(Photo: The Christian Post/Stephanie Samuel)
SAN DIEGO – Ministry can be an incredibly lonesome job and pastors' wives are especially vulnerable, said Lori Wilhite, founder of the online Christian women forum Leading and Loving It.
"One of the things that's like this great golden nugget of advice that gets thrown around at seminaries, it gets thrown around at Bible colleges and some pastors' wives circles is that you and I, because [we] are in ministry, cannot have friends," Wilhite told attendees at the Defined by God conference.
Wilhite charged that not only is this "golden nugget" false, but it also plays into the devil's plans.
"I think that the devil would love nothing more than a bunch of lonely, isolated, discouraged leaders in our churches," she explained.
A 2006 Barna study suggests Wilhite's fear may already be real. The study showed that 61 percent of the 627 senior pastors interviewed reported that they had "few close friends."
According Wilhite, many church leaders avoid making friends to avoid negative stereotypes.
"As my friend Pete Wilson says, regular people who have a lot of friends are called social, leaders who have a lot of friends are cliquish," she stated.
Wilhite said leaders also fear that church politics may come between their friendships.
She recalled a story about a woman she considered to be a good friend. The woman mailed an angry letter to her and her husband Jud, the senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, explaining why she was quitting the church and their friendship. She also sent copies of the letter to their elders. The experience left Wilhite heartbroken.
Over time, Wilhite said such hurts can lead to closed-hearted ministry.
"This is how we start ministry: we open our hearts and our arms wide to people. We are in love with people," she explained. "But what happens over time is that [there are] hurts or betrayals or criticisms and before you know it, our hearts are not open wide any more. We start to [adopt a protective stance] and before you know it we're in the corner of the room huddled up just trying to get people not to hurt us."
Pastors' wives are especially vulnerable to the isolation and pain of ministry, said Wilhite.
Wilhite recounted the story of a pastor's wife in Fort Worth, TX who ran away from home in August because she was overwhelmed by the pressures of ministry.
"My heart was broken for her because I know what It's like," she shared.
Wilhite urged the pastors' wives listening to her message not be discouraged but to surround themselves with a community of people who genuinely care about them. She acknowledged that finding such a person may be like looking for Waldo. However, leaders all need to have someone who relate, support and encourage them in their ministries and personal lives.
Wilhite was the second guest speaker of Faithlife Women's Defined by God conference at Shadow Mountain Community Church. Faithlife is an online forum created by Logos Bible Software.
The conference is "refreshing pastor's wives for ministry" with seminars discussing topics such as cultivating supportive friendships, dealing with the challenging home lives and praying for their husbands and churches. The conference began Thursday. Saturday is the final day of the conference.