I sat there in my floor-length dress, waiting for the worship service to start and feeling their eyes upon me. Some in anticipation, some in anger, some simply curious. My hands shook from too much coffee, and as I exhaled a slow breath to calm my nerves, I said the same prayer I’d prayed all morning, “Let this not be a distraction, God.”
The church we were now shepherding had gone without a pastor for four years before my husband was hired on. Sheep without a shepherd tend to wander. We had stepped into this role to many welcoming arms. People who were thrilled to have a young family back in their pews. People who were eager to be led. People who were hungry for the Word and for reviving their dwindling church body.
But for the many congregants who were gracious and ready for change, there were also a few who, while equally as excited for a new pastor and wife, had preconceived ideas of who we should be and what we should do. Preconceived ideas that were crumbling before their eyes as I, the wife of the pastor, stepped behind the brand new drum set on the stage one Easter morning and began to count in the band with four beats on the bass.
For the duration of my role as “pastor’s wife,” I have consistently felt unqualified. I felt too young, too quiet, too opinionated, too harsh. I am not gifted with children’s ministry, my sarcasm and bluntness don’t mix well with kindergarten sensitivity. Try as I may, I am not good at making the elderly feel loved. It’s not that I don’t love them, I just never seem to say the right thing or ask the right questions. The introvert in me loathes surprise house guests, so I never think to do the same for our elderly congregants throughout the week, even though I’m sure they would appreciate it. I like to have a simple, but unique wardrobe that includes a lot of black, green, and gray. I have a few tattoos. I prefer to wear my hair long. All things that, to some people, don’t fit the “look” of a pastor’s wife.
And, as you now know, I play the drums – not the beautiful, highly acceptable piano. And for sure you do not want me singing into a microphone. No, it’s drums. A word that is apparently synonymous with the gates of hell to a few very disappointed congregants.
On that first Sunday, when the drums appeared on stage and I tried to disappear behind them, a few people quit our church. A few others launched noise complaints to the worship leader, and one used the Sunday morning drums as the tipping point for attack, pulling out a long list of my faults and failures they had tucked away like toxic arrows ready to be launched. This one who I had called my dear friend, sent a scathing email a few months after that Easter Sunday detailing all the ways I was wrong.
If you have been in ministry for any period of time, I know you know the kind of email I’m talking about. An email that uses out of context verses from 1 Timothy like a ruler snapped across your knuckles. An email that leaves a pit in your stomach and a lump in your throat and a strong desire to curl up in your bed and never say the word “church” again.
I read and reread that email. My first instinct was defensiveness. Then anger. Then, slowly, I talked to God about it. I told Him that if there was any truth to the many accusations, to please give me the humility to hear those with a soft and teachable heart. I asked my husband the same. We asked our leadership team. In a way very unlike me and my typical fiery temper and burning desire for justice, I swallowed the raging words I wanted to type out, and instead asked God who He said I was. Was I ok? Was I out of line here?
In the quiet, in the scary place where I was afraid I would hear words of disappointment, I heard instead, “You are my daughter. You are loved.” As I read His Word and rested in His peace, I remembered that I am only qualified because He called me, not the other way around. That nothing I do can earn or lose His love for me. That even when I am out of line, and it’s often, He is a safe and welcoming Father, not an angry, vindictive one. He reminded me that I am not here to please men, but to glorify Him.
I may not fit the mold some people believe I should. But the truth is, no one will fit that mold perfectly. There is no genetically-enhanced pastor’s wife out there who checks every box for khakis and casseroles and Christmas programs. We will all disappoint someone. We will not be everyone’s cup of tea. And therein lies the freedom to stop trying. Stop trying to be someone God hasn’t created you to be, no matter how many people demand it of you. You are uniquely gifted to contribute in a way only you can. Who you are in and of itself is a gift to this wonderful, confusing, beautiful thing we call Church. And we need who you are, not who someone expects you to be.
If I am constantly looking inward, wondering if I’ll be accepted and approved, I am not worshipping or serving anyone other than myself. It’s when I’m awake to the fact that I am free and forgiven and enough because of Jesus that I truly begin to glorify the One who created me. When I’m walking in that freedom I get to serve others joyfully without fear of failure. I get to celebrate the ones who have talents I don’t. I get to begin each day knowing God has new mercies for me.
As the wife of the pastor, you have enormous influence over the culture and tone of your congregation. Let’s set that tone with grace as the foundation. Let’s say a hard no to comparison and competition. Let’s lead by example in saying who you are is very good, because God said so. Let’s have the strength to shake off the harsh words and the softness to not grow cynical.
Who’s with me?
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