Once I committed myself to Jesus, and decided that if I was going to be serious about this Christianity stuff, I’d better get serious at going to church. I didn’t grow up going to church – at least not regularly. But to me, the Bible is pretty clear that you can’t live out your faith on your own – you need the fellowship of other believers to encourage, stretch and even enrage you. God knows that by getting alongside a bunch of imperfect people you can’t help but to grow and mature in your faith.
I can be a bit of a boots-and-all kind of girl, and I’ve long been quite involved in the life of the various churches I’ve gone to. I’ve sung in the band, read scripture and led prayers during the service, helped with the kid’s ministry, led bible studies, prepared devotionals, been part of the church leadership team, and preached; as well as welcomed strangers, poured copious cups of tea, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed up the morning tea crumbs. So I was not completely unprepared for the life of a ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’, and for how busy it can be.
As in the rest of life, sexism abounds in the church. I’ve had expectations of my new role – both said and unsaid – that are simply not aimed at the male spouses of female ministers. The minister of my last church was a woman, and while her husband is a wonderful, wonderful guy, I’m pretty sure no one expects him to make meals for the sick, go visiting, go on the morning tea roster or be on the kid’s ministry team (he actually is, by the way). Men who do these things are applauded. Women who don’t do these things can find themselves the target of bitter resentment – usually by the women who do.
I’m a card-carrying feminist, and whilst I’m certainly not above scrubbing toilets or pouring cups of tea or anything like that(!), I am trying to forge my own Angela-shaped role, and not do things out of a sense of obligation or because ‘that’s what minister’s wives do’. What has surprised me is the depth of my own feelings of responsibility for the church as the ‘minister’s spouse’. When Mr G worked for an emerging IT company, I didn’t lie awake at night pondering the future of his company. I didn’t ask after the welfare of his colleagues in any more than a desultory way. I didn’t even pray for the success of his company! But now I am enmeshed in my husband’s workplace. His employers/clients are my friends. I want this church to thrive and grow. I want to see lives transformed in this community. I pray for this church all the time.
I’ve always had an overblown sense of responsibility for others, which means I have to enforce good boundaries in my life as they don’t come naturally to me. “Oh, you have a problem? Let me help you with that,” is generally my first reaction until Wise-Angela kicks in. When we got to Pleasant Point, both volunteer children’s workers needed to step down for personal reasons. I stepped up because no one else would (there’s that boots-and-all thing), and I felt responsible for the continuing success of the church because kid’s ministry matters. I really felt that mantle of responsibility. Like I’m the minister. Like I’m God.
I found myself spending hours on the children’s ministry in the lead up to Easter: so many hours that I had no time to reflect on the most important event in the church calendar myself. I had no time to just be with Jesus.
It was only after I managed to get a team on board with the children’s ministry, and got some breathing space that was I able to see the ridiculousness of my situation. Which was of my own making. Wise-Angela had lots to say to boots-and-all-Angela. I’ve learnt my lesson.
Church can be a wonderous thing. A refuge, a sanctuary. A family, a safe place to land. But it’s not going to fall over if you’re not there. Even if you’re the minister.
Frantically ‘doing’, even if it’s for the church, can stop you from ‘being’.
I can’t lead or mentor others in Christ if I’m not spending time in prayer or reading scripture myself. I’m not giving glory to God if I’m doing His work with a resentful heart. I’m certainly not doing His work if I haven’t even taken the time to discern if He wants me to do it in the first place!
When church gets in the way
If you’re a churchgoer, there will most likely be the odd season where church takes over your life due to an event you’re helping with, or perhaps there’s a crisis with a church member. Sometimes stuff just needs to be done. Bills need to be paid, rosters need to be drawn up, someone needs to write a sermon. But if it’s more than a season, then it’s time to make a change.
How can we stop being so busy with church groups, or events or administration (yawn) and just hang out at the feet of Jesus, like Mary?
1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you are so busy that your personal devotion time is non-existent, or your church family sees your more than your own family, it’s time to take stock and figure out how you got yourself in this mess. Was it because you can’t say no? Were you pressured into it? Guilt tripped into it? Do you think that your ministry will fail if you step back? Is it time to ask for help from others? Is it time to let that role go? Ask God to reveal the truth of your particular situation.
2. Ask yourself – is this MY responsibility? When we don’t have good boundaries, sometimes we take on things that aren’t our responsibility in the first place. This is especially true of roles that are inherited from others, and where there is a culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. For example, some ministers find they are expected to do all sorts of things unrelated to their actual calling because ‘the last minister did it’. If some of your tasks aren’t actually yours to do, it’s time to either hand them back to the person who should be doing it, or discuss it with the church leadership to find a less busy way forward.
3. Am I doing this solo because I need control? If you find yourself swamped with an event or ministry and you’re the one doing all the leg work – why haven’t you asked for help? Do you find working with others too irritating? Are you able to take suggestions or advice if others want to run things in a slightly different way? Or is it your way or the highway? I’ve seen this many times in churches, where someone has a very definite vision of how an event or outreach ‘should’ run. They don’t listen to others – instead they take offence or think these people are just trying to rain on their parade, so they soldier on by themselves. Most folks don’t want to rain on your parade, they just might see pitfalls that you don’t, and we all need to be humble about stuff like that. Other people can be micro-managers, unable to fully let others take on responsibility in case something goes wrong/it’s not done properly/I don’t trust them. Do you need to let go of your need to control others?
4. Is this event necessary? Just because your church has ALWAYS had three services over Easter, plus a stations of the cross installation, a prayer vigil and a hot cross bun outreach, doesn’t mean you have to do all those things this year. Or indeed, ever again. Each congregation should approach the year afresh, acknowledging changes in its makeup and capacity. If it all just seems too much, then let some things go.
5. Does this event have to be done to this standard? Sure, last year’s women’s night was epic; with a guest speaker, home made nibbles, and fancy handouts and worksheets. But if this year seems too stretched, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching a DVD and discussing it over some store-bought crackers and cheese.
6. Am I in a hard season of life? Have you had a baby? An illness? A chronic illness or disability? Your personal life has imploded? You’ve switched to a more demanding job? Old age has caught up with you? IT”S OKAY TO GIVE UP YOUR MINISTRIES. IT’S OKAY IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY. PRAYING IS PLENTY! There’s not a single person alive who hasn’t endured a busy season of life. Most of the time it’s not forever. And you know what, if it is forever, God’s got other things in store for you. It’s okay.
7. Is this life-giving? Do you enjoy this ministry or this role? Do you look forward to it, or is it something you grit your teeth and suffer through? Have you lost your passion for it? If it’s not giving you joy, or you feel obligated, resentful or angry about doing it, then make like Elsa and LET.IT.GO.
8. Am I self-soothing with unhelpful things like TV, food because I’m so stressed and busy? Again, examine your motives for doing what you are doing. If it’s because you feel obligated, or guilty, or resentful because no one else is helping you, then start over at question 1 and dig deep. What changes can you make to your schedule? What can be let go? Who can I bring on board to help?
9. Have I discerned if I’m called to do this? Have you prayed about how you should use your time? Or asked for God’s direction? I love listening to Joyce Meyers on the radio. A few weeks ago, I caught a talk where she said she was called to be a teacher, but is often asked to do other things that take her away from her purpose. So she says NO to those things. What would life be like if you were fulfilling your purpose?
10. Let things fall over. I know several beautiful people who hung on and on and on with a particular ministry because no one else was willing to take it over. Sometimes you just need to let it fall over. To end. Yes, it’s going to be really sad. But if it’s time for you to step down, then step down. If I’ve noticed anything about church life, it’s that they have seasons. Perhaps in your church people reminisce about the once-thriving youth group you had, or that really awesome home group that petered out, or the Friday night dances that bought many couples together. Your church might simply be in slower season, or have no young and energetic folks to run things anymore. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING. Let Him. It’s not up to you.
11. If you are a churchgoer, contribute! In just about every church the bulk of the work is done by a few. If you have the capacity to help out in some way – big or small – don’t just be a consumer. Bless your church with your gifts and maybe help lighten the load of the few.