No one can know the burdens carried by the pastor and members of their immediate family other than other pastors. Members often place unrealistic expectations on pastors and their families. Imperfections are often not tolerated. Any perceived mistep becomes grounds for criticism and harsh judgement. This can lead to a veritable minefield of consequences and negative results. Knowing how to navigate this minefield can mean the difference between a productive pastorate and a short, painful tenure.
Don’t be a hypocrite
You can easily fall into the temptation of putting on a good front for the membership. Never show weakness, never admit struggle or problems. While this is one option, I would suggest it is a poor one. The amount of energy that you and your family will expend trying to pretend that everything is wonderful will end up being wasted. Why? We humans are usually pretty good at indentifying fakes. Your people may not be able to put their finger on exactly what is bothering them about you but they’ll be able to subsconciously tell you aren’t being real with them. This will hurt their trust in you.
The other danger to hypocrisy is that you’ll end up living a double life in front of your kids. They’ll see you being one way in public and another way in private. It teaches them a fear of man that isn’t healthy. It also indirectly teaches them to put too much stock in the negative opinions of others. The end result is that one’s happiness depends on the approval of others. This is a one way street to misery.
Your happiness doesn’t depend on the happiness of others. Your family’s happiness also shouldn’t depend on the happiness of others. To expect so is to be unfair to them. Do that and your kids will grow up hating the church.
It isn’t the church that has a problem. It is you. There will always be people who will try to control us. There will always be people who have unrealistic expectations of us and of our family. Read carefully now. It isn’t those people who are ruining your peace and your happiness, it is how you are reacting to their displeasure and judgement.
Most pastors struggle with self confidence issues. When people criticize us or our family, we tend to take it to heart. More than that however, we then fall temptation to altering our behaviour because of these attacks. We lose our joy and we lose our love of ministry. The end result is that our family suffers. The kids end up hating the church. They end up hating the hypocrisy.
Basic Steps to Protect Yourself
1. Stop inviting members to your home. Your home is your safe zone from members. It needs to be the place your family can feel protected and safe to be themselves. Notice I’m not suggesting that you don’t have friends over but make sure those friends aren’t church members.
2. Don’t let church members be your confidants. You and your family need friends. All human beings need relationships. Just don’t make those close relationships with church members. Understand what I’m saying here. Do be friendly with church members. Do have fun with church members but don’t confide your deepest, darkest fears and concerns to church members. If you do, you are only asking for that information to be used against your family at a later date.
The relationship between pastor and member isn’t equal whether we want to admit it or not. That inequality can go both ways too. Pastors can be spiritual authorities over their members but in most evangelical churches, members can be financial authorities over pastors. Members hold the power of employment and lodging over most pastors today. Treat that relationship cautiously. As Jesus once advised, we need to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves…
3. Document everything. I know, you aren’t the type to distrust people or to easily keep track of everything. I’m not saying you need to be distrustful, just be less naive. We live in a litigious society. There is a good reason why it takes so long for a police officer to give us a speeding ticket and then send us on our way. They aren’t just checking their computers for any possible crimes we might have committed, they are also taking the time to properly document the reason the officer stopped us in the first place. Without this documentation, the officer would be unable to give a proper defence of their conduct months or years later. By developing the habit of documenting emotional encounters, we protect ourselves and our families from harm later on.
Do you have any other advice I may have missed? If so, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you!