Yesterday was my granddaughter Amaya’s 7th birthday. I am in California to celebrate all week her preciousness. We are going to paint pottery and our nails. We are going to the bookstore to read books and buy a special new book for this budding reader. We ate birthday cake and sang Happy birthday to her last night. And we gave her a new suitcase so that she could come visit her Nana and Pop Pop in style.
As I delight in her, I can’t help but think how this gives us a glimpse of how delighted God is with us. I am anxious to see the woman she becomes and how she develops her gifts and abilities to become all that God put inside of her. I would hate if anyone hurt her or crushed the beautiful person she is. I believe my feelings in a small way teach us a little bit about how God feels about us. It gives us a picture of how God feels about you all – his precious daughters being abused, crushed, silenced and ironed flat so that you can’t develop your fullest self.
And, as we are God’s representatives on this earth we are called to help the oppressed and abused. We are called to protect and speak out about this kind of squashing and silencing and I’m thankful for each of you. I love how you rally around one another to nourish and nurture and remind one another just how precious you are.
Today’s Question: My husband is a pastor who is narcissistic, emotionally reactive and verbally abusive, but on the milder side. He controls this for the most part with others in the church, but a couple people in leadership at our last church got a “taste” of his anger, bullying, lack of remorse, and he was eventually asked to step down. Of course, he feels those individuals were in the wrong.
Those who have never seen this side of him see him as caring, a gifted teacher, strong leader and charismatic, which he can be. We recently completed six marriage-counseling sessions. There has been some attempt at change, but I don't sense it is a “heart thing.” I'm working on my CORE, but I find that as a pastor's wife, the concept of living out the “C,” that of being committed to truth with no pretending, is almost impossible, unless I plan to ruin his reputation, his career and place additional stress on our marriage (we have an 8-year old son).
In ministry, how you and your spouse are perceived is directly tied to your livelihood. In the meantime, he started a “new” church of about 25 people that “support” him because they haven't seen the “other” side of him. My heart is not in this, but since I am a stay home mom, I have “gone along” with him. I have asked him to find someone else to lead music, but he says, “So what are you going to do for God?” and “This is how we make a living.”
I sometimes think about going to a different church, but I know the backlash I would get from him and questions from those in our current church. How do I NOT pretend?
Answer: You do have a dilemma on many fronts and I appreciate you reaching out for wisdom and help. It’s not easy being a pastor’s wife. Even with a godly husband, being in ministry takes a toll on a pastor’s wife. There is little support and often no one to confide in. It’s scary to be up front in ministry and to let yourself be vulnerable and expose your brokenness because people do judge. And, it’s true, your livelihood depends on people thinking well of you both.
So here’s what I see. You have a marriage issue, you have a “perception” of us as a couple issue, and you have an integrity issue because you don’t want to pretend in front of the folks in this new church but if you don’t go along and play the nice pastor’s wife role, you may harm his reputation and/or ministry and you don’t want to do that either.
Let me answer first by saying there is no perfect person, no perfect leader. God does use flawed, broken people to do his work (Click To Tweet).
We only have to take a quick look through the Old Testament to see how very flawed some leaders were.
King David raped Bathsheba, one of his trusted soldier’s wives, when her husband was out to battle. He further covered up his sin by having her husband put on the front lines of the battle to be killed when he found out she was pregnant (2 Samuel 11).
Sarah used her trusted handmade Hagar to “give her a child” and then when she had one of her own, tossed Hagar and her son aside (Genesis 16).
Abraham was a coward and encouraged his wife to sleep with other pagan leaders to save his own skin (Genesis 12, 20).
Solomon, the wisest man ever, was also a sex addict and had sexual relations with over 1,000 women (1 Kings 11).
So what does that mean for you? It means that God sees your husband’s flaws and still may use him for his purposes. Shocking huh? But your question is, how do you practice the C step in CORE strength which is being committed to the truth, no pretending. Let me share some ways you can do this with full integrity.
First, I don’t think to live in CORE, being honest and not pretending means that we disclose publically our spouse’s flaws, sins, blind spots, and failures. I sure wouldn’t want my husband to do that to me.
I want you to see yourself as your husband’s greatest ministry partner, his best asset to become the man God calls him to be, and his most trusted advisor. God has you in his life for a reason.
However, it isn’t to prop him up and pretend all is well when he’s about to fall off the cliff, taking you, your kids and perhaps other followers with him.
Your role as a wife is to love, encourage, and support your husband to be all God calls him to be (just as a husband’s role is for his wife). Considering your particular husband with his unique blind spots, that includes you speaking the truth in love to him about his bullying behavior, his unwillingness to listen to constructive feedback, and his inability to see where he might be wrong. These blind spots if left uncorrected, will hinder his ministry in addition to making a good relationship with you impossible.
However, his biggest blind spot is not recognizing that he has any blind spots. That will be a challenge.
Second, since you already have been to six marriage counseling sessions, there is another person who has also observed some of your husband’s behaviors and blind spots (at least I hope so). If not, then you must think of a strong godly male leader, perhaps a denominational head, who can be an accountability person for your husband. You do not want to bear this entire burden, but your husband needs other people to speak honestly into his life (Hebrews 3:13).
Third, you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with him that will go something like this:
“I want your ministry to be successful and glorify God. I am your strongest ally and your biggest cheerleader. I haven’t wanted to be the music leader in this new church and I’ve been reluctant to be completely honest with you because I’m afraid you won’t hear me.”
PAUSE – let him reflect on that for a minute. Just a bit of feedback – to see if he can absorb that much truth. Only continue if he invites you to. If not, then that tells you he can’t even hear the tiniest bit of constructive feedback.
“You are incredibly gifted. You are an effective Bible teacher and for the most part, people love you. Yet you do have another side, one that you keep contained publically, but sometimes – like in our last church, it gets the best of you and comes out. There were many godly leaders in the Bible who struggled with a darker side of their personality. Your anger and aggressive behavior are hurting our marriage and me. We’ve talked about this in our marriage counseling (Please change or fill in the appropriate details).
I believe if you are going to be successful in ministry and successful in our marriage, you are going to have to take a look at this aggressive anger issue. I know you think you did nothing wrong in our former church issue (fill in the details as appropriate to what he exactly did), but others disagreed. So much that you were asked to step down.
I too disagree. I think this is a huge blind spot for you and will hurt your testimony as a pastor and it hurts our relationship.
I don’t believe that beating someone up with your words is ever the appropriate godly response, even when you are provoked. But what bothers me more is that as a pastor and man of God, you saw nothing wrong with this despite knowing that God’s word clearly tells us that abusive speech or reckless words have no place in a believer’s life, especially as a pastor. You never apologized. You never admitted you were out of line. You never showed any remorse or repentance. That concerns me as we go forward in ministry. I’m reluctant to grow this ministry with you as your partner if you are unwilling to listen to my feedback or hear my concerns.
If you want me to partner with you in building this new church I need to do so with integrity. For me to do that I need you to commit to dealing with this side of your personality with a counselor or ministry leader who will help you learn other ways you can handle your frustration, hurt, or anger without resorting to aggressive or demeaning language. (you may have to give him some examples here). I don’t want to put myself in a position of being your ministry partner, such as leading music if you aren’t going to hear my concerns or allow me to speak into your life. I’ve been convicted that I am not a good wife to you if I just pretend and go along with what you want just to keep you happy. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for me, and it’s not good for our marriage.
So give some thought to what I’ve asked and let me know what you decide.”
In this way, you have told him what you will and will not do. You will no longer pretend with him or act as if what he does is no big deal. You shared your concerns honestly, offered your support and ideas and now the ball is in his court to take steps of action.
If he chooses not to, then you may have to say, “What would you like me to say when people in the church ask me why I am not involved.”
“I am not willing to lie, pretend or cover up for our marriage issues. That is not in line with who I want to be as a woman or wife and I do not believe it honors God to act as if we are fine when we are not.”
I know this is risky, but if you don’t fight now for your husband and his ministry, his problem won’t get better. It will only grow and his blindness will continue. Sooner or later what happened before will repeat itself and another job may be lost. Better to confront the issue with him now while things are still a little bit in a crisis than to wait until everything returns to “normal” and he thinks he’s doing great and doesn't’ need to address what happened “back in the past.”
Friends, how have you stood in CORE STRENGTH, especially the committed to truth part when your spouse was unwilling to face the truth?