During a breakout session for pastors’ wives at the most recent True Woman Conference, women stood in line for well over an hour to recount their pain to workshop leaders Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff. At the same time, Dannah Gresh and I counseled emotional pastors’ daughters in the Teen Track. One girl stood in front of the entire group and wept over the loneliness she felt as a pastor’s daughter. Like many pastors’ kids, “pk” had become a label that simultaneously defined her and created confusion in her heart about her true identity.
I’ve cried those same tears.
I’ve been married to a youth pastor for more than ten years. I know all about unrealistic expectations, excess criticism, and the identity crisis that being a family in ministry can cause.
I know that many of you who are reading this blog today aren’t pastors’ wives or pastors’ children. I’ll have a word of encouragement for you on Thursday. But today, I want to write specifically to those of you with husbands or fathers in the ministry.
Right after college, I married my high school sweetheart. We were immediately thrown into full-time student ministry together in the church where my husband served as youth pastor. Church became a huge part of our lives. In fact, church became the biggest part of our lives. Sounds great, right? It wasn't.
In fact, it was very, very painful.
Ministry is messy. Relationships are even messier. Conflicts with fellow church members left me feeling deeply wounded and disillusioned. What's more, my husband was at the church working—a lot. It seemed that he was always gone in the name of ministry. I missed him. I was a new wife who wanted more time with her husband. And I blamed the church for the fact that we couldn't spend every night and weekend together in our new nest.
It wasn't long before a bitter root started to burrow in my heart. I started to resent the church. I resented our pastor. I resented the ministry I knew we were called to do. That bitterness and resentment soon turned into a critical spirit. Before long, I disliked everything about our church. The worship started to get on my nerves. The sermons all sounded the same. My fellow church members felt more like enemies than my brothers and sisters in Christ.
But our church wasn't the problem. I was the problem. I needed God to do a new thing in my heart. I needed Him to give me His vision for the church. I needed to love her like He loves her. I needed God to change my heart.
That's exactly what He did.
Today, my husband is still a full-time youth pastor. He's still gone a lot. We still have occasional conflicts with church members that can be disappointing and painful. But my feelings about the church have totally changed. I don't hate the church. I don't even dislike the church. I love the church. Church didn't change, but my heart certainly has.
Why am I telling you this?
Because some of you are where I once was. I understand the pain that some of you are feeling. The expectations that others have placed on you have become a burden that feels too heavy to bear. This isn’t what you signed up for.
Sweet ones, I know you’ve faced unrealistic expectations, unfair standards, and harsh criticism. Why? Because you are worshipping alongside imperfect people.
For the longest time, I just wanted the members of my church to see me as a human being; not a superspiritual, superhuman woman capable of living the Christian life without mistakes. My heart started to change when I realized that the people in my church who were causing me grief deserved the same measure of grace. They’re human too. God is still working in their hearts. They need His redemptive work in their words and relationships just as much as I do.
And you know what else? They are not my responsibility. God has called me to submit my own tongue, my own actions, and my own heart to His lordship. For me, that included letting Him show me how to fall in love with His bride (even when she doesn’t behave perfectly).
Will you let God do a work in you? Will you let Him present the church--His bride--to you as He sees her, pure and blameless? Will you stop hating the church and start loving her because He does?