Saturday, October 29, 2011

An Invisible War

(Interesting note: I had some technical difficulties with this post on spiritual warfare. You'll notice extra spaces between a few paragraphs. Think I had a little warfare going on behind the scenes? Hmmm...)

Well folks, I'm coming to the close of another "theme" month. Every time I commit to a specific theme for an entire month, I get really nervous. I wonder, "How in the world am I going to blog twice a week about that same topic?" And some how I pull it off.

Actually, the truth is -- God pulls it off. He puts my spiritual antennae up, and everywhere I go I see, hear and experience things that line up with my theme. This month that I've focused around ministry (for Pastor's Appreciation Month) has been no exception.

Before I share a short word about what God placed on my heart today, can I ask you for a few favors? First of all, I'd love to hear from you if you're reading. I've been told my comment form hasn't been working for some reason. Well, I plan to fix that today for sure. And you can always leave a comment on Facebook as well. Hearing from you feels natural, like a two-way conversation.

Secondly, please share my blog with others that you think would be interested. I read books, articles and blogs all the time and think, "So-and-so would be so blessed by this." And I usually send that link right to that person. Please feel free to do the same with my blog.

Lastly, don't hesitate to share some ideas of what you'd like to read about, especially if it's in line with my blog. My blog has evolved over the months into something I never planned. God has awakened a desire in me to deal with popular culture from a Christian perspective. For instance, when Steve Jobs passed away, everyone was talking about him. I found myself wanting to talk about him too. Yet I immediately thought, "Now what does Steve Jobs' life teach us about the Christian walk?" Although Steve Jobs never professed to be a Christian, I was amazed at the illumination God gave me on the topic. I blogged about that here in Steve Jobs: Lessons From His Legacy, and even submitted my thoughts to a Christian publication. I'll let you know how that goes.

So if you love to read about things going on in the world right now, but you're wondering if and how those things apply to the Christian life, check my blog out on a regular basis. Or better yet, subscribe to receive it in your email every Tuesday and Saturday. Join my list of "Followers" to the right of this post. And tell other like-minded folks about it too.

I think that's it for favors. I know I'm asking a lot, but good grief, I do write this thing twice a week! Surely, you can help a sister out, right? :-)

So on to today's topic...

I handled this topic in depth in last year's post Joys and Pains of the Ministry Life: Part III. However, it bears repeating that perhaps the most difficult thing for those of us in ministry is spiritual warfare.

For those new to the Christian faith, spiritual warfare is the strife and difficulty experienced due to our spiritual enemy's, or Satan's, activity in our lives. Now, don't leave this blog post petrified over this. First of all, I'm not talking about the uncanny outward manifestations that we might see in the horror flicks popular this time of year: doors shutting by themselves, framed portraits mysteriously knocked off the wall, ghosts and monsters chasing people through grassy fields. (Can you tell I watched a lot of those during my teen years?)

No, I'm dealing with the more subtle spiritual warfare that happens behind the scenes. There are three tricky things about this kind of spiritual warfare:
  • It can only be seen with spiritual eyes
  • We can only fight it with spiritual weapons
  • The opponent in spiritual warfare often looks like other people or ourselves
Seen with Spiritual Eyes
Spiritual warfare cannot be seen with the naked eye, just like our enemy cannot be seen that way. For example, Satan doesn't roam around in a red jumpsuit, carrying a pitchfork. The Bible states that he "masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14) Yet the closer we grow to the Lord, the more we'll be able to detect him and his devilish activity in our lives and the lives of those around us. Hebrews 5:12-14 says it well:
"...Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

Must be Fought with Spiritual Weapons
Unlike military combat, spiritual warfare can't be fought with physical weapons. According to Ephesians 6:17, from "The Armor of God" chapter, our only offensive weapon is the Word of God, or the Bible. And prayer goes alongside the Word in the next verse. As we fight spiritual battles, we must soak ourselves in the salve of the Word of God and pray our way through the battle. Spiritual weapons are our only hope in spiritual wars.
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." 2 Corinthians 10:4
Our Opponent Looks Like Other People Or Ourselves

Perhaps the trickiest thing about spiritual warfare is that my opponent often looks like those around me or myself. I'll share an example. When Anthony first became a pastor, I was amazed at how often people in the church had conflicts. At any given time, there was someone offended by someone else. When these conflicts weren't handled quickly and thoroughly, they often escalated into what seemed like World War III.

It didn't take me long to realize that there was constantly something going on behind the scenes. Even though people often fought over personality differences, opposing opinions or even blatant sins against one another, there was usually a deeper, more complex conflict going on. And the more involved in ministry the people were, the larger the issues grew. I could clearly see the enemy lurking behind the scenes, determined to tear down specific ministries. Even today, I often want to stand in the middle of the opposing sides of a conflict, with my hands crossed in a "T" for time out. I want to scream, "Hey, everybody! Remember we're all on the same team -- God's team!"

Another difficult situation is when the enemy looks like me. For me, this usually happens late at night. I suddenly feel confused, distraught or hopeless. The interesting thing is I can't put my finger on what I'm confused, distraught or hopeless over. Of course life's never perfect, but during these times, things are pretty status quo. I usually feel kind of crazy at these times, and wonder if I'll need to be committed the next morning. 

At some point, however, I usually come "out of myself" enough to assess the situation clearly. And I realize I'm under heavy spiritual attack. That's when I get to praying hard, and reading scriptures like Ephesians 6:12:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
And I sing songs to myself like Selah's "I Bless Your Name." Read the lyrics from the second verse and chorus:
Some midnight hour
If you should find
You're in a prison in your mind
Reach out and praise
Defy those chains
And they will fall 
In Jesus' Name

We bless Your Name
We bless Your Name
We give you honor, give You praise
You are the Life, the Truth, the Way
We bless Your Name
We bless Your Name

Amen to that. Amen to that.

Fighting the Good Fight of Faith,


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shane Claiborne: A Preacher in an Unexpected Package

Me Beaming with Shane and my 14-year-old Kalin

Okay so, I'm not going to start this blog like I did Coffee With Dennis Rainey. I'm not going to say that I hung out with Shane Claiborne tonight. Although I did hang out with Shane Claiborne (exhibit A: photo above). No, I'll come right out and admit it. I and about three hundred other people hung out with Shane tonight in a chapel service at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

On a serious note, though, hearing Shane live was really a treat. I'd been wanting to hear from this best-selling author and self proclaimed "prominent Christian activist, sought-after speaker, and a recovering sinner" for years now. So when I heard he'd be speaking only fifteen minutes away, I grabbed my son Kalin and made my way.

For those unfamiliar with him, Shane writes and speaks all over the world about peacemaking, social justice and Jesus. With his shaggy goatee, dreadlocs swinging down his back and simple clothes, he'd be the last person you'd i.d. as the preacher in the room. Kind of like the plain, but powerful Mother Teresa, with whom he spent ten weeks working alongside in Calcutta, India. Shane's wardrobe, haircut and "package" don't command attention. Oh, but when he opens his mouth... Now that's another story.

With an Eastern Tennessee twang in his voice, Shane began speaking about his hope for "another world." He began with the biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31. He stated that sadly, "the rich man's religion did nothing to bridge the chasm between him and the poor. Could it be that the rich man and the poor man would have been better without this wall?"

He then brought us back to the present, mentioning that the United States, the wealthiest country in the world, is home to some of the loneliest, depressed and suicidal people in the world. Maybe the rich people here could also benefit from the breaking down of this wall?

"Maybe God's got a dream bigger than Wall Street's dream," said Shane. Perhaps a large part of God's dream can be summarized in one word: justice.

Quoting noted intellectual and social justice advocate Dr. Cornel West, he said, "Justice is what love looks like in public." And like Dr. West, Shane has committed his life to the poor and disenfranchised. And he's paid greatly for that commitment.

Shane said he's always amazed at other people's testimonies that consist of them meeting Jesus and everything in life coming all together. In contrast, Shane said, "I had my life together and then I met Jesus. My life's been a mess ever since!"

He talked about a time he and some friends went to court for feeding a group of homeless people, against the law in that town. When he went to court, he wore a t-shirt that read, "Jesus was homeless." When the judge questioned the slogan, Shane explained Jesus' words in Luke 9:58, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

The judge's verdict: Shane and his crew had broken the law, but they had broken an unjust law. He concluded that if past unjust laws had not been broken, our country would still have slavery today. Needless to say, the so-called law offenders were set free with all charges dropped.

He concluded by stating that when we get to heaven, God won't say, "Okay, so what's your view on the virgin birth?" No, His words will sound a lot more like this:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Oh how I long to hear those words from my Savior one day. In the meantime, I've got a lot more to do here on earth. I sure hope you'll join me.

Living For Justice and Mercy,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MLK Memorial Dedication: The Past, The Present, The Future

During the month of October, I have dedicated this blog to Pastor's Appreciation Month. When I began on October 1, I prayed that God would reveal interesting blog topics. Every week He has answered that prayer.

Today I dedicate this blog to one of history's most influential and celebrated pastors -- Martin Luther King, Jr. On Sunday thousands of people gathered to commemorate the unveiling of his 30-foot monument on the Mall in our nation's capital. Oh, how I wish I could have been there.

As I reflect on yesterday's dedication, I'll approach this event in light of the Past, the Present and the Future.

The Past
48 years ago Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, proclaiming "I Have a Dream." He was joined by thousands of people of various races and cultures for the 1963 March on Washington, a political rally in support of civil and economic rights. I'll share a small excerpt:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

The Present
The visual image I see in my mind's eye of the MLK Monument is this: A small statue of President Barack Obama, our nation's first African American president, standing firmly on the huge stone shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr. For President Obama, and all African Americans today, truly stands on the shoulders of men and women like Dr. King, who gave their lives for the cause of equal rights for all.

Dr. King died so I could attend the schools of my choice. Dr. King died so I could visit my local election poll and cast my vote for the candidate of my choice. Dr. King died so my husband and I could lead a church body of people from different racial and economic backgrounds.

President Obama said it so eloquently on Sunday:
It is right that we honor that march, that we lift up Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- for without that shining moment, without Dr. King's glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Because of that hopeful vision, because of Dr. King's moral imagination, barricades began to fall and bigotry began to fade. New doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed, as well. Look at the faces here around you, and you see an America that is more fair and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress -- progress that's expressed itself in a million ways, large and small, across this nation every single day, as people of all colors and creeds live together, and work together, and fight alongside one another, and learn together, and build together and love one another.

The Future
As I think of the future, I must say we haven't reached the "Promised Land" yet. Much has changed in our country, but there's still lots of room for progress.

May I give a few examples?
  •  When I enter the bookstore, and especially the Christian bookstore, I'm hard pressed to find books written by African Americans. Should we assume there are few African Americans, other than athletes and musicians, that have anything to say by way of the written word?
  • I wonder why lower income neighborhoods, in every city of every state, are still full of African Americans, while middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods are still largely predominantly Caucasian.
  • African American musicians, artists, filmmakers and authors still fight for a place in their industries. They often have to create their own place (a la Tyler Perry), in order to find a place.
  • Underprivileged, under-resourced public schools are overflowing with minority students, while private schools abound with Caucasian students.
  • Liquor stores are found in abundance in lower-income communities, yet libraries, healthy grocery store chains and safe community centers are grossly lacking.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the steep mountain we have yet to climb as a nation. Yet I have hope that the legacy of Dr. King, and many others like him, will influence my generation and the generation behind me to continue to fight for equality and justice. That is my dream.

I'll end with the words of the Reverend Al Sharpton at the MLK Memorial Dedication. "This is not a monument of those times past," said Sharpton. "This is a marker for the fight for justice today and a projection for the fight for justice in the future because we will not stop until we get the equal justice Dr. King fought for."

May we continue Dr. King's fight.

Living For Justice and Mercy,


Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Ambassador: His Rise, Fall and Rise Again

I recently began a Facebook Group called "A Pastor's Wife's Garden" with the goal of connecting hearts with other pastor's wives like myself. The idea for this group came totally from the Lord one day while I watched a recording of an interview on CBN. The topic of this interview: William Branch, also known as The Ambassador, also known as Duce, and his wife discussing the challenge of his emotional affair with another woman.

To give a little backstory, Duce is a Christian hip hop artist that co-founded and led Cross Movement, a rap group that took the Christian world by storm in 1996. All original founding members, including Duce, grew up in Philadelphia. Having earned a Masters degree in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary -- graduating with honors, by the way -- he began co-pastoring Epiphany Fellowship Church, a growing and vibrant multi-ethnic church in Philly.

That is, until he fell into this emotional affair. At that point Duce was asked to leave his pastoral position and Cross Movement. May I add that I appreciate churches and recording artists/companies that take a stand against sin. I have become so disheartened with Christians that lightly tap fallen leaders on the hand, then throw them right back up into the pulpit or right back into the recording studio. But I also rejoice in Christians who reach out to pick those leaders back up, help them dust themselves off, then help them resume walking in grace with our Savior. After all, that's the kind of grace I'm sure I would need.

But back to the CBN interview... What moved me most about the Branches' trial was the evident forgiveness, redemption and healing they had experienced through Christ. But another thing struck me as a pastor's wife. Duce's wife Michelle stated that as a pastor's wife, she didn't know who to talk to when she suspected her husband's affair. Her words exactly: "And I really felt in my mind that there was no one I could tell."

Those words hit me like a brick when I first heard them. They still make me cringe. I cringe over the disheartening reality of Michelle's words. As a pastor's wife, you sometimes feel quite alone. Who do you go to when your marriage is in trouble? Where do you turn when you need help?

I hope and pray that we as believers would support our pastors -- in all their humanity and frailty. Let's give these men -- and their wives -- a break. Let's find the balance between esteeming them as our God-ordained leaders and also remembering how very human they really are. Pastors have many of the same struggles, temptations and weaknesses as anyone else. And so do their wives. Lord knows, I can testify to that.

The best gift we can give our pastors this year during Pastor's Appreciation Month is not a load of cash, a gift card or a day off. (Although those are all nice! :-)) What pastors need most are our prayers, our support and our grace to fall short -- every now and then.

I'm hoping and praying that "A Pastor's Wife's Garden" will be a safe place for pastor's wives to share life together. I hope we'll find a place of solace and grace there. I hope we'll meet one another and the Lord there.

I'll leave you with two video clips: one of the actual CBN video of Duce and Michelle (click here to view). The second: a YouTube audio clip of his new hit hip hop song -- "Up Down." I love this cut; it speaks to Duce's personal testimony of his "Rise, Fall and Rise Again" -- in Jesus' name.

Trusting Him Through the Ups and Downs,


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth: A Pastor with Purpose and Passion

On October 5, two very influential men passed away: Steve Jobs who I blogged about last week and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Needless to say, much of the media hype that day went to Steve Jobs, this being a technology crazed culture. But Rev. Shuttlesworth's legacy demands our attention as well. And this being Pastor's Appreciation Month, I think it quite appropriate to honor him here.

Let me start by saying I honestly didn't know a lot about Rev. Shuttlesworth. I was familiar with his name, and I knew he was strategic in the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to his death, however, I couldn't have listed three facts about him. Well, I decided to remedy that. As a result of my research, hopefully some of you may learn a little more about him as well.

Rev. Shuttlesworth, born March 18, 1922, was both a minister in Birmingham, Alabama and a Civil Rights activist. He became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953.

1956 proved to be a memorable year for Shuttlesworth. That year he was named Membership Chairman of the Alabama state chapter of the NAACP. Later that same year the state of Alabama outlawed the NAACP from operating within the state. Undeterred in his mission to fight for civil rights, he helped establish the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, created to continue the NAACP's work in Alabama.

On Christmas Day of that year he faced the first major threat on his life when a group of unidentified perpetrators attempted to kill him by placing sixteen sticks of dynamite under his bedroom window. He miraculously escaped unharmed, while his house suffered major damage. When a police officer, also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, advised Shuttlesworth with the threat: "if I were you I'd get out of town as quick as I could," the reverend stood firm. He told the officer to tell the Klan that he would not leave and stated, "I wasn't saved to run."

Proof that he wouldn't be running: the next day he led a group that integrated Birmingham's buses, then sued after the police arrested twenty-one of those passengers.

In 1957, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; and a few other Civil Rights leaders. During his time with SCLC, he accomplished much:
  •  He participated in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in 1960
  •  He worked with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the Freedom Rides in 1961
  •  After the brutal beatings of Freedom Riders in Alabama, he sent some of his church deacons to collect the injured Riders. Those Riders were delivered to Shuttlesworth's church, Bethel Baptist, to recuperate.
  • He participated in numerous marches and campaigns against segregation
  • He joined the March from Selma to Montgomery that let to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Though combative, headstrong and blunt at times, Shuttlesworth nonetheless commanded respect amongst colleagues and opponents. Diane Nash, a student activist and leader of a second wave of Freedom Riders, has stated, "Fred was practically a legend... He would not back down, and you could count on it. He would not sell out, you could count on that."

To communicate its nonviolent approach to civil rights, the SCLC adopted the motto: "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed." Yet, the hair on Shuttlesworth's head was continually threatened. In 1957, after attempting to enroll his children in an all-white public school in Birmingham, a mob of Klansmen attacked him and his wife. The mob, which included Bobby Frank Cherry, an assailant in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, beat him with chains and brass knuckles and stabbed his wife. Miraculously, they both survived. And in 1958, he survived another attempt on his life -- this time through an attempted bombing.

In his later years, he continued his work of helping others and fighting for equality. He founded the "Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation" in 1988 to assist low-income families in purchasing homes. In 1998, he become a supporter of the Birmingham Pledge, committed to combating racism and prejudice. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented him with the Presidential Citizens Medal.
He gave his final sermon in 2006 at the Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinati, Ohio, which he had founded. And in 2008, the Birmingham, Alabama Airport Authority approved changing the name of Birmingham's airport to "Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport."

Last week, members of Congress delivered speeches commemorating the life and legacy of Rev. Shuttlesworth. After hearing of his passing, President Obama said, "He was a testament to the strength of the human spirit. And today we stand on his shoulders, and the shoulders of all those who marched and sat and lifted their voices to help perfect our union... America owes Rev. Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude."

Well said, Mr. President. Well said.

Standing for Justice and Mercy,


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: Lessons From His Legacy

We've all seen it done before. A person passes away, and everyone that speaks about him practically deifies the guy. It's as if we clearly see people as very much human and imperfect... until they die.

Well, I certainly don't want to deify Steve Jobs here. He was a mere man. A genius -- but still a mere man. And after reading a bit of his backstory, I now see him much clearer than I did before he passed away. He was a man of remarkable achievement. He was also a man with flaws and more than a few poor choices in his past.

To list a few markers I read in his biography:
  • he originally denied paternity to his first-born child Lisa, born to ex-girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan
  • In the late seventies/early eighties he was considered too temperamental a manager
  • Once fired from the company he helped begin, he "took revenge" by creating a competing product
He was also a man of great paradox. Having studied Zen Buddhism in his youth, he had considered becoming a monk in a monastery in Japan. His guru, however, convinced him to start Apple instead. And the rest is history...

Yet with all we know of Steve Jobs, I believe we Christians can glean much from his 56 years on earth. I'd like to point out some life lessons from observing the extraordinary life of this amazing man.

First of all, I've discovered that some of the coolest people are adoptees. Born in 1955 to unwed college graduates, Steve was adopted by a couple in California's Bay Area, Paul and Clara Jobs. The orphan care/adoption advocate that I am, this fact makes my heart skip a beat. Some of the most brilliant, talented and world-changing people just happen to have been adopted. Aren't we all glad that Steve's biological parents were pro-life?

Steve's life also teaches us the power of vision. In the mid-seventies he convinced his computer whiz friend, Stephen "Woz" Wozniak, to sell his first creation: a computer built in Woz's garage that consisted of only a circuit board. Woz agreed and Apple Computer was born. Fast forward to four years later when Apple went public. The company grew at a tremendous pace, increasing Steve's net worth to over $200 million the day it went public. He was only 25.

Consider, also, the more recent success of the Apple computer, the iPod and the iPad. Oh, and what about that little-production-company-that-could that he bought in 1986 named "Pixar"? Though Pixar struggled to produce any serious revenue for almost a decade, in 1995 it released Toy Story, the first computer-generated animation movie of all time. Toy Story's box-office success, and thus Pixar's success on Wall Street, was almost literally off the charts.

Steve forever changed four different industries: personal computers (Apple and Macintosh), music (iPod and iTunes), phones (iPhone) and animated films (Pixar).

And it all began with a vision birthed in Steve while sitting in his buddy's garage.

I'll borrow our third lesson from Apple's slogan: Think Different. "Think Different" became the mantra for a revolutionary marketing campaign promoting the idea that people who use Macs were dreamers who could change the world.

World-Changers. That's what we Christian are, aren't we? The Bible calls us "ambassadors," here temporarily to represent our true home, heaven and our Heavenly Father. According to 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." Ambassadors must never forget where they come from. They must remember who they represent. To get lost in their present culture would be detrimental to their mission. 

They must think differently.

The steep mountains and plummeting valleys of Steve's professional life also hold a major life lesson: persistence is a necessity. How many times did Steve fall, brush himself off, then get right back up in the saddle? Time after time. You'd think he would have given up after several failed computer models. You'd think he would have thrown in the towel after his folks fired him from his own company. We would have let him off the hook if he had quit as CEO of Apple when his body and health mercilessly failed him.

But no, Steve did not quit. And we can't either.

Until He Calls Me Home,


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Inside the Heart of a Pastor's Wife

Last week I had coffee with another pastor's wife. As we sat across from each other in those cool overstuffed leather chairs with our lattes steaming between us, we caught up on life. We discussed the prayer group we had just attended, our families and our kids. Inevitably, our discussion turned to ministry. So I asked Nicolle the question I love to ask other pastor's wives: What's life like for you as a pastor's wife?

Like every pastor's wife I've ever posed that question to, she gave me an earful. I'd love to share her thoughts here today. I'll list her top three issues, which I think are pretty universal.

1. Being misunderstood as a pastor's wife

She began this point by describing the relationship she had years ago with her former pastor's wife. This pastor's wife was very outspoken, and many church members thought her unsubmissive to her pastor-husband.

During her single years, Nicolle offered to serve this pastor's wife and her family. On her first day of service, she entered the lady's home excited to aid her in sorting paperwork, bills and files. She was fully prepared to become a trusty personal assistant. Instead, the lady led her to the bedroom of her two daughters, age 5 and 7. Clothes and girlie stuff was everywhere -- all over the floor, the beds and the dresser tops.

That day was the beginning of my friend's new job as a nanny/housekeeper. Not exactly thrilling volunteer work for a single gal.

Yet a treasure awaited her after all. This new entrance into her pastor's home allowed her to observe this pastor's wife and her interactions with her husband and daughters. Her observations led her to a glorious discovery: there was more to this pastor's wife than met the eye. This woman, often accused of being boisterous and not submitting to her husband, was actually quite submissive. This husband and wife had a great understanding between them, and her husband knew exactly how to communicate and relate with his wife.

Years later, now that Nicolle has became a pastor's wife, she often feels misunderstood like her former pastor's wife. People sometimes interpret her outspokenness and outgoing nature as a lack of submission. Yet she too has a wonderful connection with her husband. Describing why submission comes naturally for an outspoken woman like herself, she says, "My husband knows how to shepherd me well."

2. Living in the infamous ministry "bubble"

She inevitably listed this challenge that perhaps every ministry family has dealt with on some level. She mentioned that when a pastor or pastor's family has a problem in life or marriage, people often lack grace.

According to Nicolle, this can attributed to the "false expectations people place on leadership. [They] deify them and don't let them be humans."

I must assert this question: When this happens, where does a pastor or his wife turn when he proves to be human and imperfect? It's a question that many a ministry family has yet to answer.

3. Church members unable to relate to the PK's (Pastor's Kids)

She expressed her concern with the interactions, or lack thereof, between her children and church members. Either people's expectations are too high for them or they're seen as in the way. Oftentimes, church folks will attempt to push the children out of the way (figuratively) so they can get to the pastor or his wife. The children feel like nobody really wants them.

Nicolle is vigilant to guard her family and their time together. She said that after ministering long and hard, her husband has often been "sucked dry, and then we don't get anything."

I agree with my pastor's wife-girlfriend on all counts. Sometimes well-meaning people can literally suck the life out of their poor pastors. And often we pastor's wives and our children feel like we receive little more than the leftovers.

I hope that by sharing my feelings and the feelings of other pastor's wives, I haven't put a complete damper on ministry. Certainly there are many positives that come with the territory of being in the ministry. One being continual spiritual blessing from the Father.

But please take a moment and say a prayer for your pastor(s). This life is not an easy one, and they (and their families) could really use the encouragement and prayer support.

And if you're a pastor or pastor's wife, be encouraged. If you weren't being effective for the Kingdom, the enemy would have left you alone a long time ago!

Speaking the Truth in Love,


Note: Nicolle Fletcher's husband, Phil, pastors The Church at Oakwood in Conway, Arkansas. Together they lead City of Hope Outreach (COHO), a ministry that seeks to advocate for and share the Gospel among persons in low income situations.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Blessing Those Beautiful Feet

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Romans 10:15b

Today, October 1, marks the first day of Pastor Appreciation Month. My next series of blogs might seem a little self-serving since I'm a pastor's wife, but I sure hope you hear my heart. As a pastor's wife I see first-hand the good, the bad and the ugly of my husband Anthony's ministry life. On any given Sunday, he might be enjoying the best day in ministry he's ever had, then one conversation with one person can turn that best day into the worst day in ministry he's ever had. And that's only one day of the week.

Of course many of the difficulties he experiences have their root in the spiritual realm. The Bible tells us that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12) And yet, sometimes those principalities look a lot like people! 

Then add to that the demands of a large family, rambunctious children and a wife whose love language is quality time. I'm certain that at times our "haven" doesn't always feel like one to Anthony. This busy season could wear out any man with any occupation.

So, I really want to spend my next few posts encouraging our pastors, or at least encouraging us to encourage our pastors. Hopefully, you'll find some encouragement in them too. After all, according to 1 Peter 2:9a all believers "are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God."

If you're a pastor or a pastor's wife and you find this ministry life difficult, please know you're not alone. I came across some statistics on pastors today that Mark Deymaz, our directional and founding pastor of Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, shared in a sermon some time ago. I'll share a few with you:
  • Those in ministry are equally likely to have their marriage end in divorce as general church members. In fact, pastors have the second highest divorce rate among all professions.
  • 25% don't know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of pastor's spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules and/or unrealistic expectations
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health
  • 70% don't have any close friends
  • 56% of pastor's wives say they have no close friends
  • 57% of pastors would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family
Whew! Can you see why someone -- God bless him or her -- got the notion to begin a "Pastor Appreciation Month"? These guys could use a little support, don't you think?

So for the month of October, please remember to encourage your pastor or pastors somehow. Whether it's a short note or email, or whatever the Lord lays on your heart, please follow through. They need the encouragement.

And we need them.

In Him,