Developing a Thick Skin While Keeping a Soft Heart

Heart balloon flying away

Last week I shared with you that me and my husband married at a very young age and went right into ministry.

You don’t have to be in ministry very long to realize as a pastor’s wife you must become very “thick skinned.” This is no April’s Fool joke, it is reality!

I would like to share some of our ministry journey with you today and pray it will encourage you to know that no matter what you are going through, God will get you through it and you will come out on the other side stronger.

At our very first church, my husband was the Associate Pastor and Assistant Principal of the Christian School and I was the church Office Manager. We were so excited to be in ministry until we had gone six weeks without a paycheck. Therefore we saw no other option than for me to start looking for a job outside the church where we could survive financially.

So one day I was home sick and an attorney called that just happened to be on the board at a bank where I had put an application in and asked if I would be interested in coming in for an interview. Of course I said, “Yes!” So I went in for an interview the following week and I got the job. I was only twenty years old at the time so it wasn’t like I had a lot of work experience, so I knew it was God. My husband and I were so thankful that God had answered our prayers and not only did He answer them, he literally plopped the job in my lap.

I went in to tell the pastor the following day, and, oh my goodness, that was not a pretty sight. I thought he would be as excited as I was about how God had answered our prayers, but instead he ripped me up one side and down the other and said, “You were hired as a packaged deal.” And I replied, “Yes sir, and I thought hired meant you got paid.” Maybe that wasn’t the best reply, but we couldn’t live on love. He not only ripped me apart but he proceeded to rip my husband apart also. I went to work for the attorney and the next 6 months were very long months at that church and school until God moved us to another ministry.

I remember as a twenty-one-year-old pastor’s wife sitting in one of our first business meetings hearing a deacon say to my husband, “The problem with you preacher, is you don’t have enough stripes on your back and it is up to us to put some on you.” And they proceeded to do so over the next three years.

At that same church, when my husband asked the head deacon to step down because his wife had left him, just until they could work things out, all hell broke loose. He had another deacon say to him, “Preacher, you are probably right in your decision, but John has been my life-long friend and I am going to side with him.” Wow, where do the Bible and truth come in? Those were three very long years at that particular church, but we were determined to “grow through them” and not just “go through them.” However, I wouldn’t want to repeat them again.

Several years down the road, we experienced what we call a “Hostile Take-over Attempt” where a group of power brokers tried to make my husband resign. These were people we had done life together with for 7 years and now they turn on us and want us out. Their list of reasons were the most bogus things I had ever heard. Here are a few:

  • You quit wearing a tie.
  • You started a Saturday night service and that’s not the Baptist way.
  • You are not a good administrator.
  • You stopped Sunday night services and even though I don’t attend I hate to see us not have a Sunday night service.
  • You are the same person as you were when we planted the church.
  • We wish we were back in the storefront building where we knew everyone.

So what had happened is the church had grown and these power players were no longer the only ones my husband went to for advice and they felt they were losing control. But God gave us the strength to stand through this time and draw a line in the sand that until God moved us my husband would stay. This was a pruning time for the church and pruning is painful and ugly but God produced fruit that we had not seen in the first 7 years. He cut off branches we would never have cut off but we reminded ourselves that He is the Master Gardner.

Through the 41 years of being a pastor’s wife, we have been through some ups and downs and I am thankful God gave us the strength to get through them. We always claimed Romans 8:28. We didn’t have to understand or even like the situation, but we knew God was working things together for our good.

So as we learn to have thick skin in ministry, I have always asked God to help me keep a soft heart. But sometimes it is hard when people feel like they own you and they can say whatever they want. I have had some crazy and sometimes cruel things said to me, as I am sure you have as well. We just have to sit back and laugh at these things at times. I don’t think people think before they speak many times.

Here are just a few of the things that stick out in my mind over the years:

  • Don’t you think it’s about time you start having children? You’re not getting any younger. (I was 25 at the time.)
  • That’s the gaudiest necklace I’ve ever seen.
  • Since you don’t have kids, you don’t have anything to do.
  • One of your husband’s pants legs is shorter than the other. Why don’t you fix that suit?
  • Do you ever wear the same clothes?
  • If you had children, you would understand life more.
  • During the greeting on a Sunday morning, a church member said to me, “You have a big dip in the back of your hair.” Like I was going to run to the bathroom and fix it!
  • Couples without children are not a complete family.

The list could go on and on and I’m sure you could add several to the list also. My encouragement to you is, remember who you are serving and ask God to help you be gracious to people even when they may be unkind to you. And remember, even though you need to develop thick skin, ask God to help you to keep a soft heart!

About Rodetta Cook

Rodetta Cook has been a pastor’s wife for over 40 years. She and her husband, Ron, have actively served the Lord together in ministry during the entire time and are co-founders of Care for Pastors. She understands the expectations, loneliness and how hard it is to find balance in ministry as a pastor’s wife. Rodetta also leads the pastor’s wives initiative at Care for Pastors called The Confidante and ministers to hundreds of wives each week. She strives to share blogs with other pastors’ wives that will help them in their ministry walk.

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