April 25, 2012

When Your Friend is a Pastor's Wife

We've been talking about relationships among women around here after I shared about what a nursing bra taught me about friendship and why friendship can be difficult to cultivate. Upon reading about the friendship struggles specific to women in ministry, one reader, Dianne, asked:

One of my good friends is a pastor's wife and I know she has a special set of struggles and responsibilities to go with it. I wondered if you, as a pastor's wife, could share what is helpful to YOU in a friend?

This is a great question and I'm happy to give my two cents. I hope, however, that ministry wives will fill up the comments section with their own insights into what is helpful for them. 
Here are my thoughts: 

If you are good friends with your pastor's wife (or perhaps you are friend of a pastor's wife at another church), the first thing you should know, the most important thing you should know is that you have a unique opportunity to serve and minister to someone who is primarily (and often, happily) in a serving role. There are not many people who consider the pastor's wife to be a real person, or as Jan Karon relays in At Home in Mitford: "It's almost impossible for leaders of a congregation to accept that their pastor (or pastor's wife!) needs pastoring." 

As I said before, your pastor's wife may have difficulty distinguishing who her friends are. The lines between ministry and friendship are often blurred. Is she having coffee with a friend or someone who needs counsel? Do they want to know her or know their "pastor's wife"? She will identify you as a good friend when you see her as a real person, as someone who needs counsel and encouragement as much as the next person. 

Aside from that most crucial factor of friendship, as the pastor's wife, there are other things I look for from good friends. Someone in the "friend" category:
  • Is a safe person: emotionally healthy, discreet, able to handle discussing my own issues.
  • Is comfortable around me and real with me about what her life is like. So refreshing!
  • Asks questions about me, not about church details or decisions. She shows interest in my life.
  • Initiates getting together.
  • Invites me to her home or to get-togethers.
  • Hosts or plans something and doesn't always expect me to take the lead.
  • Understands that Sunday mornings are not the best times to talk. In other words, she is understanding, flexible, and gives me space to carry out my calling.
  • Challenges me and encourages me spiritually.
  • Loves my kids and lets them be kids.
  • Prays for me.
Then there are dynamics that distinguish someone in the "ministry" category. If you are good friends with a pastor's wife, you should definitely NOT do these things. They are:
  • Don't talk about your plans with the pastor's wife in front of her and other women who were not invited. This adds loads of pressure on her. In the same vein, if she senses that you flaunt your relationship, as if she were an object or a prize, you become an unsafe person to her.
  • Don't ask questions about church decisions, church events, or confidential counseling information. Please also don't make her the go-between between you and the pastor.
  • Don't introduce her to others as your pastor's wife. (see also: Pastor's Wife, Conversation Killer)
  • Don't be clingy or demanding of her time.
  • It's OK to share struggles or concerns with her, but don't view her as your personal counselor and constantly dump or vent.
  • Don't criticize the church, her husband, or her kids. If you have a problem with something, please handle it appropriately.
  • Don't make assumptions about the pastor's wife without getting to know her personally.
I hope that provides a little insight, but I'm way more interested in your perspective. If you are a ministry wife, what is helpful for you in a friend? If you are not a ministry wife, what is it like to be friends with a ministry wife? How can we make friendship easier?