When They Criticize Your Husband

Criticism: Perhaps the ultimate stress of ministry.

Elizabeth (Libby) is author of a number of books including Me? Obey Him?, The Way Back, and Flight into Terror. She has edited for 15 years the bi-monthly magazine for Christian women The Joyful Woman and is now consulting editor. Libby has made her family the top priority in her life. She has 7 adopted children and 16 grandchildren. Libby and her husband Walter share a love for flying and both earned their pilot's licenses after they were 50.

I was trapped in a cubicle of the women's rest room at church, and the Sunday morning service was going to begin in five minutes. Already my seven little children were lined up on the front seat of the auditorium, where I'd left them with maledictions of what I would do to them if they misbehaved while I was gone.

I was trapped because just outside the cubicle door two church members were discussing with great enthusiasm the short-comings of their pastor, my husband. They were talking freely, not knowing I was there, I thought I'd wait until they left, to keep from embarrassing them. But they didn't leave. They talked. And talked. And I fidgeted.

How dare they say things about their pastor like that?

Didn't they know how hard he worked?

Didn't they know how much he loved them and prayed for them? Didn't they realize how many evenings he spent in helping needy people, while they lolled at home watching television with their spouses?

Didn't they understand he was trying to do exactly what he thought God wanted him to do?

Didn't they realize there was no way he could do all the work alone, that they should spend the energy they used in criticizing him to help him?

Then it occurred to me that they might have a valid point of view. It would help their pastor to know what they were Thinking.

With that thought, I found the courage to open the door and peek out. Their faces flushed when they saw me.

"I heard what you were talking about," I said, hoping my voice had the gracious sound of a gracious pastor's wife instead of the pinched squeak I make when I'm upset. "Look, you two really need to talk to the pastor about this."

But it didn't matter how carefully I tried to respond to their criticism. The truth was, it hurt. It hurt dreadfully.

When Wal proposed marriage to me, he tenderly and firmly told me he intended to follow the Lord with all his heart. Unless I felt that same commitment, we should not marry. I assured him I wanted him to follow God's leading at any cost. I had grown up in a pastor's home. I saw my father and mother gladly make great sacrifices for the ministry, and I was not afraid of the sacrifices the ministry would cost. I expected unbelievers to be critical and unreceptive—after all, they didn't know the Lord. But good Christians, surely, would follow their pastor—wouldn't they?

Well, maybe not.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, psychologist Richard Blackmon says, "Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America." He says 75 percent of pastors go through a period of stress so great that they consider quitting the ministry, and that 35 to 40 percent of them actually do quit. The pressure is probably greatest for those who pastor small churches, because they have so many different tasks to juggle. But much of a pastor's stress occurs because he hears incessant criticism and struggles to placate all the different elements in the church while trying to follow God's leading.

How Can the Pastor's Wife Help Him?

It's human to want to scratch the eyes out of a person who's critical of your husband. It's an affront to your good taste! It's mean-spirited, uncaring, ungrateful of them.

But retaliation won't help your husband, as satisfying as it might feel. It's human to feel resentment. But what Jesus wants is for us to respond like He did. "When he was reviled," 1 Peter 2:23 says, "he reviled not again. When he suffered, he threatened not, but committed him­self to him that judgeth righteously."

The truth is, a loyal pastor's wife will best enhance his ministry by not taking up his offense. God will give him grace to handle criticism correctly. If she responds in anger, she exposes her husband to even more criticism.

So a woman must commit herself and her beloved husband to the God who judges fairly, and not retaliate.

Many times an apparent criticism is not meant as criticism. A church member might just be expressing her frustration at the realities of life, that her pastor isn't always available when she wants him. If so, you could acknowledge her frustration, and perhaps say you'll mention her need to your husband. "Counsel in the heart of a man [marginal reading: the purpose of a man's heart] is like deep water, but a man of under­standing will draw it out" (Proverbs 20:5).

Criticism might be misplaced, perhaps not at all the fault of the pastor. He didn't visit her in the hospital? Perhaps no one told him she was ill. If not, then express your regret and encourage her to always let the pastor know when she needs his prayer.

A criticism might be valid. After all, the man you are married to is a human being, with all the quirks and blind spots of humanity. If he truly did fail about a matter, apologize for him, and figure out a way you could help keep it from happening again. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Ephesians 429).

But here's where a pastor's wife is especially vulnerable. She sees her husband at home, and might feel he doesn't use his time well. That's especially true if she's been to pastors' conferences with him, and learned all about how a pastor should follow up visitors, spend hours in sermon preparation, fast and pray, win people to Christ, visit the sick, take time with the teenagers, but also spend quality time with his family, be an exciting lover and friend to his wife, and somehow take care of the home finances and the "Honey, do this" lists you have.

No human being could do all those things perfectly, even if a pastor's spirits were up and his energy level high. But when the hard times come, when depression hovers because of the immensity of all the tasks, it's certainly impossible to do them all. Rarely does a pastor have an intimate man friend with whom he can talk things over. All he has is his wife!

So it's important for us wives to focus on the good things our husbands are doing, and not enumerate, even in our minds, all the tasks he's leaving undone. Then if you hear criticism of something truly needing to be done, you could say, "I'm sure that's what the pastors wishes he could do."

Sometimes people may disagree with your husband's leadership because their spiritual gifts or their priorities differ. The pastor may be taking the long look ahead, preparing the church for future ministry, while church members—and the pastor's wife—may feel very comfortable with things as they are.

Certain things must never change for the church. There is only one Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture, was buried and rose again. If any one teaches any other way of salvation, the Apostle Paul said in Galatians chapter one, then he is accursed.

But methods, the ways we communicate that unchanging Gospel, may need to change to reach this society for Christ. That's why th e Apostle Paul said he made himself servant to all. "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22),

A wife who feels unsure of which things are the Gospel"once delivered to the saints" and which things are only form, to be changed as needed to reach pagans with the Gospel, will have some anxious moments when others criticize her husband.

First Corinthians 13:7 tells us what love bears all things, always trusts, always hopes, always endures. So a pastor's wife needs to trust the man she's married to, and always be loyal. Will he sometimes fail her? Yes, just as she will sometimes fail him. So they both must trust God to protect them and lead them.

"A house divided against itself shall not stand," Jesus said (Matthew 12:25), This home you and your husband are building together could be swept away by dissension and distrust. So be loyal to him in your heart, and let God teach him what he needs to learn.

And when your chronic complainer complains for the umpteenth time, look straight into her eyes with compassion and say, "I'm sorry you're unhappy, but aren't you glad Jesus loves us both?"

Elizabeth (Libby) is author of a number of books including Me? Obey Him?, The Way Back, and Flight into Terror. She has edited for 15 years the bi-monthly magazine for Christian women The Joyful Woman and is now consulting editor. Libby has made her family the top priority in her life. She has 7 adopted children and 16 grandchildren. Libby and her husband Walter share a love for flying and both earned their pilot's licenses after they were 50.