaints and concerns they had with this or that because he was a staff pastor and not THE pastor. I’m realizing now that women who considered themselves “friends” of the pastor and his wife at these churches had very frank conversations with me saying things that they NEVER would have said to the actual pastor. And it wasn’t really because they were two-faced. They genuinely loved the pastoral family, spent personal time with them, etc. But I think there is always a space there, a line that can’t be crossed. I think there is a hierarchy-even if it is slight- that doesn’t allow for free, open friendships where nothing is held back.
Members of my church-even if I love them, share my life with them, share my hopes, dreams, fears, failures, etc. and they share all those things with me- will always treat me “differently” than their other friends. And I guess, if I’m being honest, I will always treat them differently than I do my other friends outside of the church. I choose my words more carefully, I don’t share as many of the details of my marriage, because I’m not just talking about my husband, I am also talking about their pastor. Now, I share a lot. In an effort to be open, honest, and transparent, I share a lot more than I think most pastor’s wives do. But, honestly, it’s not the same. I want them to see me as worthy of this post I hold, and with my other friends, I don’t care about that.
Hear my heart, I’m not complaining. At least I’m not trying to. I see that people treat us the way they do out of love and respect. And that all parties involved mean well. I guess it’s just disappointing. It’s disappointing to realize that I can be close to and even friends with people who are members of my church, but it will never be as free as the friendships I have with those outside of my church. At the end of the day, no matter how “cool” and relaxed Shaun and I try to be, our members will always defer to us. At the end of the day, what we say (actually, what Shaun says) goes. Anytime you feel obligated to refer to my husband by his title before his name-as most people in the church do- there isn’t real freedom in the relationship. This is particularly true if he signs the paycheck you receive. Then he’s your boss. A cool boss maybe, a nice one, and not overbearing one, but still your boss. I don’t think genuine friendships can exist in that type of structure.
Maybe I’m wrong. I’d really like to know what the rest of you think about this!