When Parishioners Attack: 5 Tips for the Clergy Spouse
Conflict. Everyone faces it. But clergy spouses often deal with an extra layer, especially when we worship where our spouses pastor. In recent conversations with clergy spouses, we’re hearing this question: “How do I deal with conflict when it erupts between the congregation and my pastor-partner?” Phil Newcomer, a clergy spouse and PK who recently joined the Artos Board, volunteered to give his take on this thorny issue.
U2’s lead singer Bono once said, “Christians are hard to tolerate; I don’t know how Jesus does it.” The truth is Christians sometimes say and do things that are decidedly un-Christian. If you’re the spouse of a clergy person and are actively involved in their congregation, you know what I’m saying. But what should you do when a parishioner’s bad behavior is aimed at your husband or wife? Here are five tips:
- Don’t Fight Your Spouse’s Battle: This is Golden Rule stuff. If you were having a conflict with a co-worker or client, I doubt you would want your husband or wife to show up at your workplace trying to set things right. (I find this particularly challenging as the male spouse of a female clergy person. I get this urge to be my wife’s protector but scratching that itch doesn’t do my wife any favors, especially if there are members of her congregation who have trouble accepting a woman’s leadership as pastor.)
- Be a Source of Trusted Support:While you can’t fight your spouse’s battle, you are a vitally important source of trustworthy support for your pastor-spouse. Listen to his or her frustration or dilemma. Share the burden. Pray with and for your pastor-spouse. (And as guy, I constantly need to remind myself to “Listen, Don’t Solve.” I’m still working on that one.)
- Cultivate Support Beyond the Congregation:No man is an island. No clergy-couple is an island, either. It’s always important to be cultivating a network of friendships and support beyond your spouse’s congregation. You need folks you can go to with the frustrations of un-Christian behavior in the church, and it’s important that those folks be from outside the congregation in conflict. It can be a friend from some part of your life other than the church; it can be another clergy couple; it can be a therapist, counselor or coach; but it shouldn’t be someone connected to the congregation.
- Claim Your Sabbath Time: Claiming time for true rest and worship is particularly hard for clergy families, but it’s especially important to do it when your pastor-spouse faces conflict within the congregation. Be intentional about carving out some time for you and your spouse to be alone together. Put some mental (and even physical) distance between yourselves and the conflict at church. It’s a helpful reminder that there’s more to life than the troubles of this day.
- Stay Grounded in God’s Love:Nothing can make a clergy family feel more insecure than a parishioner’s attacks on the pastor. In times of insecurity, we need to remember where true security lies – in the love of God. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11.
And here’s a Bonus Tip for you … Artos can help. Our retreats, workshops and coaching tackle the unique challenges and frustrations of being a clergy spouse. You will meet other clergy spouses who know first-hand what those challenges and frustrations are like. At our retreats and workshops, you will gain new insights and receive helpful resources. You may even find a new friend or two!
– by Phil Newcomer
Don’t miss more posts from Phil and other Artos friends! Be sure to “like” us on our Facebook page, where you’ll be the first to hear about blog postings, workshops, videos, retreats, and new programs in the works. Watch for the next program we’re developing about how to align expectations and maintain boundaries – both important for dialing back the conflict in our lives. Contact Julie Anderman if you’re interested in participating in our research on this topic