Living in a church parsonage can be challenging at times. A pastor friend of mine wrote this two-part article about life in the parsonage and asked for my opinion, which I found to be challenging and helpful. The author did not want to publish the article with his or her name attached for several admirable reasons, so it is with great honor I share my friend’s thoughtful reflection on life in a parsonage. I will post the second half of this reflection next week.
This blog is about a very real phenomenon that I fear happens in many parsonages and pastor’s homes across North America. It damages many lives and destroys some local churches. The scariest part, though, is that it can all happen somewhat innocently.
Let me start by saying that pastoring a church is an awesome privilege that can also be seriously stressful. Pastors are people. They can get frustrated just like ‘normal’ people get frustrated. They sometimes need to vent those frustrations just like everyone else does. This venting may take place among colleagues, but it often happens at home.
Imagine a pastor going through a particularly frustrating time at his church. At the end of the day, he vents his frustration to his wife. She hears about how parishioner #1 popped-in to the office for what turned out to be a 2-hour visit to talk about nothing in particular in the midst of a very busy ministry schedule. She hears about how parishioner #2 is upset that her 2nd cousin didn’t get visited by the pastor in the hospital. She hears about how parishioner #3 had the nerve to disagree with her husband at the monthly board meeting.
All of these things are clearly weighing on her husband. They’re stressing him out. She’s concerned not only for his sanity, but his health. And, truth be told, she’s concerned about her future. She doesn’t want to move again. It’s unfair that these church-people can ruin a perfectly good evening at the parsonage. The kids soak this in this stressful atmosphere.
It’s very tempting, if this sort of cycle persists, for the pastor’s spouse (and possibly children) to begin to demonize these ‘problem-parishioners.’ While, most likely, the pastor was just (somewhat innocently) venting… the pastor’s spouse & children (motivated by love for their husband & father) defend him by making these members out to be the enemy.
All of this is understandable. Pastors need to vent and venting at home is often a good place to find sympathy. The spouse and children of the pastor love him dearly and hate anything (or anyone) that seems to be getting in the way of his happiness. There’s not necessarily any ill-will in this scenario, but the results can get ugly in a lot of different ways.
The supposed sources of the stress are real people too. And sometimes they start getting dirty looks from the spouse. The church, as a whole, might start to be viewed very negatively by the pastor’s children. The pastor himself can start to feel like his venting is validated and begin to demonize the people too. Very quickly, in some cases, the local church members are given labels as angels or demons.
I am a married pastor. I have pastor’s kids. I don’t want my wife, my children, or my own heart to stop loving and/or start demonizing the people in the church. Right? But how do I best protect them from this temptation without holding back from them what’s truly going on in my heart?
In my next post, I’d like to offer 5 key suggestions.
This post was written by an anonymous guest writer.
Dr. Steve Dunmire is an ordained pastor, a commissioned ministry coach, and Director of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY).Follow @DrSteveDunmire