My husband has been on staff at a church for most of our 13+ year marriage. I have been around many pastors’ wives because of his role as a seminary professor and because of our work in churches. A very common piece of advice, or warning, I have received is that my closest friends should not be in our church. I have been told it’s impossible to have close friendships with church members, warned I will get burned, and told to find another outlet for community in order to protect myself and my family from negative experiences. These warnings often come from pastors’ wives who have been hurt by church members they thought they could trust. They have seen their husbands suffer at the hands of people they considered close friends. As a result, they have built walls around their family to try and protect them from having it happen again. I completely understand this, but I am calling foul.
Ladies, this is simply no way to live.
Is there some wisdom in having close, trusted and godly friendships with people outside your church? Yes. Are there sometimes burdens you cannot share with members of your church because it would be inappropriate? For sure. If you do pursue friendship with members of your church, will you be disappointed by friendships with people in your church and have your feelings hurt at some point? Most likely. But if you choose not to pursue friendships within your church, you will also miss out on true friendships and real community. You will set an unhelpful tone and example for the rest of your church. The truth is, whether inside or outside of your church, no friendship is totally free of disappointment and hurt.
Most of us pastors’ wives want people to feel welcome at our churches when we meet them. We want to be friendly and kind and help them feel as though they belong. We want them to see us as friends and sisters in Christ. However, oftentimes in our hearts we become so guarded and so fearful that we make it impossible to have true community with other ladies in our church. Sure, we attend events and interact with people at them, but we don’t often open up our lives in meaningful ways to them. In failing to do this, women in our churches are neglected, pastors’ wives are isolated and we fail to grow in love for one another. There has to be a better way.
Being a friend means imitating Christ.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth. 1 John 3:16-18
God’s instruction in these verses is important for us. Pastor’s wife, when you lay down your fears, your hurts and your bitterness and choose to love the women in your church deeply you are imitating Christ. When you see your sister’s needs, especially her need to connect and belong, and you close your heart to her, how does God’s love abide in you? When you tell the women in your church to love one another, serve one another and live life together, but you don’t join them, your words ring hollow.
My family and I were part of a church for over six years that we left for various reasons. It was the first and only time we have left a church that wasn’t for a new ministry opportunity. It was painful. It was gut wrenching. It felt like something died. We lived our lives openly and freely with the people in that church. They were my closest friends, my husband’s closest friends and our kids’ closest friends. We ate together, prayed together and cried together. We stayed up late talking, laughing and encouraging one another. Some of my best friends to this day are people I met and lived in community with at that church. Some of my deepest personal disappointments were because of relationships at that church. We got burned by people. We were hurt and I am sure we painfully disappointed others as well. But in those years we also grew. We saw Jesus more clearly, we learned how to love and serve one another better, and we learned so much about what it means to lay our lives down for one another. It was absolutely painful, but it was also beautiful and completely worth it.
Pastor’s wife, we must be on mission to show people Jesus.
To put the hands of the hurting into the hands of the Savior you have to be close enough to get hurt yourself. - Rosaria Butterfield
On this worthy mission you will likely get hurt, but you will also experience love and belonging like you never would have if you kept your distance. Give the ladies in your church not only the gospel but your lives as well (1 Thes 2:8). Sister, lay your life down and be a real friend.
Lauren Lambert is a pastor's wife to Heath and mom of three children. She lives in Jacksonville, FL where Heath serves as Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church and is the Executive Director for ACBC.