This one is a hard one for me because I’ve always been very intentional about the decisions I’ve (we’ve) made for my (our) family, and we as a family have been judged by other members of our family for decisions we’ve made. Most of the decisions the family members disapproved of had to do with our life choices – seminary and ministry callings – and how we chose to spend what little free time we did have between work, school and ministry. Let’s just say that we’ve not been the most popular members of the family and that my DH has even had to have a few C2J conversations with a few family members (ok, I have had one too…) about our decisions.
I feel hurt when these conversations have to take place for a number of reasons, all of which boil right down to respect for the other. “Why don’t you spend more time with us when you have a weekend off?” – disrespect for couple time. “So what that your church has Christmas Eve services and you have to work them, we want you with us the next morning.” – disrespect for a career calling and personal boundaries. “You bought what kind of car?” – disrespect for general decision-making.
And unfortunately these types of “judgements” go farther than beyond the family. We’ve all been guilty of them before. “You send your child to what daycare?”…”You wore that in public?”…”You shop at that store?” We are human, we have opinions, and unfortunately we share them without thinking about how they affect the other person, or even deeper, how much we should be respecting the other and their right to make those decisions for themselves. (Yes I know, this could be taken to a whole other level about decision-making, our government, politics, poverty, welfare, etc., but for the sake of all our sanity – and the fact that I don’t share my political opinions publicly – I’m not going there and this blog post has nothing to do with any of that.)
When one moves to a new city one typically will ask for suggestions on varied things – restaurants, doctors, daycare, shopping, churches, etc. – and many times that information can be shared without judgement attached. I have seen, however, that sometimes it’s virtually impossible for a person to make decisions without being nearly persecuted or feeling like they must defend to a grand jury their decision. I have even felt that way myself on a few occasions about some family decisions we have made about our time thus far in the new town.
We all know that in the Presbyterian Church (USA) the Pastor’s package (benefits, salary, housing allowance, taxes, mileage, continuing education, etc.) is all a matter of public record. I’ve quickly learned, however, that sometimes MORE than that becomes a matter of public record…and discussion. Everyone who knows which insurance company you use seems to have an opinion as to why you should choose another company, and in a small town, a lot of it boils down to having a friend or relative who works for the other company. While this is all fine and dandy, where is the line that we draw to let people just be with their decisions?
We have seen from first-hand experience that it’s not a good idea to mix church membership and business. Sometimes you don’t have a choice in a small town, but when you do, it’s best to not mix the two. Someone is always going to be offended that you chose one business or family to support over another and it only gets worse from there. It’s very rare that you can have a business owner look objectively and say, “it was in the best interest of the church to use _____ company instead of mine in this situation.” It has happened before, but it’s very rare. It’s just generally a bad idea.
And I’d say that the same mentality goes for the pastor in making decisions about using congregants for personal use as well. Which is why we have made decisions on our own. Needless to say, we still don’t get off without comments and even criticisms about our decisions. In a small town it’s apparently considered very rude to choose to not patronize your congregant, even if you only need one new toilet and two members own or work at hardware stores that sell toilets. See, that’s where it gets touchy. Do you buy a toilet from one and a toilet brush from the other? Or do you just go down the road to Lowe’s and avoid them both altogether? As a pastor’s family, you try very hard to make decisions that will not hurt anyone in the congregation based on your decision. Of course, you want to patronize when you can, but when there are multiples in the congregation that offer the same service or merchandise, sometimes it’s just easier to go to a third (or fourth, fifth, sixth…) party to make your purchase or utilize the service.
The biggest decision we’ve had to make thus far in a small town is childcare. There are not many options here and we did our research when we came for visits during the search process, so we decided to go out of the city to find our childcare. We have received “support” from a number of the members of the congregation when they learn why we chose to put our child in a church program 35 minutes away from our home. We have also received some more negative comments, not necessarily from congregants, about why we chose to put our child in a church program 35 minutes away from our home. Many of those comments were quickly followed up with comments about what’s here not being “good enough” for us. This is where the need for thick skin comes into play.
We’ve also made other big decisions – bought a new car, changed insurance companies, decided where to regularly grocery shop, etc. – and some times we’ve sought recommendations from others while other times we have not. Either way, we’ve noticed that everyone seems to have an opinion.
And it’s made me stop and think about all of the times I’ve given advice or recommendations, when asked or even when I just felt someone needed it, and I’ve pushed my personal thoughts onto that person. Poor them. I’ve never intentionally done it to insinuate that their decision-making was no good, but I’m sure it’s come across that way before. Here, for the public to see, I apologize to all of my friends who may have felt disrespected or railroaded by my opinion sharing.
In short, just like any other person in life, this preacher’s wife has decided that you’re never going to please everyone, not even family, so don’t stress yourself out over trying. You make the best decisions that you can for you and your family and you don’t apologize. The chances are good that you will feel the need to defend your decisions, but you never should feel that you need to apologize, especially not if it’s truly what’s best for you and your family.
If there’s one thing that I try to always remember it’s that God gave us family first and our ministry means nothing if we’re not caring for the flock at home above and before the flocks in the congregation. Ministry starts at home and ultimately ends at home as well, because through the ups and downs of congregational ministry your family is there if you minister to them first. Take care of the family, letting God guide this ministry and God will bless the ministry to your family. Take care of the congregation and put God at the center of your ministry there, it too will be blessed. Know in your heart that the decisions made for the family are the most important decisions you make, and hopefully God is at the center of those decisions and you are at peace.
And most importantly, don’t let others disrespect you for your decisions.