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Church conflict is no fun. Understatement of the year, right? Whether it is a small fire that pops up in a small group or a full-blown congregational wildfire, church conflict is inevitable and ubiquitous. The church is filled with imperfect people in progress. Therefore, we will encounter trouble, and it is in these troubling times that your pastor needs your support the most.

Here are three gifts you can give your pastor, especially in times of conflict and unrest:

YOUR PRAYERS

Let’s face it: When it comes to church, there is no shortage of strongly held opinions. Criticisms abound and receiving those critiques is a weekly (if not daily) part of the pastor’s job. Sometimes they are silly and small. Other times they are helpful and needed. It is part of his job to listen to and consider every negative comment that comes his way. However, you and I can help him tremendously by filtering our thoughts through prayer before we bring them to our pastor.

What if we made it our gut-reaction to every bit of “church news” to hit our knees and pray for our pastor?

What if we chose to take our concerns to God first and ask Him for guidance and leadership and discernment to know if our critiques even need to be vocalized?

What if we prayed for our pastor more than we complain about what he is or is not doing?

Not sure what to pray? Here are some great places to start:

  • Pray for his spiritual well-being and protection.
  • Pray for strength to walk the road God has chosen for him.
  • Pray for wisdom as he leads.
  • Pray for protection from the enemy.
  • Pray that he gets rest both physically and emotionally.

YOUR PRESENCE

Once we’ve prayed for our pastor, as our first-response to concerns and conflict, now we can bless him with our presence. Empty seats bring forth feelings of defeat. Especially over time, the collective effect of seeing church members choose other pursuits (kid’s activities, family time, sleeping in, cleaning the house, constant traveling, etc.) over the body of Christ, again and again, is incredibly discouraging.

If you really want to bless your pastor—especially in times of dissension—show up. Prioritize your relationship with God and your commitment to His church more than your career, your family time, and your self-care. Those things are certainly important (and I am not saying we need to stop pursuing those things) but let’s be sure to make the weekly gathering with God’s people and the faithful serving the church body a non-negotiable in our lives and schedule these other important pursuits around our commitment to our church family. Being a healthy church member will enhance the health of your church and in turn the health of your pastor.

Beyond the commitment to being a faithful church member, if you encounter a specific concern, meet with him (after you give him the gift of your prayers first). Give him the chance to answer your questions and clarify any misunderstandings. Avoid passive-aggressive actions such as withholding your giving or attendance. Don’t give in to talking about your concerns to everyone but your pastor. That’s exactly what the evil one wants. Plus, it hurts the body of Christ and the reflection of God’s glory more than it hurts your pastor.

YOUR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SUPPORT

Hopefully, after you have prayed for your pastor, and have come to him with any concerns you have about the church or decisions he has made, you can walk forward in support of your pastor. As you hear concerns expressed by others, encourage them to give these gifts of their prayers and their presence. If you see dissatisfaction and dissension forming, enter the discussion and be a gentle encouragement that points them to pray for the pastor, and taking their concerns directly to him, not primarily to each other. We’ve all played the game of “telephone” and seen how truth changes they pass from person to person. Support your pastor by debunking half-truths, and imploring people to take their concerns directly to the pastor.

Beyond your support within private conversations, be sure to support your pastor publicly, too. There is a tendency for church members to neglect the opportunities to support their pastor when he needs it most, particularly in business meetings. It’s one thing to tell your pastor you are on board with an upcoming change, it’s quite another to be present and vocally supportive when that change is being initiated.

Oftentimes, at the first sign of resistance, men and women who have told the pastor they are with him, unfortunately, fail to publicly state their support of the change. Most churches have some sort of meeting where church members are able to participate in the governance of the church. Don’t miss out on those important spaces where you can bless your pastor tremendously by not only casting your vote but also showing your clear and public confidence in his leadership.

Don’t underestimate the cunning of our true enemy. Satan loves it when we turn on one another. Because if we are too busy fighting ourselves, we won’t be bringing the gospel to the nations. When we choose to refuse to do anything that will add to the fire of conflict within the church, we put a damper on the evil one’s schemes. And if enough of us choose to do the same, the damaging fire will have no fuel to thrive on.

Ultimately, these three gifts are not about the pastor. It is about our obedience to Christ. We are all called to share all good things with our teachers (Galatians 6:6), to honor them (1 Timothy 5:17), trust and follow their leadership (Hebrews 13:17), and to respect them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This is especially important for us to remember when we walk through difficult times as a church.

Lord, help me to love and honor my pastor better. Forgive me for the times I have been silent and have not stopped unhealthy and unhelpful conversations. Forgive me for the times I have entered willingly in spreading gossip. Give me the grace and resolve to treat my pastor with respect. Lay a great burden on my heart to pray for him regularly. Lead me to see your plan for our church, and how you are using this man to guide our church to greater growth so that we can glorify your name in our community. Show me what I need to change. Help me be a better church member. I long to be a blessing to my pastor and a benefit to the body of Christ. I thank you for my pastor.

This post was originally posted over at LifeWay Voices.

I’ve been a pastor’s wife now for over a decade. It is a beautiful privilege and heavy responsibility. It is a role that comes with many joys and sorrows, benefits and sacrifices, unexpected gifts and unstated expectations from others. That last one is often the hardest dose to swallow.

Most churchgoers don’t realize it, but they have a picture of the perfect pastor’s wife in their mind, and that projection paints every interaction they have with the wife of their pastor.

Your pastor’s wife is in a very unique position. What she does (or doesn’t do) affects her husband’s ministry. For those of you who are married (except in the rare case of some very particular jobs), your behavior, your spiritual growth, your words, your involvement in church has no bearing to your spouse’s job security. He was most likely hired without as much as a glance your way. Nor are his clients, or whomever he serves day-in and day-out, holding strong opinions on what you should or should not be doing right now. This is not true of the pastor’s wife. Just last month a pastor’s wife friend shared that her husband, an interim pastor (who had previously served the church for years in another role), was not offered the permanent pastorate job because they thought his wife wasn’t pulling her weight.

Bottom line, so many people have tightly held opinions on what the church, the pastor, and his family should be/look/act like. Some realize it. Some don’t. Because of these realities, your pastor’s wife most likely feels that she cannot be herself. Consequently, she often finds herself with a heavy armload of her own secrets. Here are a couple:

“I am not perfect, but I feel like I need to be.”

As stated already, your pastor’s wife lives with the constant pressure of living up to the expectations of the congregation. Most churchgoers expect her to be more mature and knowledgeable than they are. All of this, alongside her desire to be an encouraging role model for the women of the church, leads to her feeling a massive pressure to be perfect. However, she is far from perfect. She messes up all the time. She is likely trying to live up to the pedestal on which she’s been placed yet, at the same time, she wants to be authentic and real.

This all leads to the feeling that there is no safe place within the church for her to lay out the messiness of her own soul. If she shares too much, she fears that your opinion of her will change (or worse…you’ll use this against her when conflict arises), and thus her and her husband’s ministry effectiveness is damaged. However, if she never shares her junk you will accuse her of being unapproachable and stand-off-ish (at best) or an arrogant snob (at worst).

“My church is not perfect…but I feel like I need to pretend that it is.”

There are things about your church she dislikes and is disappointed in. There are processes she wishes she could change, traditions she wants to undo, and people she would love to quiet down. It may very well be the case that if she were a normal church-goer she would have continued on in her search after visiting your church.

Ironically, though the congregation typically expects more from the pastor’s wife, her voice for change is often smaller than the average church member. She often doesn’t have an official place in the leadership of the church. Sure, she has the pastor’s ear at home, but beyond that, she has to be careful with her comments. Much of what she suggests is misconstrued as self-serving. Her motives are often in question. She can’t simply have an opinion about how something is run because many churchgoers take it as her just trying to get her husband elevated.

The evil one loves to stir up dissension, and often his first attack is on the church member’s view of their pastor and his family. If Satan can get church members to question their pastor’s motives and character, then he can easily erode the pastor’s ability to lead. The next best thing is to have them criticize the pastor’s wife’s motives and actions.

More secret thoughts of the pastor’s wife:

Here are even more secret thoughts your pastors’ wives may be thinking:

“I’m friends with both everyone and no one.”

“I can’t help with every ministry!”

“Parenting in the pew on display for the whole church is the hardest ‘ministry’ I engage in every week.”

“I’m more than ‘the pastor’s wife’ and my kids are more than ‘the pastor’s kids.’ These titles do not encapsulate us…we are real people also.”

“I want real friends who want to do fun things, people who don’t see me as eternally ‘on the clock’ as a pastor’s wife. Let’s just hang out and eat pizza.”

“My children and my marriage do not belong to you. Please don’t feel the freedom to demand information or offer ‘advice’ that wasn’t solicited for and give me the freedom to not follow it.”

“It’s hard for us to accept help/gifts. I don’t know if it will be used against us later.”

“I may not know everything that is going on in your life. Please don’t assume that I do.”

“I thought we were friends and then you left the church without telling me. It really bothers me.”

“Just because I am the pastor’s wife doesn’t mean I am an instant volunteer for every plan you come up with.”

“I’m lonely. It may look like there’s a lot of people around us on Sundays, but during the week people don’t reach out unless they need something. This fuels the lie that ‘I’m only useful/needed based on what I can give you.’”

“Trying to use me as a voice to speak to my husband or other leaders is annoying and not useful. I am not their secretary, administrator, or adviser.”

These are actual comments from pastor’s wives I interviewed recently. Can you hear the hurt, loneliness, discouragement, and exhaustion behind these comments? Unfortunately, these secrets are held by the majority of pastors’ wives, not the minority.

Here’s the bottom line:

It is very hard for your pastor’s wife to let you know what she really thinks and feels.

How you can help your pastor’s wife

Pray, pray, pray for her to experience the freedom of being her real self, even if just to a few trusted women in the congregation.

Think about how your words affect your pastor’s wife. I’ve had ladies tell me what my job as a pastor’s wife is (personally visiting church members in their homes, with freshly baked pies in tow), make comments on what I should or should not wear because I’m a pastor’s wife (Jeans? In the service?!), ask me to convey a message or ministry idea to the pastor (why not tell his office assistant?), and ask me where I was at some church event I was unable to attend (and it wasn’t because they were concerned that I was sick). None of these comments would have been verbalized if I was not the pastor’s wife. You may not think that your small comment is a big deal, but it is most likely not the only comment she has received that day. The weight of those comments and requests begin to add up.

Allow her to be a normal church member, and don’t expect more from her just because she is the pastor’s wife. You hired her husband, not her. She has her own jobs to take care of.

Pray again for your pastor’s wife: that her significance would be rooted in her relationship with God. That her moments would be continually dependent on the power of His Spirit. That her heart would be renewed through the promises in His Word. And that all this would lead to resiliency and grace to navigate this unique role she’s been called to.

This post was originally posted over at LifeWay Voices.