February 4, 2013

Ministry & Friendship

The following is the beginning of Chapter 4, The Connecting Heart: Developing Life-Giving Friendships, in my book, The Church Planting Wife. Download the full chapter here. And remember, if you buy a hardcopy of the book this week, you can email your receipt to cpwifebook@moody.edu for a free digital copy!

When it comes to friendship, I have developed a great deal of insecurity.
In high school and college, I enjoyed close relationships with other women in which we shared the intimate details of our lives. Something strange occurred, however, when I graduated into adulthood, got married, and entered the ministry with my husband.

Although most of my high school and college friends lived in different cities and states, our relationships continued. But in our new city and new church, I struggled to make new friends. At first, in the bright-eyed honeymoon stage of marriage, I didn't prioritize friendship, so this new dearth of relationships didn't bother me much. After a few years, though, I noticed a subtle loneliness creeping in to my heart. Because I had not cultivated friendships, I felt almost emotionally malnourished. Worse, insecurity began plaguing my interactions with other women, leaving me self-conscious and concerned that my lack of friendships must indicate that I’m somehow not likeable. I felt as if I'd forgotten how to be a friend, how to make friends, or how to share myself with others. As a result, in our first eight years of marriage and ministry, I cried more tears of loneliness than any other kind.

To Know and Be Known
I don’t think this struggle is unusual for women in ministry, but I also don’t think it unusual for all women. I’ve spoken with women of all life stages and situations who have bemoaned their lack of heart friends. Every woman desires connection with others in which they are known, accepted, understood, and loved.

However, I do believe that the ministry life exacerbates the struggle. One reason is that somewhere, somehow an idea developed that ministry wives should not have friends in the church. Jen Hatmaker, a church planting wife in Austin, shared with me about this idea:
At my wedding shower when I was nineteen years old, my pastor's wife who I loved and respected gave a talk, and she looked me in the eyes and said, “When we were in seminary, John's professors told him not to make close friends because it would create jealousy in the church and people would resent us. They said part of our sacrifice was to be each other's best friend to the exclusion of outside couples and families, in order to preserve harmony in our congregation. 
“I want to tell you something,” she continued. “Do the exact opposite of that. Have best friends. Take trips together. Be vulnerable with them. Let love in and give it out with abandon. Have friends closer than brothers and sisters. I've been lonely my entire life, and I want your future life in ministry to be so full of close friends and love, you can barely contain it.”
I did exactly that. I spend so much time with my friends, it's embarrassing. It's this simple: I don't put any “should” or “should nots” into this equation because my husband is a pastor. I'm a girl. I love my friends just like every girl does.
Added Demands
Beyond lifestyle-induced isolation, other people's assumptions sometimes create problems for the church planting wife. If the reason for church planting is unclear, or if the church planter and his wife are put on a pedestal reserved for super-spiritual Christians, the church planting wife might feel misunderstood or deemed unapproachable. As a result, other women may not let down their guard or share who they really are, creating a barrier to intimate friendship.

In addition, church planting wives confront friendship struggles resulting from relocation, distance from familiar support systems, cultural differences, greater ministry time demands, being an outsider, or an inability to talk about their discouragement with people involved in the church plant. It comes as no surprise, then, that church planting wives report that making friends is one of the greatest struggles and heartaches they have:

• 65% of church planting wives say their husbands provide their primary emotional support
• 59% of church planting wives are busy leading one to three major ministries in the church in addition to family, community, and personal commitments and have little time for friendship cultivation
• 56% of pastors’ wives report having no close friends
• 80% report having struggled with depression
Ministry: The Ultimate Excuse?
We can list all the reasons why church planting makes friendship difficult, but most of the time, if we’re honest, we use ministry as an excuse. We blame church planting for our loneliness while we habitually withhold our needs from others or refuse to let people serve us. We think and talk about how we do not lead a “normal” life, fueling our own assumptions that we are different than everyone else, that no one understands our lives, and that we are all alone. Victim-like, we resign ourselves to an unwelcome fate of friendlessness and isolation.
  • I can’t be friends with people in the church since I can’t talk to them about one of the biggest aspects of my life.
  • No one understands what my life is like as a church planter’s wife.
  • No one initiates conversation with me, therefore they must not like me.
  • People will eventually leave the church so I can’t get connected to anyone or I’ll just be hurt in the end.
  • We’re eventually going to leave so I don’t want to get too connected.
  • People expect me to be a certain way so since I can’t be myself. I’m just going to retreat away from them.
  • I’m tired of always being the initiator/shower planner/leader/hostess. No one ever does anything for me.
  • I can’t share or show my faults and weaknesses because I’m the pastor’s wife.
  • I should always be giving or leading; I’m not entitled to receive.I tried sharing my heart and her response wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I don’t think I’ll try that again.
  • If I share my needs, I will be a burden to others. 

When we make these assumptions or believe these lies, we can slip into self-pity, creating our own isolation. They become excuses for retreat or self-induced isolation. Blaming ministry only serves to erect further barriers to friendship.

That's exactly what I did for too many years. My circumstances—serving in a somewhat age-isolated ministry and having three babies right in a row—made friendship difficult, but I made it even more challenging by letting my circumstances (and my insecurities) dictate my life. Looking back, I can clearly pinpoint things how I could have done things differently. And, thankfully, through church planting, God gave me a do-over.

Download the full chapter from the book here.
Have you added your story to our link up party? You still have a chance to share your church planting or ministry story, which will enter you into a giveaway for the book, as well as a necklace from The Vintage Pearl. I will announce a winner tomorrow!