June 4, 2015

Questions from Pastor's Wives: Will I Only Ever Be Seen as "The Pastor's Wife"?

This is the second in a short series of posts in which I'm answering questions sent to me from fellow pastor's wives. In the first post, I answered, "How do I respond when people leave our church?"  I've actually answered questions previously that I've received from church planting wives, so if that pertains to you, please find them here: Mothering While Churching, Fighting Exhaustion, and When You're Preparing to Plant and Feel Overwhelmed.

Here's today's question:
Do people, when they see me, always think "church" or will they ever want to know me for me?
"I feel like in almost every friendship I have, we start with normal conversation but we then inevitably end up talking about church. I'm not just a pastor's wife. There's more to me than that."
My take:
Pastor's wife, I empathize with you. You are navigating the confusing and blurry lines of relationships that all pastor's wives must navigate, specifically the distinction between true friendship and ministry friendship. You seek to love and honor in all of your relationships, but, as every woman does, you desire friendship in which you are not first seen as "the pastor's wife".

This isn't a shameful desire, but it's important to remember three things:

1) People may talk to us about church because it's one way they know to strike up conversation and attempt to get to know us. They may not know what else to talk to us about, especially if we don't reveal ourselves to them. More on that in a moment.

2) The vast majority of people talk to us about church with the best of intentions. They may not be aware of just how much others talk to us about church. They may not be aware of how little the pastor and the pastor's wife get asked about themselves rather than church-centric questions. They may think we want to talk about church, because it's something they see we're passionate about.

3) We can't control how people respond to us or view us. But we can control our own perspectives and responses. Is being identified and related to primarily as "the pastor's wife" frustrating at times? Yes, but I've learned to flip the frustration on it's side and instead search for the opportunity in it.
Mainly, being known as a pastor's wife affords me an opportunity to teach, influence, bless, and steer. In keeping this attitude and perspective, I'm much less prone to frustration over conversation about church in my relationships.

So how do we feed this perspective that being a pastor's wife in social situations is an opportunity and not a burden?

Resolve to not be sensitive about people wanting to talk church with us.

Take the church talk one step further. Turn the conversation to heart-level spiritual matters. For example, let's say someone is talking to you about the small group options at your church and possibly even complaining about what is offered. Simply ask, "So what are y'all talking about in small group?" and then turn the conversation personal and heart-level. Don't forget to share about what God is teaching you through your small group as well!

If the church talk continues, especially if there are questions or concerns expressed, steer the person to an appropriate avenue to express them. It's not our responsibility to defend or explain. We can simply say, "I understand your concerns. You should consider talking to so-and-so (person in charge) about it. They would be open and receptive to that conversation." And then change the subject.

Help ease any intimidation. It's laughable to me that someone would find me or my husband intimidating. If they only knew! But many people truly are intimidated of their pastor and pastor's wife. Which leads me to my next point:

Reveal yourself. If you read and remember nothing else, this is what I'd want you to remember. Let them see you as a real person and then they'll treat you as a real person. We pastor's wives are notoriously bad at revealing ourselves, often because we convince ourselves that we can't share our struggles, questions, or needs. Why? Because we're "the pastor's wife". We feed the very thing we don't want! Vulnerability is such a vital component as we navigate relationships in our churches.

As I've let go of my frustration, accepted this role as an opportunity, and stutter-stepped my way through learning the things I've shared with you, I've found the lines between friendship and ministry relationships have become far less blurry. I hope the same for you, that a friendship or two where you're not first "the pastor's wife" will be born.

What wisdom would you add in response to this pastor's wife?