Let’s treat our ministers’ families like shareholders, not servants
Ministers, after all, represent our congregations. And their families are a reflection of them. So we, with our flawed logic, conclude that a preacher’s wife and children are the local church’s full-time public relations ambassadors by virtue of their last names.
Not us, just them.
The truth is, we’re all ministers. Some of us are just paid better than others, discipline our children out of the spotlight and aren’t so frequently criticized for our fashion choices. And we work at places where unsigned attack letters usually aren’t permitted.
How much better would life for ministers and their families be if our congregations took a few cues from corporate America? What would happen if the local church considered its minister and his family as shareholders instead of servants?
• Pay — Don’t expect the minister and his family to live on a salary or in a home far below the standards of the rest of the congregation.
Pay the minister on a par with the average salary of the congregation. Insist they have access to health care and life insurance
coverage as well as a retirement plan. Anything less is insulting, and even dangerous, in today’s world.
• Benefits — Offer to watch the children on a Friday night so a minister and his wife can go out alone. Buy them a gift certificate to a nice restaurant and refuse to accept any payment for baby-sitting. Be a sympathetic shoulder, a confidant who will not share secrets, someone to whom the family member can vent and know their words and feelings will be kept safe. Offer them opportunities for real friendships so they can receive the love and support we all need.
• Scheduling — Force the minister to take at least one full day off a week (how about today?). His wife probably will thank you for it, particularly if the minister is a workaholic who thinks he must be “on duty” at all times. Spread out the responsibilities
among deacons, elders, ministers and other leaders. Don’t allow your minister to burn himself out or neglect his family.
• Expectations — Don’t assume that the minister’s wife will serve as “co-minister.” Give her a break one quarter from teaching a children’s class and let her go to a class with adults. Give her time to study and refresh herself spiritually. And don’t subject the minister and his family to higher expectations than your own family. Why can your children occasionally mess up and theirs can’t?
• Vacation — Pay for your minister and his wife to go on a spiritual retreat (away from anyone in the congregation) at least once a year. Send them on an all-expenses paid cruise or vacation after a certain period of time. Let them know you love them and care.
• Chain of command — If there are legitimate criticisms with a minister or his wife, or issues that need to be addressed with the children, handle them in a biblical way. Go to the minister or his wife, not the person who sits on the pew behind you. But before you dial that phone or fire off an e-mail, wait 24 hours to make sure it still seems like a good idea.
• Communication — Let families in leadership know that you’re praying for them, and follow through. Write notes of encouragement. Remember their special days, and make it possible for them to celebrate together. Cry and mourn with them over losses. But don’t expect them to share the most intimate details of life. Like everyone else, they have personal boundaries that should be respected.
A friend of mine in her 30s is about to become a minister’s wife. We sat in her living room recently as she ticked off the reasons why she would make a substandard one.
“I don’t keep a perfect house,” she said. “See the clutter?”
I assured her my home made hers look like a magazine photo shoot had just concluded.
“My children aren’t perfect,” she continued.
They can’t all be like mine, I said, patting her shoulder.
“It’s a very public place to be, and yet a really lonely place,” she said.
Don’t worry, I told her. I mean, how a couple manages their money, disciplines their children or clothes themselves is a personal choice and not a matter of doctrine, right? Just because a family serves at the pleasure of a local congregation doesn’t mean they forfeit their ability to make decisions about what is best for themselves or their family.
That made her laugh.
She’ll be just fine, I predict.
TAMIE ROSS is associate online editor of The Christian Chronicle.