Posted on : Saturday August 1, 2009

Dear Counselor:

How do you deal with church members who say evil and unkind words about your pastor/husband?

–A Pastor’s Wife

Dear Pastor’s Wife:

Of course our human response to someone who is being unkind to our loved one is to defend or run away. We might give an emotional response back to the person and, then, avoid them as much as possible. While this response is natural, it misses the opportunity for growth and for the discovery of truth.

A different response usually comes with acceptance and preparation; acceptance that the role of a pastor (and pastor’s spouse) will always bring to the surface the unfinished business or “pathology” of other persons (as well as our own), and preparation that is grounded in daily prayer. I would recommend that the following phrase occur in the prayer life of every minister (lay or ordained) daily: “Lord, help me to remain a curious and non-reactive listener today in the midst of all the problems that come my way.”

Remaining curious and non-reactive allows us to use all the parts of our brain and not just give an emotional reaction that comes out of the primitive part of our brain. Therefore, we are not caught in a “triangle” where a person is saying something to us that they really need to say to someone else. To the person who says something unkind about your husband, you can simply say, “I’m sure that my husband would love to hear what you have to say. Why don’t you go tell him yourself?”  Such a statement not only follows the biblical mandate of Matthew 18, but, also, if said in a matter of fact way communicates a sense of power and authority that is grounded in a trust in God and a trust in your husband’s ability to handle the situation. Since most of these unkind comments are about power issues, the very way in which we respond can communicate a form of power that is essential to leaders.

If the comments persist, a further response might be to say in a non-reactive and curious manner, “I can see that something continues to bother you, is there anything more that is going on that perhaps we could talk about?” This invites the person to say more. It also alerts them to the fact that you are aware that this is as much about them as it is about the pastor. If you can remain as a listener for a little while, the person may open up about other issues, at which point you may want to refer them to someone else for deeper listening if needed. You do not need to fix it or to be a counselor for everyone. If the person responses negatively to such an inquiry, you know that you have hit upon an area of growth for them. They will eventually come around, or they will leave. If in fact we are the ones responding negatively, then, we have hit upon an area of our own needed growth which we can take to prayer or to a spiritual friend.

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