June 24, 2011

What Not to Share

This week, Rob and I celebrated eight years of marriage. Eight years of sharing everything: kisses, meals, ideas. Ministry secrets, though, are a slightly different story. . . .

We have a room in our church that some people call the “Bride’s Parlor;” the room where a bride and her attendants dress. On Sunday mornings, it’s just the foyer for the ladies’ bathroom—it has two couches, a table that serves as purse and Bible repository, and a floor-length mirror for minor beauty adjustments. But it never quite loses that wedding-day aura of giggles, anticipation, and secrets.

Rob and I are only half-joking when we say that if there is any news in our church family, you can hear it first in the Bride’s Parlor. I pass through at least twice every Sunday; as a result, I know a lot.

The problem is what to do with what I know.

I used to tell Rob everything I heard. (He, in turn, would tell me all the details of his meetings, counseling appointments, and hospital visits.) But, eventually, we’ve come to realize that sharing everything is not the best practice for our life together. Certain secrets, when shared, only cause increased anxiety and emotional burden for both of us. Now, we each weigh the information that we choose to share, seeking to be guided by wisdom and love for one another.

Every marriage is different, but here’s what I’ve learned:

NEVER share your negative speculations. There are people in ministry who are tough to love, but it’s destructive to share assumptions about their motives.

RARELY share information particularly disturbing to your spouse. Me? I can’t stomach details of substance abuse, so my husband loves me by keeping silent.

RARELY share hurtful information that has no solution. If it can’t be fixed, don’t bother sharing.

SOMETIMES share hurtful information that has a solution. These things can be fixed or, at least, helped.

SOMETIMES share hurtful information because its burden is too great. Some secrets need the additional comfort, wisdom, or prayer that only your spouse can give.

OFTEN share information that will soon be public knowledge. This gives your spouse a chance to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare.

ALWAYS share encouragement. Spiritual fruit, progress in holiness, and success in gospel labor are things every spouse needs to hear.

As the Spirit says through Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Happy Anniversary, my love!

Author's Note:
Since I wrote this post, several others have taken up the issue.  I highly recommend their wise words:
Tom Ascol "My Pastoral Confidentiality Policy"
Brian Croft "How Much Does a Pastor Share with His Wife?"
Carl Trueman "Pastoral Confidentiality"

 

36 comments:

  1. As you have discovered, sharing everything is rarely helpful. Thanks for giving us some guidelines as to what is.

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  2. I couldn't agree more. We've also learned not to talk about any private meetings or session meetings. Sometimes he comes home, has a drink and puts his feet up for a while before he can go to bed, but we chat about other things that help him remember the grander perspective. Somehow it encourages him to remember that this life, and especially this ministry, is not his but God's and God will do as He pleases in it. We must simply follow his directions and trust the outcomes to Him. I can't count how many times it has been a real saver for me to be able to plead ignorance of these meetings. I wish the other elders in our church would do the same for their wives. It would save them much anxiety.

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  3. Great thoughts! As a pastor, I sometimes struggle with what to share with my dear bride when I get home to our "parlor." Your wisdom provides some good "rails" to guide. Thanks!

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  4. Anonymous & Joe: I think you are right to point out that the "re-entry" period from ministry activities to home is a transition that requires wisdom. Glad to hear I provided some food for thought.

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  5. All seems reasonable, though I was struck by the casual admission that your husband would share details of counseling appointments. Wouldn't that be a no-no right off the bat?

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  6. My husband has been a pastor for almost 30 years. He RARELY shares anything about the church with me unless it personally affects our family, or a ministry opportunity. When he comes home, he has talked TOO MUCH and likes to relax. There are enough burdens in life and he doesn't like to lay them on me. He NEVER tells me anything from counselling.

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  7. Oh my gosh! You shared counseling appointments? As a counselor at a church that's absolutely a confidentiality issue! I don't think a pastor is outside out that sacred deal of confidentiality. If that's not made clear at every counseling appt, it absolutely should be! I would be extraordinarily upset if I went to my pastor for counseling and found out he was sharing it with his wife. My husband and I both counsel at our local church and we made extremely clear boundaries with each other, as we do with all of the rest of the counseling staff. Yikes.

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  8. About the counseling issue, which seems to have stirred up some strong feelings:

    No one who comes to my husband for counseling is ever under the impression that he won't tell anyone else. He often must tell the other church elders where there are needs for ministry and prayer. And when he is counseling a woman, especially with marriage difficulties, he also tells me, as a safeguard on everyone's heart. Those who come for counseling are coming as part of a church body, and they are aware of that fact from the beginning.

    But, as my husband & I have have seen over time, and I wrote about in my post, each decision of what not to share is made out of love for the other and, ultimately, in submission to the Lord.

    I'm happy to hear that others have prayerfully considered these issues in their own marriages.

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  9. Add me to the list of those who are quite surprised to hear that information from counseling sessions would be shared with a third party. Is your husband acting in a purely pastoral role or as a professional counselor? If acting professionally, this is (at best) questionable.

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  10. Telling the other church elders, and sharing with wives is the exact reason I can no longer tell my minister anything. It has left me painfully alone, often with no consolation. I think it's a terrible mistake and I regret this modern mindset. It just means everyone who attends the church will hear it, and not everyone who attends church is a brother or sister.

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  11. My hubby's an elder, so this a challenging and encouraging post. Thanks so much!

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  12. I don't think we can find a verse in Scripture that tells us exactly what to share and not share. The decision is really based on wisdom and I think this post contains a great deal of that!

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  13. I, too, am deeply disturbed by the thought that a pastor would share counseling with his or her spouse. Even with the understanding that a church is (rightly) a body and not merely a pastor or leader, there is still a line, and I fear the sharing of intimate details from counseling sessions is one of them. In my own denomination, this alone would be grounds for dismissal. As an alternative: many pastors become close friends and accountability partners with pastors of other local churches. This allows them to share details of counseling and talk things through (so that the pastor themselves don't get weighted down by holding the weight of the world) but in a more anonymous way (by not using names, etc.) Talking through issues with other pastors also enables one to grow in skills and ministries, as others may have thoughts on how to handle a given situation differently the next time it comes to your church office. - Tim, VA

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  14. Thanks for this excellent post for wives. However, I must speak to those who are offended by the sharing of counseling details. The promise or expectation of absolute confidentiality is not biblical and indeed is antibiblical. Jesus said, "If he will not listen, take one or two others along." If there is no resolution, take it to the church. (see Matthew 18:16 and following) What should be promised is biblical confidentiality, never absolute confidentiality. As a pastor, I do not quickly share the facts of who I am meeting with or what about. However, I always reserve the right to bring in other wise people of the church into the situation. Issues should not be passed around to others for relief, sympathy or even "prayer." Nevertheless, the call of Jesus to biblical confidentiality must trump any culture view of absolute confidentiality. Hal, MA

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  15. As a pastor let me add a hearty "Amen" to what
    "Hal, MA" says. CT, pastor

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  16. In our church it is assumed that anything told to one spouse could be shared with the other. This is not to say that it will be shared, but no one would ask me to keep a secret from my husband. Some of our most significant breakthroughs in counseling have come from one of our pastors discussing our situation with his wife and then sharing her insights. It requires trust and humility to share, but God has used this means of grace to help us overcome sin and hurt!

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  17. I think that in counseling a pastor needs to err on the side of confidentiality. There are absolutely cases where the elders haveto be involved, but this must be done with the counselee's full awareness from the beginning. A pastor can never assume a counselee knows and understands this without explicit consent. There is a power dynamic in counseling and I really believe a pastor takes advantage of a counselee's trust if rules about confidentiality aren't expressed from the outset. This is not about being of the culture, this is about building trust between a leader and a person in need of help. A pastor's wife isn't ordained into pastoral counseling. Taking proper precautions is appropriate, such as alerting someone to a female counselee, discussing details is not.

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  18. So, if my struggles are shared with the pastor and the pastor shares that information with the elders and the elders share that information with their spouses, and the church has a plurality of elders... well you see where I'm going.

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  19. As the husband of this post's writer, allow me to chime in with a couple comments in response.

    There certainly are times when other elders need to be told about particular situations, since each elder is required to "watch out for the souls of [the flock], as those who must give account" (Heb. 13:17) How can they shepherd the flock with no knowledge? When I speak to a member of our congregation, I always tell them that if necessary we will include other elders (which in our church is only three). This actually works to their advantage; God gives a plurality of elders to the church so there is greater wisdom in addressing pastoral matters.

    I also believe that there are times when it is appropriate to speak to my wife, as she is charged with being my helpmeet. OF COURSE discretion and care should be used. Nevertheless, when speaking to a church member about a serious matter, I always say in advance that sometimes I speak about matters with my wife, but that she is entirely tight-lipped (which she certainly is!). Never once has anyone objected; in fact, nearly every time the response is "Of course you do; I would want you to."

    Of course, in speaking both to elders and your wife, you need to always be on guard against gossip, and say only those things which are necessary. Never should matters be shared with others in the congregation unless it is a case of public sin and church discipline. Care, discretion, and purity of motives are always necessary.

    But please, friends, don't miss the larger point of the post. The focus of the post isn't on matters of "confidentiality;" rather, the focus is on a pastor and his wife's response to matters of everyday body life within a church: the young college student who seems to be growing rapidly in his walk with Christ, the teen who is rebelling, the criticism made about last week's sermon, the woman who wept through last Sunday's service because it was exactly a year ago that her husband left her, encouraging comments made in a joint-elders deacon meeting the night before. These aren't matters of "counseling and confidentiality", but rather matters of living together as the people of God, sharing in one another's joys and sorrows, and pointing one another to Christ. The question of the post is, How best can a pastor and his wife experience life among Christ's people (people that they love so much), in a way that shows love to one another? How much and in what way do they speak to one another about the life of the church?

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  20. John 8:7 "And they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them,"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her". My goodness. My husband and I have been in the ministry for 16 years. I think, if we are honest, we have all made a poor judgement call along the way. I don't believe the author of this blog was encouraging us to share information from counseling meetings, rather, this type of information is confidential and not shared. I am curious sometimes about the counseling meetings my husband has but I try to ask the Lord to help me not spend my energies on wondering about the secret, and pray for wisdom for my husband in these secret matters, and pray that I in no way would lead him into the temptation of telling me anything by my probing questions. This post was most encouraging. Thank you for your honesty.

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  21. "Purely pastoral role" or "professional counselor" ... the person who wrote this misunderstands pastoral care. All of pastoral care is professional counseling. It is the spirit of the age which gives us so-called professionals counseling without regard to scripture, and messing up lives as a result.

    Demands for confidentiality are rejections of authority, rejections of pastoral wisdom, rejections of the role of community. It's insistence upon individualism. It's a misguided belief that I have some "right" to decide everything in any way involving me.

    If you are guaranteed absolute confidentiality, some sort of "doctor-patient" or "lawyer-client" privilege, then you have the right to expect confidentiality. And you definitely aren't talking with a pastor in a scriptural context.

    Joe, IL

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  22. There may be a pastoral counselor out there who has little Godly wisdom and discernment and not much love for the flock. There may be a pastor's wife who is a slanderer who can't lovingly keep confidences. This is a very sad thing. Let me assure you, this is not the case here.

    Even if we could control every bit of spoken information about ourselves, we would not have control of what others see in our lives. So, every day we risk being hurt by another believer. One solution: become a "Church of One." Then all the counselors, pastors and fellow Christians would have no ministry. I don't think that is what Christ intended.

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  23. Last week I shared a personal struggle with a friend who happens to be the wife of one of our pastors. I asked her not to share it with anyone else, then added, "Of course, you can tell your husband." I've never felt comfortable telling a wife something in confidence and then asking her to conceal it from her husband. If I don't feel the husband is trustworthy, I'm more cautious about sharing with the wife.

    PB

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  24. Thank you. My husband is a pastor and we have been part of a church plant for the past 3 years. We are planning to sit down this week and talk about what to share and what not to share because of this post. It is difficult to balance these areas as we both receive so much information about other peoples lives and at times it can feel very overwhelming (more for me than for him)! Thank you for sharing yours and starting a conversation for us!

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  25. As the author of this post, I am thankful that my post prompted such vigorous and challenging discussion.

    If you reached this, you will have read 3 comments that I'd especially like to commend to you:
    my husband ("Rob") explains how his ministry looks and points out the focus of my post
    and, "Hal, MA" and "Joe, IL" add something valuable when they challenge a clinical perspective of pastoral ministry

    What Not to Share is not a simple issue, and it bears continued, prayerful thought. I'm glad we can discuss it here together.

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  26. I also learned to not share everything congregants told me about my kids...the hard way - had someone tell me my daughter was talking about smoking in the bathroom (she was against it, but they didn't share that info) - she felt so violated that someone would hunt me down to give me that info. As a PK, she was already a public figure. As a mom, I became her buffer.

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  27. I'm a pastor at a church, and was directed to this post by our senior pastor. Very, very helpful post. My wife and I have both read it. I echo the author's last exhortation to read her husband's post as well as the two others. Those perspectives shed some biblical light on our cultural assumptions about what counseling is. Thanks again for the post. Adam, KY.

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  28. Wow, Megan, you really know how to get things started. :) I really appreciated this post. As someone who trained in counseling and a wife of a man in ministry, this was particularly intriguing to me. We've never specifically had this discussion from his side of things. We had several times had the discussion when I came home from work (before our son was born). He could tell that I was burdened and wanted to help me feel better, but I was not at liberty to talk to him about the sessions that I had that day.
    Looking back over our 7 1/2 years together, I can remember specific times that he obviously withheld information from me, usually when people were disgruntled with him. I struggle with taking up an offense for my husband, and I'm glad that he's discerned that matter. He is helping me learn to live at peace with all people as much as lies within me! (and yes, I confess that I really wanted to jump to Megan's defense while reading the comments being made, but I also promise that that's not the point here.) :)

    Being on "both sides" of this issue, in the sense that I understand people's concerns about confidentiality, and I understand the ministry aspects of life (I hope), I think that Rob and Megan have established a good foundation on which to make their decisions. Knowing them as I do, I can confidently agree with Rob that Megan is indeed very tight lipped when she needs to be! I think that part of the scare that people have from what is seen as a confidentiality issue, is sadly, due to the fact that discretion has not been exercised, and this can cause much hurt! All Christians need to be careful about what comes out of their mouths, whether it be to a spouse or another member of the body. There's a reason why James describes the tongue with such vivid language. This post is not only a wonderful reminder for husbands and wives but for all the people passing through the "Bride's Parlour" or fellowship halls of our churches.

    So, this lengthy comment is really meant to say, thanks, Megan for the post, it's definitely food for thought. Thanks for always having as the point of your posts the glory of God and the good of His people.

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  29. Oh! And Happy Anniversary! Love to you and Rob from across the world!

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  30. I think this is valuable even for church members who are not in official ministry positions--sometimes we show an awful lack of care for our own spouses by unloading on them when we get stressed by others' needs or concerns, and there are definitely women in studies I have been a part of whose needs I just know they would not want shared with husbands! Discretion and care for others' feelings, both the ones who have a problem and our own spouses, seems very much needed! Thank you!

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  31. Megan - Thank you for being transparent in this post. Like you and your husband, there are times my pastor husband comes to me with details of a counseling session for prayer and guidance from a woman's perspective. Never once in many years of ministry marriage has there ever been negative ramifications for this way of handling the sensitive issues he comes to me with, on occasion. I never ask to know what he counsels about, and he rarely even mentions he is counseling, but when he does and asks for my support or advice I try to take my role as his wife and ministry partner seriously and converse only with him about the matter and our Lord.

    Your post is well written and helpful, and I encourage you not to be discouraged by heated discussion on this matter. To God be the glory in all...

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement. To God be the glory indeed!

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  32. As a pastor's wife myself, I was also concerned about the apparent confidentiality issue. I am sure it was not intended by the author, but I confess am grateful to the author's husband for his clarifying comment above. There is a difference between assuming it is understood that the pastor would share details of a counseling session with his wife and informing the person ahead of time that it is sometimes the case that he would share or ask his wife for input. In the first case, there can be extremely detrimental effects. In the second, there has been an approved disclaimer, of sorts.

    I do appreciate that this was not the main thrust of the essay and it is always sad when a topic veers off because of a technicality, but to some this isn't really a technicality. However, I do think the issue could have been addressed more graciously by some commenters above.

    I trust my husband to be wise with what he shares with me. He is very careful to not betray a confidence. In many cases I know less than the average church member, but I would rather know less than I can rather than more than I ought.

    Thank you for this post - I found the tips to be very useful.

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  33. Amazing graciousness! As the wife of a pastor for almost 17 years, I so very much appreciate the heart that you have laid opened for all who would read.

    The ministry that my husband and I have been called to is a difficult journey to traverse... They prepare the men with years of 'ministry courses and degrees'. And we, the ladies, are not considered in that range of their education. I do have a counseling degree and I complement my husband's ministry. Our gifts complement each other. We are called to minister together, by him being the pastor and myself his support, as his wife and his confidant. He does not tell me everything, as a pastor, because he knows what I can handle and what I cannot handle. But, as his wife, his helpmeet, I have to bare his burdens regardless of his chosen profession. It is balance that is always in need of recalibration.

    To lay yourself open to all this shows your true heart. From someone who has longed to see the true heart of honesty, I thank you. May He continue to use you for His glory.

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  34. Thanks for your posts. As a Pastor's wife for the last 25 years, I must say that I am grateful that my husband does not share everything that he encounters in counseling. Our conversations mostly center around the character of those we minister to and how we can best serve them. There is rarely a need, apart from personal safety, to share gory details. This protects the good reputations of those involved and saves me from the occasional prying gossip that may try to bait me in conversation for an unedifying purpose.
    The times when my husband is forthright in sharing some summary of an interaction is when someone leaves the church, usually upset over an issue which may not be the heart problem at all. He will also share briefly the issue with others in the body should they inquire. This prevents what can become harsh speculation that can cause collateral damage in the body and encourages them in grieving and praying for their brother or sister in Christ.
    I do share observations and needs I see or hear about in the body with my husband when he can then follow up. I have a strong background in counseling as well, and have learned that there are often many layers to an issue. We make a good team in this regard.
    I often find that people assume that my husband shares everything they tell him with me. I am quick to point out at the beginning of the assumption that I do not know any details.

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    1. This sounds very wise. I totally agree that all the gory details are seldom helpful to anyone! Thank you for sharing your experience.

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