April 21, 2014

3 Things Pastors (and Their Wives) Should Say Publicly More Often

Dear Church,

I’m afraid you might be getting the wrong idea. I have read so many posts recently about how hard it is to be in ministry, what a trial, what a path of suffering, and I’m worried that you might be reading them, too.

Just the other day, there was a popular one called “10 Things Pastors Hate to Admit Publicly,” and I want you to know it made me sad. I’m tired of reading How-Horrible-The-Ministry-Really-Is-If-You-Only-Knew-The-Truth articles.

You, my church, are not horrible. Nor are you taking years off my life. Nor are you wrecking my family and faith. I have been a pastor’s daughter since before I was two years old, and now I’m going on ten years as a pastor’s wife, and I want you to know that serving you has been a joy.

In response, I’d like to offer 3 Things Pastors (and Their Wives) Should Say Publicly More Often.

1. I’m Sorry

If you read these articles (and I’m still hoping you didn’t) you’ll notice that they focus on the demands church members place on ministry families. Matt Boswell calls these “expectations buried like landmines through the field of the church.” Ryan Hugely lamented how a pastor’s wife is “saddled with a host of responsibilities and expectations.”

Let me tell you the truth about the out-sized expectations you have for your pastor and his family: your expectations are always too small.

See, I ought to be conformed to nothing less than the image of Christ himself. And I often fail.

So if you, my church, feel like I haven’t loved you well enough, haven’t cared for your needs, haven’t given you godly counsel, haven’t walked alongside you in your trials, you are absolutely right. I’m sorry. And if you feel like you need to, as one post mocked, “leave because the church down the road has Slurpee dispensers,” well that’s partly my fault, too, for not helping you to prioritize the things of Christ.

I have repeatedly failed to love you as my Lord has, by laying down his life for his friends. I’m sorry.

2. Thank You

I also don’t want you to think you get in the way of your pastor’s real life. Mark Driscoll wrote about the difficulties of pastoral life this way, “A handful of high-drama, demanding church people can ruin an entire pastoral family by constantly calling, dropping by, and otherwise interrupting without due cause during dinner time, days off, and vacations.”

First, I don’t like this because I know that your job (web designer, teacher, flight attendant, landscaper, retail employee) is hard, too. I’m pretty sure not every single day in your office is fun. I’m guessing there are some people who don’t appreciate your long hours, people who come up with additional projects for you to do, and people who say unkind things to you. It’s probably a safe bet that your workplace, too, is tainted by the Fall and subject to all manner of thorniness. 

Work is tough—for all of us.

But mostly I object to this complaint because you, my church, are a blessing. Thank you.

Thank you for giving your hard-earned money to support our family, for praying for us, for letting me hold your hands and kiss your newborns.

Thank you also for being God’s instrument to make me holy. I don’t want to be the same worldly, selfish, sin-bent person I was when I first came to this church. I want to be more like Christ. I’m thankful for your encouragement to me in this. And, too, if your rough edges are the kindness of the Lord to make me holy, well then, bring them on. Thank you.

3. I Love You

I also want to make sure you know that I love you. Because, really, it’s not about me.

I’m not saying that ministry life is always sweetness and light. (And I think I’ve been serving you long enough not to be accused of hiding behind rose-colored shades.) I’m not unwilling to talk about the sacrifices, but I’d rather tell you how precious you are.

You are my family. You are my neighbor. You are my friends.

And a friend does not loudly announce the high cost of groceries when she invites you over for lunch. A friend does not keep an accounting of hours spent on the phone, sitting in hospital waiting rooms, and driving to weddings. A friend does not complain when her very-human friends are sometimes ignorant, weak, and needy. (Guess what? Sometimes I am, too.)

Instead, a friend cultivates love. A friend lavishes hugs and smiles. A friend delights in the privilege of mutual friendship with those who are Christ’s friends.

My church, please don’t get the wrong idea. The years that I have served you seem like but a few days.

I love you.

April 14, 2014

On Pretty Dresses

Next Sunday is Easter. Or Resurrection Sunday. Or one more Lord's Day closer to heaven. Whatever you call it, little girls in pretty dresses will probably be much in evidence at church.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why I don't talk to girls at church about their clothing.  One loyal reader (okay, my dad) took the time to write a thoughtful critique of my argument, making a well-reasoned case for why we should acknowledge the prettiness of frilly dresses and the handsomeness of toddler bow ties.

I'll let you read it and decide what you think.

OK dear daughter, here is why I disagree with your recent blog post. It is thoughtful and well written as usual.

I certainly agree with what I believe are your twin concerns: connecting more deeply, spiritually with little ones in the church and not communicating the false idea that who they are is mostly about pretty dresses. Agreed. But I don’t think reaching those goals requires the method you have chosen.

It strikes me that your view is a kind of incipient Gnosticism. (How’s that?) You come across as: “All we really want to engage is the little girl’s soul, not the whole person.” But since she is an embodied person it is difficult to see how your position does justice to this. It seems to me that your position then requires no comments on anyone physically. (Except, perhaps between husband and wife.)   

Using your principles I think I would have to refrain from referring to your sons as handsome or to comment on how big they are getting. After all, according to your post, this would send the wrong message. And maybe I shouldn’t even say that they are getting really good at baseball or legos. Doesn’t that send the wrong message? I get what you are saying if such things were all I ever said to your sons or by analogy to a little girl in the church.

But I will still compliment little girls on pretty dresses for the following reasons:

1. There are weightier matters of the law and this is a very simple thing, not to be shunned. Shunning this almost makes it more important than it is.

2. I am in fact speaking truth, she is wearing a pretty dress.

3. It builds a bridge into this little girl’s world for speaking about the weightier matters of the law. Perhaps with each compliment I should ,without missing a beat, ask what her Sunday school class was about. Point taken.

4. I wouldn’t dream of not telling a new bride how lovely she looks. Complimenting a little girl on looking pretty in some small way points her to the day when she will be a lovely bride. For exactly this reason I might say to little boys that they are “getting big” or “looking handsome” or are “quite the ball player.” They are pre-men, little men who are heading toward being grown men. Men get bigger, grow more handsome and sharpen their skills. I want to encourage that.

5. The fact that her mother dressed her does not take away from this, it adds to it, in my opinion. Aren’t we all about being clothed by another, with the beauty of Christ? That is beauty worth praising so the fact that her mother dressed her does not prove we should not acknowledge her pretty dress.

6. I used to compliment you on how pretty you looked and you turned out pretty well!

Again, dear daughter, I agree with what I think your concerns are. I respectfully disagree with your approach.
Brad Evans is the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Coventry in Coventry, Connecticut. You can follow him on Twitter @BDEvans61
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