Is It Possible for Pastors’ Wives to Find Friends They Can Trust?

I stared at the telephone on the kitchen wall. Whom could I call?

A staff minister had recently resigned in the wake of immorality, and as the news spread through the congregation the truth had been twisted. Some members had called me, the pastor’s wife, with wrong information. I wanted to give them the real story, but I did not feel free to tell them what I knew.

My husband, Ed, was out of the country, and I felt ready to explode with the need to unburden myself. I spent a few frantic seconds trying to think of someone I could confide in. Martha, a longtime friend, was the only candidate but she was a church member. I knew I should discuss the resignation only with leaders who were involved, so I didn’t phone her.

For the rest of Ed’s two-week absence, I spent every possible hour digging and transplanting lilies all over our property (which was something of a miracle in Michigan during October). I shared my intense feelings and confusion only with God, and I was grateful for His companionship. He was the only one I could talk to.

Everybody needs trusted friends, but we who serve with a pastoral staff are called to exercise wisdom when nurturing friendships. How can we develop relationships that will last through moves, church fights and physical changes and not compromise our ministries?

Roadblocks to Relationships

As Ed and I have matured during our 24 years of marriage, I have found it more and more important to guard our own friendship with fierce loyalty. If I don’t, not only will our relationship be affected, but our ministry can be damaged. For example, often I cannot talk with a close acquaintance about her crumbling marriage because I could compromise confidentiality and decrease Ed’s effectiveness as a minister. Or if a person wants to talk with me after losing her job with the church, I may have to refuse since an innocent remark could become ammunition in a dispute.

Another common roadblock to friendship is being the new person in the church. We have served at Calvary Church since 1987, but members still say to me, “We’re so glad you came here.” That one sentence keeps our relationship to the church in perspective. This place now feels like home to our family, but to the people whose roots go back two, three or four generations, we have come to “their” church.

Consequently, it is important to maintain friendships outside the church, with people who know you from elsewhere, are not involved in the church business, and will love you no matter what. We can rejoice when a new minister’s spouse bonds strongly with one or two members, but the hearts of many ministry wives and husbands have been broken by betrayed friendships.

That is why I think it is rarely appropriate to discuss sensitive situations in the church with a friend who is a member. I may think my friend is an objective observer, only to find out later that longtime bonds (of which I was unaware) are stronger than my new relationship.

Also, except in rare circumstances (such as having a trained counselor in the congregation), I do not think it is wise to discuss marital problems with members. (If problems in your home are serious, contact a caregiving ministry that offers professional assistance for ministers and their families. The Pastoral Ministries department at Focus on the Family can help you locate one).  Proverbs 12:26 instructs us that “a righteous man is cautious in friendship.” I take those words to heart.

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SOURCE: Just Between Us
Lorna Dobson