“Most elder conflict I’ve seen isn’t between elders. It’s between one of the elders’ wives and another elder.”
I was talking to a friend about being a pastor’s wife, and I tried to comprehend the bold statement she made. Is that true? I wondered. Could an elder’s wife really cause that much conflict within a team of elders? I wrestled with the idea and soon realized my friend’s observation was not far-fetched. While most elders’ wives I know are encouraging and supportive of their elder boards, some incite turmoil and unrest.
Let me explain.
The work of an elder team is challenging and demanding. Proposals are debated, messages are critiqued, and decisions are made that affect the souls of others. Elders’ wives often know about the behind-the-scenes work an elder team does. They see the prayer, the excitement, and the fruit. They also see the long hours, the heated disagreements, and the strained relationships.
What happens when conficts arise? What if one elder regularly points out flaws in your husband and fails to encourage his soul? What if no one supports your husband when he wants to make a change?
It’s no wonder our husbands can sometimes feel rejected or angry. As wives, we naturally sympathize with our husbands and share in their hurt. When these circumstances arise, it’s tempting to act in ways that make bad situations worse.
How can elders’ wives avoid causing harm to the body of elders in their local church? Here are four ways:
1. Have an honest discussion with your husband.
Have an honest discussion with your husband about what types of information you can and cannot handle. Some personality types are able to keep soul-crushing information at arm’s length and provide prayer and advice with their hearts somewhat detached from the situation. Other personality types are “all in” and not able to separate situations or people from the hurt they have caused. Wisdom dictates where the line should be drawn for you.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” the author of Hebrews writes. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14–15). How can you best strive for peace with your husband’s fellow elders? How can you be certain no “root of bitterness” springs up and sparks trouble? Perhaps your husband should filter the information he gives you. Don’t press to know all the details about elders’ discussions and work. Do whatever you must to cultivate holy peace with others.
2. Don’t step in to defend.
Recognize your husband has a deeper friendship with these men than you do. He has more clout with them, and they know his heart. If something needs to be said, it will be better received from him. The offense was not against you, so it’s not your wrong to confront. Situations like this should be kept private. If it must be discussed, it is wise to choose a mentor or a friend outside your church.
Even a seemingly subtle approach like giving an elder the cold shoulder or the silent treatment will do more harm than good. Our prayer as elders’ wives should resonate with Psalm 141:3–4 (“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil”) and Ephesians 4:32 (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”).
3. Respond softly.
Respond softly if your husband chooses to tell you about something that hurt him. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We can stir up more hurt feelings in our husband by responding harshly. For example, exclaiming, “Who does he think he is talking to you like that?” reveals a hard heart resulting in a harsh answer. On the other hand, saying, “I can see how that was hurtful. I’m so sorry. I’d love to pray for you both right now,” reveals a gentle heart resulting in a gentle answer. The entire church will be built up by your peacemaking efforts.
4. Pray for your husband and his fellow elders regularly.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the apostle writes, “that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). This is a profound prayer that all elder teams need. Some other verses to pray over your elders might include 1 Peter 3:8, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Ephesians 4:1–6, and Romans 12:16. Pray diligently and pray often.
Elders’ wives play a unique role in encouraging their elder-husbands—being a confidant in ministry situations while maintaining peace in the home when the elders are struggling or conflicted. May our responses promote peace and joy in the hearts of our husbands, among their elder teams, and throughout the congregation for the glory of our shared Savior.