There is a story in my family about a minister's wife who always stood beside her husband when church was over. She said a friendly good-bye to everyone but she looked a little sad, and when people asked her what the trouble was she would answer, "I don't feel very well, and I have so much to do." This way she got her windows cleaned and her laundry done because all the elderly ladies, who were able to, came to do her housework for her. She was the pastor's wife and therefore a respected person, and it was an honor for the people to help her.
Every once in a while I am tempted to try out that method to see if it would still work. But sadly enough, I know it wouldn't. The only thing I probably would be asked, standing beside my husband after the sermon is, "Could you take turns in Junior class for me next Sabbath?"
This story is true, but I am sure even 50 years ago this was an exception and not the rule. Actually, I am not interested in some elderly ladies working for me. I would have a bad conscience seeing them do it, and I would not want anyone to intrude that far into my private life. But we sure have come a long way! It would be nice if just a little of that respect for the pastor and his family were possible today!
When I was a student in Munich I heard a lecture of a famous psychology professor about the position of men and women in society. He dared to say (in the late 60s!) that a woman without a husband has no social position. He was an elderly gentleman and actually was talking of society rules that seemed ancient to us young girls.
I am glad to say that here we have also come a long way. A woman no longer has to get married to have a position in society. She can have a career of her own, and she can live as a single if she prefers so.
A lot of things have changed but not everything. Women are still closely affected by their husband's position in society. A manager's spouse is still expected to dress and represent in a way that is favorable for her husbands's career, and if she does a good job she might be respected.
Sometimes that seems to be different in God's work, and this is one of the biggest problems of young minister's wives. Their husbands work long hours, like managers, but their salaries don't match. They are educated people but they don't get the respect other people in equal positions have. They often are the target of all kinds of unqualified criticism, and some church members must constantly tell them what they have to do, since they have been in church for a long time, and can quote long passages of counsel. They know exactly what is God's will, and they will never hesitate to tell their pastor. They don't respect him but consider him their servant, since he is a servant of God. And not only do they treat him that way, they include his whole family in this position, which they assign to their pastor. So the whole family has to live in a fish bowl; nobody helps them with the cleaning but everybody watches to see if it is kept "clean." A woman, who does not have a career of her own, maybe because she is raising her children, is undoubtedly affected by the way her husband is treated. It is easier to bear a small salary than constant disrespect.
I knew a young minister's wife, who at first was very proud to marry a pastor. She felt that it was an honor to wed someone working for God, and she was very willing to work along with him. When her husband was transferred to another church he was not as well accepted as he had been in his previous position. Usually it is not the whole church which is agitating against a pastor but a few people can poison the whole atmosphere. She was so hurt by the criticism that she got depressed, and because she depressed she was not able to do her family work like she used to. This offered another opportunity to criticize, and finally that young pastor left God's work. He would have been a good worker, if he had gotten a real chance.
Criticism is not a new phenomena with people in exposed positions. Just think of Moses. He was criticized because of all kinds of things, even because of the color of his wife's skin. And I am sure that Paul was criticized a lot too, since he mentioned very distinctly all the things he had done, preaching the gospel.
To think about those prominent "pastors" might help sometimes, but it will not help all the time.
The problem is that, since nobody is perfect, there is some truth in every criticism. A pastor who does not have a secretary, for example, must remember an enormous amount of different things. Most pastors, I know, forget something every now and then. Friends understand and help, enemies find it a good reason to criticize.
Although criticism is not something new it seems as though there have been changes. There is no respect anymore, and there are people in the church whose main interest seems to be to criticize. While there is helpful criticism, some people criticize in a way that tears down and hurts. The, don't care if it is the president of the General Conference or the pastor of their home church. There have been changes in respect and attitude everywhere in society.
In all democratic countries the respect for prominent people has lessened. If people don't like what a politician says or does, they even throw eggs or tomatoes. High politicians hardly have any immunity anymore, and famous people have no privacy. No wonder that there are changes among church members, too. Everything that happens to society as a whole has some impact on Christian life. For example, since divorce happens now more often in society, it also happens relatively more often among Christians.
So since there is much less respect in society as a whole, there is less respect among Christians.
A short time after the reunion of Germany we visited friends in East Germany. In the Sabbath School class we were talking about Christian freedom. We had the impression that we were talking about two different subjects. The people in that small church did not understand us, and we really did not understand them. It took us a while to comprehend that they had not lived in a free country as we had all our lives. Freedom for them had a different meaning than for us.
As we can see, the society in which we live, will always affect our Christian life. This must not necesarily be a sin but I think throwing eggs at anyone is a sin. Constant criticism is a sin, too, and while not all changes in society can be accepted, it can help us to understand them.
The fact that there is less respect everywhere brings a lot of new problems into church, one of them is that the pastor and his family are more readily criticized. No one today offers to do my cleaning for me just became I am a minster's wife, but there also is a positive side to this change. I don't have to live in such an exponential position like in times past and today there is the possibility to have good friends in the church, which means that if I really needed help with my cleaning, somebody would be there!