December 3, 2009

Love Me, Love My Daddy

As many pastors’ families are well aware, the negative emotions of the congregation can often be (mis)directed at the pastor. As my husband likes to say, “Being a leader means everything is your fault.”

Some frustration and conflict in our church flared up recently, and (naturally?) blame and nastiness got heaped on my husband. There was a flurry of unpleasant phone calls, e-mails, and he-said-she-said conversations flying about. It was a very stressful week for my husband, and—by extension—for me.

As I readied myself and our infant daughter for church the next Sunday, I thought about the enthusiastic cooing and cuddling that awaited my ever-adorable baby girl and I, and my teeth clenched up.

"How dare they?" I thought, (admittedly unfairly universalizing my frustration to not just the handful of individuals involved, but the congregation in general). How dare they fawn all over my baby and I, while inflicting such misery on my husband? Don’t they understand that we’re on my husband’s “side”? That what they say to him hurts us too?

I wanted to get her a bib that says “Love me, love my daddy.” Could they then imagine my little girl sitting by and jutting out her bottom lip, furrowing her brow, maybe starting to cry when they conspire against her beloved Daddy?

I am fairly new to the clergy-spouse thing, and definitely new to the church conflict thing, so I wonder: how do I respond when people treat me and my child as ornaments for their enjoyment, while treating my husband as a whipping boy? I wouldn’t wish to be treated equally badly, but smiling and acting like I know nothing of the conflict doesn’t work for me! Should I just avoid the offending parties, skirting through the pews the way I would dodge a long-winded person en route to the bathroom? (That sure beats the stink-eye I am tempted to give!) Tell me, fellow clergy spouses: what would you do?

Jessica Miller Kelley blogs about parenthood, books, and faith at The Parsonage Family.


  1. I am in a similar situation. I am also a fairly new clergy spouse. I struggle with how people treat me in one setting - as if nothing is wrong - and how they treat my husband in another - as if everything is wrong because of him. I knew from the get go that people would sometimes say hurtful things about my husband and/or me. But sometimes it is hard to let the things that are said or done “roll of your back.” What is an alternate solution to "the stink eye"? Surely ignoring the situation isn't helpful, but neither is continuing to allow people to effect me, or my husband, in this manner.

  2. You should realize how you are seen by the laity and you might forget your 'victimization' role. There are very few jobs today that have the salary package and perks that our Methodist clergy do. The UAW would be envious. Yet there are few professions whose ranks manifest the demanding sense of entitlement that is demonstrated by the Methodist clergy. I won't even get into the free housing. When you combine this with the work ethic of a slug, then conflict is inevitable. Your spouse accepted a job that traditionally requires them to provide access to their parishioners 24/7, if this is a problem, he should go work at WalMart. Perhaps if you made sure your spouses were actually working 40 hours a week, visiting the sick and elderly, etc., you wouldn't have time to play the 'victim' card.

  3. Wow, sounds like there is a lot of feeling behind that comment. Is your spouse a pastor?

  4. I wish you the best in your situation, Nikki. There certainly isn't an easy solution!

    Anonymous, you have given a great demonstration of why this site is needed. Vocational ministry presents so many unique challenges and issues for pastors and their families that laity do not understand.

    I'm sorry you've had a bad experience with Methodist clergy. It doesn't sound like you're a clergy spouse yourself, so if you're interested in our site, I hope what you read here will help you gain a more nuanced view of the real-life struggles of ministry families.

  5. Wow, Jessica. To answer your question, when I was praying one evening God, furious over how some laity treated my husband, God laid it on my heart to pray for the ability to love, really love, the people who hurt my husband the most. It seemed impossible. But I started praying for this love and for blessings in their lives and things like that. It was excruciatingly painful at first, but then God started answering my prayer to give me love for them. And he reminded me of how much he suffered in his own earthly ministry, to the point of murder. And I felt drawn to read 2 Corinthians, where he reminded me of how Paul suffered so much, too. But Jesus never stopped loving those who hated him, and, amazingly, neither did Paul. This gave me hope. So when I see such people now, I pray really hard to see them through the love of Jesus. And that gives me the strength to endure well those encounters and know what to say. I hope that helps!

  6. Anonymous,

    Your comments illustrate the ignorance and cowardlyness of such hateful anonymous letters that sometimes church members mail to clergy.

    United Auto Workers have far less education for their roles, earn a whole lot more money, and have far superior benefits than UM Clergy. Pastors and other clergy who graduated from seminary have one of the highest educational levels, but also have one of the lowest salary levels. The parsonage is their for the convience of the appointive system in moving UM clergy around more than they are for the family needs of various clergy.

    Actually, far too church members are some of the most entitlement minded people for they think they own the pastor and got the spouse for free.

    What is needed is for PPRC Committees to step up to the plate and deal with intrustive people such as yourself who lack any respect for boundaries and be told peace be still or peace leave.

    It's always a handful and too often good Christian people let that handful get by with treating pastors and their families in ways that are neither biblical nor humane.

    Please visit my Clergy Triage/ER page and find a crisis ministry near you for more direct help. The Ministry to Minister's site has some very helpful articles as does the Ministry Health site which are both listed on my Triage/ER page.

    People like anonymous are victomizers who want to play the victom card by blaming the victom of their clergy/spouse killer abuse. As one Lutheran site described. These folks are E.G.O. people for they want to Edge God Out.

  7. Rev. John Marshall Crowe

    Well, at least the UAW members I am familiar with know how to spell. So much for that 'higher educational level.' Isn't 'Affirmative Action' wonderful?

  8. Anonymous,
    I can tell that there is a lot of hurt behind your comments. i join the others in praying for you.

  9. Dear Anonymous, Your response prompted me to make this confession to you. I was secretly glad how John Crowe responded to you the way he did. Sadly, I would have liked to have said some of those very things. But, frankly, I was afraid of how it might reflect on my spouse. You see there are angry, hurting people in every congregation we have served, and you may have chosen to be anonymous because you know me. It was my name that went out on the conference Listserve. So I earnestly prayed how to respond to you. Perhaps you are angry with God or have experienced some deep disappointment. I have been there too. But please know how your responses effected some of the potential contributors to this blog. They were scared away and some may never reach out in this way again. Shouting at each other through the internet doesn't do any good for God's kingdom. As part of the pastor's family, we are called to minister; but we are not called to be intimidated or pushed around or even serve as a doormat. That is not how Jesus ministered either. As Christians we are called to cultivate the Fruits of the Spirit. So I repent of my guilty pleasure. If you live in the Nashville area, perhaps we could get together and iron out some of these issues. Just let me know. Grace, Kathy

  10. Don't feed the troll. People like that enjoy coming on message boards,etc and make incendiary comments in order to get a rise out of people. Looks like this person accomplished their task. Ignore them and they will go away.

  11. Anonymous,

    You strain at a nat and swallow a cammel? Excuse me for not using a spell check, but if that is all you can respond to along with insults like affirmative action, then it is clear your intentios are to enflame and not to edify.

    Most ordained clergy have a Masters of Divinity. It is a three year degree following the completion of a four year under graduate degree. The only Masters degree with anywhere close to the same number of hours is the M.B.A. which is 45. The 92 or so hours needed to complete a M.Div. is more than a person with a Ph.D. has earned for their entire masters then doctoral education after their bachelor degree. On top of that, if a clergy person earns a Doctor of Ministry, that involves about 5 years of going to classes while still pastoral ministry, researching one aspect of ministry, testing a ministry project, writing a dissertation which in the end means about 30 hours for the degree.

    Go and visit my web site. Read the resources about church and clergy health. You will see that I know what I'm talking about. You will also see that what these spouses are saying is true accross the whole spectrum of church life in America.

    Just so happens that I've added a link to this page from both my Triage/ER page and from my Ministry Women page because people need to be able to find support groups like this.