How Much Should a Pastor Tell His Wife?

“When a church hires a pastor or appoints elders, the church pretty much gets a twofer—the leader, and the unpaid consultant to whom he is married. The question is not whether they will talk; the question is whether their talk will be governed by wisdom, discretion, and appropriate confidentiality.”

 

Every church leader has been there. We arrive home after an excruciating meeting with someone whose life, due to sin or suffering, has become suddenly and painfully complex. Your wife is no dummy. A routine scan of your face and posture tell her you bear an invisible burden. Once the kids are down, she waits for the right moment to ask, “Okay, what’s going on?”

The question demonstrates her love for you, but it also betrays an important reality. Once your wife has perceived your burden, she picks up your burden. Except she’s uninformed, which can add pounds of anxiety to the load she bears.

As an elder or church leader, how should you understand your wife’s “clearance level”? Is there a baseline curiosity that mercy should satisfy? Does the one-flesh status of marriage grant full access to counseling details? Partial access? Or should there be an impenetrable firewall between our work at church and our wife at home?

Six Ground Rules

What ground rules matter most in knowing what to share? Here are six I’ve identified through a few decades of trial and (mostly) error.

1. Roles Matter

When a church hires a pastor or appoints elders, the church pretty much gets a twofer—the leader, and the unpaid consultant to whom he is married. The question is not whether they will talk; the question is whether their talk will be governed by wisdom, discretion, and appropriate confidentiality.

Early in ministry Kimm and I talked, oh boy did we talk! Church problems were an entrée we shared at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other pastors on our team had the same practice, so we began discussing some questions. What is our understanding of the role of a pastor’s/elder’s wife in our church—a full-access partner in ministry, or a wife/mother who flourishes more with less? What passages speak specifically to what we might say to our spouse about people’s struggles? Has our understanding of this ground rule been adequately conveyed to the church? These deliberations cut a clearer path for a couple to walk when discussing delicate church matters.

2. My Heart Matters

How we talk about our pressures reveals our heart. For some leaders, their marriage is a venting chamber where every fear, offense, and trouble echoes back to their spouse. Recently, a pastor told me, “During my first few years of ministry, over-sharing was my only mode of communication.” When I asked why, he said, “Problems exposed the junk in my own heart, and I felt like I needed to unload elsewhere.” But something bad happened. He noticed his wife’s taste for ministry was growing sour. When he sought counsel and prayed, the pastor recognized he was actually poisoning his wife. By venting his unbelief and craving her sympathy, his wife became a pacifier, not a counselor.

Few things say more about the health of our heart than how we report things when we’re frustrated. Can we convey the necessary information without sprinklings of our own cynical commentary? Do we protect the motives of those involved when we report to others on the meetings? Are we seeking help to examine our heart? As my pastor-friend discovered, when it comes to discerning what to share with your wife, the heart matters.

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