Preachers and their wives have what is both a blessing and a burden of being in the people helping business. Most gospel preachers and their wives do what they do because they feel compelled to help people. Not only is there a desire to help people with the eternal side of life, but most care about the day to day struggles of people we have come to know and love, as well as strangers that come our way asking for help. Some may assume that preachers and their wives have been given some extra measure of wisdom. Such is not the case. Whatever worthwhile wisdom we have to offer is directly related to our knowledge of the Scriptures and our ability to make practical application. We must be diligent Bible students, so that when people come to us for help, we are able to offer something more than our mere opinion. But isn’t that what every Christian should do?
When people come to the preacher and/or his wife, they often need to discuss matters of a confidential nature. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of being able to retain confidences. To say this adds an extra weight of responsibility is a huge understatement. A preacher and his wife can certainly identify with the apostle Paul when he said “Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches” 2 Corinthians 11:28. What church members often don’t realize is that they are not the only ones who have come to share their burdens. Sister so-and-so might have asked to talk the day before, and tomorrow Brother so-and-so has an appointment to share his woes. How many times have we laid awake at night, praying, pondering and sometimes agonizing over the pain of others and not knowing just how best to help?
When it comes to giving advice and keeping confidences, I have a few tidbits to share:
- Listen. Be careful not to jump the gun and prematurely decide that you know what the solution to the problem is. Often times people aren’t necessarily looking for a solution, perhaps because there is none; they simply need someone to listen and perhaps a shoulder to cry on. When decisions do need to be made, try to help in such a way that the person is not simply being told what to do, but with wisdom and guidance from the Scriptures, they come to their own realization about the best course of action.
- Avoid gossip. Not only do we need to refrain from gossip, we should not allow others to gossip to us. Sometimes there is a fine line between helping someone through a situation vs. merely being used as a sounding board to gripe. One way to differentiate between the two is to determine whether or not the person is looking for a plan of action. Do they intend to work on resolution, or do they merely want to vent? If their problem involves a grievance with another person, ask if they’ve already gone to the person in order to work through it. If not, kindly point out their biblical obligation to go to the person first. “And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” Matthew 18:15. Unfortunately, there are some who have less than sincere motives when they want to discuss an issue with you, wanting to draw you into the fray, and will attempt to get you to take their side. Be discerning and be on guard.
- Establish Boundaries. It is very important that we, as Christians, do not allow ourselves to be put into a situation which could compromise our reputation or one in which we would be tempted to behave inappropriately. As a woman, it would not be appropriate to meet alone and privately with another man under the guise of counseling. For that matter, a preacher should never meet with another woman alone. If he needs to provide counsel, then he should make sure that someone is nearby, with his study door open, or better yet, he is accompanied by his wife. There is a good book available entitled Hedges, by Jerry B. Jenkins (not a member of the Lord’s church) which deals with safeguards that ought to be taken to protect your marriage.
- Team Work. There are times when you or your husband will counsel someone without being together. It is a good policy to ask the person if they mind you sharing the situation with your husband or your husband asking if he can share the information with you. This can serve a couple of purposes. First, especially when dealing with more serious issues, it is always good to be able to bounce ideas off one another. Sometimes a different perspective from the opposite sex can provide further insight. Second, this presents a unified marriage to those with whom you counsel.
- Respect the law. From time to time there are circumstances that are, to put it plainly, horrid. As a preacher’s family, sometimes we are privy to sordid sins that are also against the law. If someone wants to take you into their confidence and you detect that they are going to reveal some sordid details, be clear that if someone else has been violated, or a crime committed, you will tell appropriate authorities. (That does not mean that you will discuss it freely with other church members.) It is not fair to you to be put in the position of keeping an unlawful, sinful secret. Furthermore, it is not in their soul’s best interest.
- Take a break. Sometimes the weight of other people’s problems becomes quite heavy. If we are not careful, we can allow the problems of others to drain us. We have to be very careful not to get so involved and distraught that we are not able to care for our own families or our own mental health is compromised. It’s easy to get sucked into other people’s drama, but we need to keep our heads. Don’t let the crises of others consume you. You and your husband need to set boundaries so that at certain times you agree that the “problem” will not be discussed.
Although these suggestions were written with the preacher’s wife in mind, in reality they are principles that are applicable to all Christians. Paul instructed Titus that aged women “may train the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sober-minded, chaste, workers at home, kind, being in subjection to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed:” Many times we expect a young inexperienced preacher’s wife to provide counsel when, through no fault of her own, she is simply not equipped to advise. Let’s not overlook an often untapped resource - older women in the congregation, who have weathered a few storms of life and have proved to be “seasoned Christians.”