Pressure Points with Dr. Bruce Hartung

I am the wife of a pastor of a small, rural church.  I miss the largeness of a big church.  Our small church seems content not to change or start anything new.  Rather, it is happy simply to have a “Sunday” church for worship. 

There is a far larger church in a bigger city nearby that offers many things I would like to be a part of.  I am thinking of splitting up my Sunday mornings by going to my husband’s small church for one service and then going to the larger church for a later service.  I want to be involved in the larger church.  But I am torn over appearing disloyal to the smaller church.  How would I explain my active presence at the larger church?  This fight has been going on inside me for years.

Thanks for your candor and sensitivity to the implications that may arise in your decision-making and actions.  I think it is very important, and very healthy, for personal concerns such as yours to be addressed.  There is an oft-quoted Hartung, Brucephrase: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  I think you have lit a candle by surfacing your concerns — a far more helpful response than staying frustrated in silence.

I can, frankly, envision some of the possible responses to your actions.  “She should think more of her service to the congregation than of her own needs.”  Or, “Why isn’t she content with where the Lord has placed her husband?” 

There is a prevailing sense in our culture, at least at times, that people are supposed to passively make do with their lot in life without questioning it or thinking through creative options.  This is a sort of piety that ignores the tension of our trying to maintain or strengthen our spiritual lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Circumstances — or other people — can oblige us to sacrifice ourselves and our own needs without regard to the reality that such sacrifice will inhibit or weaken our capacity to serve helpfully and creatively.

It is in this context that I support your resolve to look for that which supports your spiritual life and growth.  Folks at “Focus on the Family” make the case that one of the most under-pastored groups within the Christian community are the spouses of pastors.  It is imperative that these spouses have places and spaces where their own spiritual issues and concerns are met and nurtured.  Often one or more of these places is apart from the parish where one’s husband serves.

Admittedly, it takes a relatively healthy pastor and congregation to acknowledge this need empathically and encourage helpful responses to it.  Defensive and critical responses — suggesting that the spouse is saying there is something “wrong” with the parish — obviously are unhealthy.  The fact is, you are exploring the depth and diversity of your own spiritual needs, understanding that these needs often are not met in one place.  You are reaching out to find ways to strengthen your own spirituality.  Everyone could well be about this.  In that sense, you are taking the lead.

As a parallel to all this, please also consider working to make an impact on the parish where you are.  Raise your ideas and needs, not from the point of view of what is “not” available, but rather from the perspective of your own recognized needs (and, I’m willing to wager, the needs of others in the parish).  See if a group of like-minded folks can get something started.  Finding like-minded people ready and willing to do positive things is also something everyone could well be about.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted Dec. 1, 2005

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