Better Half

Family, Life, and Politics from Wifey

Can Pastors be Friends With Their Members? October 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — raitking @ 6:09 pm

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!


21 Responses to “Can Pastors be Friends With Their Members?”

  1. Chase Says:

    In my experience, when you try to break down the wall of pastor/member, or bring something to the pastor, its always put back on the the member. Or at another church, the pastor was on a throne so high from the congregation the person never felt “free” to say anything.

    I would rather know you as a person and a friend first and pastor second. Do I think it should always be that way? Depends on the situation. But I completely understand your points above.

    It would also help if pastors (not saying Shaun or you) were just as real as they want people to be, thats often not the case.

    • raitking Says:

      I think pastor’s aren’t as “real” out of fear of being judged. Pastors are held to a different, often higher, standard than most. Showing one’s flaws is a vulnerable position for anyone. But even more so for a pastor who’s in a lot of ways in the “morality” business.

  2. Lamar Says:

    Rai, this is a great post. Great question. This is one that I have wrestled with as well. One thing that I learned that the burden of leading means dealing with the reality that we are the only ones whose backs have to be exposed. When you’re “out front” that means we have to have a reasonable amount of vulnerability. One of my favorite stories is in John 1:35-39. Jesus opened up his life to those who followed him, unfortunately those who followed didn’t always reciprocate. The same can also be said with those who follow us pastors.

    The thing is though, I think that its sometimes neccessary for things to be that way. People can’t follow if their backs are turned to us. In other words, if people we lead always have the backs exposed to us, then we end up facing different directions and run the risk of walking away from each other. (I hope you get the visual image). What I have experienced is that friendship with members comes with limited exposure, and most times it is a safeguard that protects the integirty of the relationship, the role that we play as pastors, and the vision of that God has for his church.

    I will say that it is important to have meaningful relationships with friends and colleagues outside of your church, as pastors we still need to have relationships with people who can be completely vulnerable with us, and we can be completely vulnerable with as well. I do agree with you though, but I have learned to live with the reality that those friendships with members are just as important, they are just different, and that’s ok too.

    • raitking Says:

      Thanks Lamar for your comment. I agree with you that it is often necessary for pastors to have limited exposure in their relationships with members. Some people can easily become too familiar, and lines get blurred, and boundaries get crossed. It can be so tricky to maintain the balance of these relationships.

  3. DisneyCyndi Says:

    Sadly I have found this to be true also. I don’t like it (Marc really doesn’t like it), but it is what it is. Even some of my friends outside of the church treat me differently. Once I stepped on a ladies toes by accident. You should have seen the look she gave me. But when someone introduced me as a Pastor’s wife her whole demeanor changed! It was crazy. We have been told by many who have come before us that people just see our role differently, and because of that they really don’t want to get to know the “real” me. They want and expect their pastor and “first lady” to be different from everyone else!

    • raitking Says:

      That story about the lady’s toes is too funny! I’m glad to know I’m not crazy though. I knew people were reacting to me differently once they found out I was the pastor’s wife.
      I find that a number of people can’t handle knowing the “real” me. Like you said, they have expectations of who I am/should be, and are surprised to find I’m nothing like that. I’m a regular human being with many of the same struggles, flaws, and insecurities as them. I believe God equips us all to handle what He has called us to do and be. But that doesn’t mean making us perfect! (at least not yet 😉

  4. Kris Lukings Says:

    This is something the one thing that I am having a bit of difficulty since joining my husband in ministry. He told me that, while you can have friendships there should always be a distance there. It is frustrating sometimes (that is what is so great about the L&LI group!!) but it is a part of this life to which we are called…

    I don’t think that I saw this really clearly until I decided to take part in a course at our last church. Several of the people who attended the course were from other churches around and didn’t know me. To make a long story shorter – I accidentally took someone’s seat and they were none too impressed. She wasn’t nasty – just dismissed my apology and ignored me. That is she ignored me until the teacher introduced me to the crowd… Then she was apologetic and wanted to be my best friend.

    Balance is the hard part… As you said, there are people that we can love and be close to – to a point. But we have to guard against forgetting the relationship of pastor to member. They need to see us as real people for sure – but they don’t necessarily need to see or know too much. Does that make sense? I think I am basically agreeing with both of you ladies. Tis a fine line that we need to walk…

    • raitking Says:

      Thanks for your comment Kris! Creating distance is more frustrating than I ever knew. I have a few good friends outside of the church. But most of the people I interact with on a regular basis are members of our church. I spend the most time, by far, with them. So it’s very easy and natural to become close with them. I wish it could just be that simple. But I’m realizing that it isn’t. And that I have to accept each relationship for what it is.

      I have to get more in tune with the L&LI group. I know I’m a member of the facebook group. I don’t ever check it though. I will try to get more involved!

  5. Dear Pastor’s Wife. 🙂 Actually it could be worse up here in Michigan people love saying Miss Rai…I just don’t get it, and I’d love to lose the titles all together. You’re a regular person like everyone else.

    As far as staff, that’s tough no matter if your in a church or a business, the two don’t mix well. The difference is that many pastors I know confuse staff with automatic friends and friendship doesn’t work like that.

    For some reason people love to put pastors on pedestals, and look at them as if they are different. You’re right, and it’s not healthy…for anyone.

    My wife and I have always said that God’s given us the ability to be friends with pastors. We treat them like we treat everyone else.

    Honestly though, while I think they usually like it, sometimes they’d like to be able to turn on the pastor switch. If we disagree on something, -flip- the pastor switch turns on and presto they’re right. They also like to be treated differently by us within the church walls. Outside I’ll call them by their first name (like every other person on the planet) but at church it’s Pastor Joe.

    Two way street. Truth is it feels good to be treated special and sometimes that means you might be trying to turn that switch on. Other times others may want to turn it on, choose your friends carefully.

    • raitking Says:

      You’re very right. It does feel good sometimes to be treated special. And it’s sometimes necessary. For instance, if Shaun’s assistant didn’t fix his breakfast plate during our free breakfast on Sunday mornings, he wouldn’t eat. That’s why she started doing it. Everyone stops him in the hallways and by the time he sits down, it’s about time for the next service to start. He doesn’t have the time to wait in line. So in that instance, being treated “special” is a necessity.
      I guess my struggle is in accepting this truth. I thought we’d be just like everyone else to our members, but we’re not. And I doubt that will ever change. I guess it’s the way it’s supposed to be????

  6. Niki Says:

    Great post. Thank you for the insight.

  7. mrsmoore Says:

    Great post and very good question. I am currently reading
    “Pagan Christianity” and there is a section that speaks about the hierarchy in the church and where it originated. Very good and enlightening book so far. I don’t think there should be a distance between the pastor/pastor’s wife and the members and we should be able to develop relationships with one another because we are the church. I think once people stop just “going to church” and learn to BECOME the church as we are called to, then this wouldn’t be an issue.

    • raitking Says:

      Thanks for your comment! I wish there wasn’t a distance, but there is. I didn’t create it-at least I don’t think I did. Some of it is tradition. Some of it, I think, is the natural byproduct of the pastor/member structure.

  8. Jacinda Phillips Says:

    Great post!! Human nature is very easy to impress. I’ve found for myself as a non Pastor’s wife, that as I grow in intimacy in my relationship with Christ, I’m less impressed or moved by a person’s ministry position. I’ve learned how to value and honor Pastoral leadership without being overawed. My husband & I met you guys several times at the Williams’ home and know that y’all are very down to earth and easy going, so I know the superior attitude is not there. It’s important for you guys to maintain those relationship and accountability that going to keep it consistently real with you. I must say that I am very thankful for you guys obedience to Shepard to this capacity. It’s possible people are unaware of how they approach Pastors and their wives. Again, great post!

    • raitking Says:

      Thanks Jacinda! I think you’re right. Most people are unaware of how they approach pastors and their wives. And I’m not saying pastors and their families aren’t worthy of care, and respect. But I do think it can get out of hand, and it can get in the way of developing authentic relationships with people. I just wasn’t expecting this to be an issue in our ministry.

  9. I agree with you Rai,

    It was such a shift for me as my husband became a Pastor of our church and began preaching. People started noticing us, giving us meals just to help us out in our daily lives, offering us tickets to events, it is like we went on their radars. We have been going to our church for 12 years and my husband has been working at the church for 8, but it was not until he started preaching that people started noticing us, treating us differently, wanting us to “approve” of them, wanting us to care about the details of their lives without thinking to reciprocate the effort in ours. It is such a different dynamic. I saw it with another Pastor on our team, who became pastor before my husband did, and with his wife, everyone would be quiet when she spoke, offered to babysit or take her children on outings for free, and would give her food/clothing/furniture etc. And she is the meekest little mousy person you have ever met, this was not a person abusing power or asking for influence, people just rushed to help her with every little thing in her life.

    It used to grow a jealousy in me, but now that I am the “pastor’s wife” I realize in some ways we need it. As leaders, we are constantly handling other people’s burdens, sitting with them through the crises in their lives, counseling them in their deep darkness, my husband takes months to prepare a preaching series and it exhausts him emotionally, spiritually, and physically, plus he is out of the home which leaves me more burdened by the daily needs of the children as he is serving the church and the community. So, their deference toward us and service toward us gives us a little cushion for the ministry my husband has on his shoulders.

    There is a Biblical precedent for it as well. God did create order in his universe, and heirarchies, just look at his discription of the angels versus the Son of Man and versus humans (Colossians 1:16-17, Luke 20:36 2Peter 2:11). If there is an authority system in place in the heavenly spiritual realm, it would stand to reason that there is one on earth as well. We see in the early church authority being a major discussion in how to relate to one another, an acknowledgement of heirarchies was insisted upon (1 Corinthians 11:7-12, Colossians 3:18-22, Ephesians 5-6). Church leaders are also to be above reproach (1 Timothy 5:7, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1:6-9), be prepared to be judged more pointedly (James 3:1), and also to be treated with an awareness of their position (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

    Ultimately, no matter how I try to present myself – approachable, cool, hip; if my husband has been given the mantle of leader, pastor, and teacher – spiritual and church authority over souls, I will must be prepared to lead, be a good example, and carefully love in all interactions with those who see him as pastor.

    And, even as I find this to be Biblically called for, and experiencially true, I am very thankful for your post, as it makes me feel sane and not alone in my struggle to find friends/peers at church. Though I find friendly people, who care, love, and serve me, they are ultimately looking at me as an authority on their lives and one whom they should imitate (Hebrews 13:7). So, I am learning to live out Romans 12:8 and rule or lead with diligence.

    Hoping for more friendship with other pastor’s wives along the way!

    In Christ’s service and love,

  10. Ami Loizides Pruett Says:

    What a great post – this is something that has really been nagging at my heart as my husband and I step more into ministry together (we just got married in June). Ministry can be such a lonely place – I find that I can’t be completely open with friends in the church with things I’m struggling with, thoughts and ideas as a) they don’t understand what it’s like and b) we are constantly in some sort of leadership over them so the atmosphere, authority and respect will change slightly. That’s also the case with my friends outside of church as in the back of my mind I’m always trying to find ways to get them to church and ultimately to Jesus – any little comment can change opinions. Good to know other ladies are thinking about this too!

  11. Violet Says:

    Wow, I just want to say thank you so much for being so honest. God is so beatiful and wise, I am also a pastor’s wife and I also had this exact question on my mind and the same thing happens to me. I always hear from other people that so and so is having this or that problem but when I talked to them, everything is “fine.”
    Wow, God just used you to help me know that I’m not alone. I found you guys, on streaming faith and now I am fan of both of you. God bless you and your ministry, thanks for being so transparent this is a quality that my husband and I always strive for. Blessings!

  12. WO Says:

    Welcome to your responsibility!! I pray that you and your husband will shoulder it well and harness it for GOD’s usage.

  13. Doug Says:

    Hi! I’ve done my best to stay in touch with my pastor who moved away almost 20 years ago. He is very open and honest about things, and I related to him real well. He made a big difference compared to other pastors. But he keeps these boundaries up. It’s always me who contacts him, and it leaves me with this feeling like I don’t measure up. So I finally decided to just cut it off and move on, but it really sucks. I thought he was my friend. But now I am learning more from you. Thank you for writing this. Doug.

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