Saturday, March 12, 2011

When Church Makes You Crazy: 5 Strategies

We spent a couple of years at a church that literally made me crazy. The church leaders abused my husband and I felt scared every time I went in the building. The stress of that situation caused an episode of clinical depression that persisted until we moved away.

While we were there, I found a few strategies to help me cope with the situation. Mostly I wanted to never go to or think about that church, but I felt that I had a few obligations as the pastor's wife:
  1. Attend worship most weeks.
  2. Bring my children to Sunday school. (This one had more to do with stability for my children than obligations to the church.)
  3. Speak kindly always. Speak of church politics as little as possible.
Given those parameters, I found about five things I could do that helped. I'll tell you about one of them today and describe the others during the rest of the week.

Coping Strategy #1: Worship Elsewhere. I went to our church on Sunday mornings because I believe it can be confusing and discouraging for the congregation if the pastor's wife never attends. I barely considered it "worship" in the true sense. I didn't hear the senior pastor's sermons as messages from God but as reminders of his duplicity. Every hymn and prayer was clouded by my stress and anxiety.

I visited other churches as I was able, usually on a weeknight. It was such a relief to sit in the pew and feel like I had some privacy with God. Even in a happy church I feel self-conscious about being the woman everyone can identify.

Eventually I built a relationship with a nearby church (I'll call it "Bridge Church") where I attended a weekday Bible study and made a few friends. During the months after my husband had left our last church and before he took the call to our current church, we attended Bridge Church. In retrospect, I would say that was an important part of my re-learning how to feel safe at church. I think most of our friends at Bridge Church knew something had gone terribly wrong for us. I never felt judged, no one ever pried into details. We were welcomed, hugged, made to feel loved and valued.

The pastor at Bridge Church advised me to "do nothing." He told me we needed time to heal and to receive love and care with no obligations. He was right about that and it was a precious gift.


  1. We were in a similar situation a couple of years ago, which I believe I've mentioned before. I too found feeding and peace and refueling at a nearby church. The pastor had a Bible study Sunday afternoons. It was so wonderful to be at peace there and hear him talk and have my faith fed without feeling the eyes on me and wondering what the judgements were. I'm happy you had that.

  2. Funny how obvious it seems now but I never thought of how good it would be to worship at another church until my therapist suggested it. It's probably not a bad idea even when we're in a healthy church.

  3. Ladies, I've never had an experience like this so I can't know what you've been going through but I'm wondering how it felt to your husbands and what kind of effect it had on the church for you to attend other churches on even a semi-regular basis. My husband is a pastor and I cannot imagine attending another church, even if things were awful where we were serving. Firstly, it would be so hurtful to my husband. I'm sure even if he didn't express it that he would feel like I didn't support him and I would never want to cause him to feel that way. Secondly, it would surely send the same message to the members of the church, which would have all kinds of implications for my husband and the people of the church, making his job harder. I would suggest finding Christian friends outside the church that will support you and pray with you, obtaining CD copies of sermons from other churches, and attending Bible studies that DO NOT meet during service times of your own church. We need to be totaly united with our husbands and supportive of them at all times, especially in a situation where there is strife in the church. I hope you are not offended by another point of view. I'm not judging you by any means. Like I said, I've not been in your shoes... I pray your situation is much improved!

  4. I appreciate your comment very much! I understand what you're saying. I felt the same way but our circumstances made me reconsider.

    My husband's feelings were high on my list of concerns. Sunday morning were a very stressful time for him and I did not want him to feel like I was abandoning him to the lions. When we talked about it, I discovered that he was anxious for me when I was at church. He was glad for me to go to another church so that I would feel safe. I mostly attended services during weeknights. Once my husband decided he was going to resign, I started attending Bridge Church all the time. It was a good choice for us.

    It happens that the church that was so painful for us was very large and most people didn't have any idea what I was doing. There were three services on Sunday morning so my absence was never a big issue. On the odd occasion that someone knew I'd attended elsewhere, I told them - honestly - that it was good for me to worship sometimes in a setting where I was not "the pastor's wife." That seemed to be readily understood and people seemed to appreciate that I was doing what I needed to nurture my relationship with God.

    I have done all kinds of things that I'd never imagined would even be worth considering. My life has turned out to be much more complicated than I could have anticipated. I am thankful that God is all-knowing & all-powerful. His ways are better than mine.

    God bless you, Kristy.

  5. Thanks for explaining. I knew I wasn't seeing the whole picture!

  6. look, i put in every tiny strength into my church. he is a Pastor and the head. i was hacked down openly by three sisters just yesterday! last week, we had a youth dinner which was awesome. they all came late amongst other things. anyway, it was a huge success. my husband called a meeting with the key members of the church to praise them and let them know their mistakes. i was silent all thru only for one sister to get up and report that another sister reported me for a statement i made.
    it was obvious they had done their gossip then, chose a representative to fire me down publicly.i was shocked. 2 imagine that all the effort, fasting, prayers, physical and mental stress i put in so far(not only the dinner) was just 'dust'. u know, for some time i have been feeling more like a machine. i am a breast feeding mother, wife to a good husband and pastor and i pray myself silly just to meet up with everyone's expectation.i broke down and said my piece. i wept and was totally embarrassed in public! must it be so pain-filled to be mrs. pastor?this is just the recent one. my husband stepped in. but i am sooooooo deflated and i can't just continue to play the angel. its as if they respect my husband and just choose to bully me. to imagine the main character opening the floor to others to openly point finger at me and totally write me off?

    look, i am taking a break at least. i love my husband but i do want to be alive and healthy! so i support me going else where to worship. i feel betrayed. i can't face them.... it is so depressing to see people you think loved u be the toppers in a public confrontation. i am not happy. since i joined him in ministry. not ONE CHURCH MEMBER HAVE commended me. not even a thank u even when i give them gift, solve their financial problems, pray for them. not ONE have said 'THANK YOU!' or called me to say 'SORRY' after an offence. u see, i am the dustbin of the Ministry and i am sad. i don't know wot to do.....

  7. i was telling my husband the same thing. i want to worship else where. even if for a while.. as much as i want to love his Ministry. the members seems so determined to keep out every one including me their Pastor's wife away from their Pastor. i was ordained a Pastor before i married him and have been functioning. but i am not happy. some delight in hurling open accusations at me. they tell me stuffs about age and so on. and guess what, they expect me to keep up the faith. my husband has stepped in but u see, i am so stress out.. i need a break!


Thanks for using this space to share your encouraging words.