5 Ways to Avoid Having a Bitter Family in the Parsonage (Part 2 of 2)

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. You can find part one of this two-part reflection here.IMG_1763b

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In my previous post (When Pastor’s Vent Too Much in the Parsonage), I blogged about the potentially dangerous results of pastor’s venting about church problems in their homes. Sometimes this venting produces bitterness against the church in the hearts of the pastor, the spouse, and their children. If this bitterness festers in the family, they can end up demonizing members of their very own church family.

How might we prevent this from happening? How does a minister maintain open and honest communication with his/her family without subjecting them to this sort of temptation? I’d like to offer 5 ways to eliminate this demonization from the church parsonage.

First, the pastor needs to guard their family time… even when they’re spending time with family. Too easily, family time can become just another context for talking about the church. It’s okay to talk about the church and ministry, but there’s also lots of other great things to talk about! Pastoral families need to have fun together, laugh together, play together, etc. Sometimes the bitterness that develops toward the church is not the result of the pastor’s venting about problematic people, but the pastors neglect for his own family.

Second, I think it is important for the pastor’s life to be openly and honestly shared with his/her spouse. The answer to this potential problem is not to completely remove the church from the conversation. That being said, it is probably unwise for a pastor to share everything with his/her spouse. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not burden your spouse with an ugly piece of information. A mature pastor, I think, learns what to share and what not to share.

Third, it is important for pastors to make sure that they speak positively about the people in their church in the presence of their families. Pastors tend not to vent at work. It could endanger job security! It becomes tempting to be positive at church by day and negative at home by night. It might be especially worthwhile to verbalize the good qualities of the more stress-inducing people in the church.

Fourth, I would encourage all pastors to actually deal with conflicts! Venting is the result of unresolved conflict. Sometimes there simply hasn’t been opportunity to resolve the conflict yet and the venting is might actually be a healthy way to prepare ourselves for that opportunity. But, if we’re being honest, a lot of times we simply avoid dealing with conflict. It’s easier to complain about a problematic person than to talk to the person about the problem. Don’t allow your avoidance of an issue to become an annoyance for your family.

Fifth, at risk of ending a list of spiritual-to-do’s in a very clichéd way, I’d beg you to pray. The reason prayer is nearly always mentioned in lists like this is because it makes a difference. Pray about your heart. Pray for your wife. Pray for your kids. Pray for the person that is stressing you out. Pray for their family too. Pray for your whole church. Pray until you are genuinely in love with that person again. Love, done rightly, is even more contagious than complaint.

In closing, there’s one more issue I’d like to briefly address. What if I see evidence of this phenomenon (the demonizing of church members) in the life of a colleague or his/her family? How might I confront the situation in a way that keeps me from being demonized myself? Most of the same advice applies. Pray for that pastoral colleague and his/her family. Confront them in love. Interrupt negative venting with reminders of positive truths. Don’t add fuel to the fire by sharing every negative thing you come across with every other minister. And spend time together in life (not just ministry) so that your relationship allows for all of this advice to be applied. By all means, beware of the temptation to demonize a fellow-pastor over his/her habit of demonizing parishioners.

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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).

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