Pastors know privileged information not simply because of their positions but because of their influence. Trust has been established. Help has been previously offered and accepted. The sheep find in the shepherd a safe place to share deep, personal information. But this relationship becomes complicated when pastors receive personal information in confidence but need to seek additional help to know how to extend wise care and counsel.
The pastor’s wife further complicates confidentiality. After all, she is the pastor’s helpmate and support. She cares for him on a daily basis. When he comes home for dinner, she sees the burdens weighing on him. She bears the brunt of his distracted mind. She deals with his clipped responses. And she naturally wants to know, “What is wrong?”
So how much does a pastor share with his wife? Should a pastor keep some things from his wife? Let me turn for a balanced perspective to my wife—-a pastor’s wife.
The Pastor’s Wife: Her Perspective
We do not need to know everything in our husband’s ministry. It is not our business to know all the dirt on every church member, nor is it our job to be involved in those counseling situations. Yet at times, our husbands need to share what’s going on or seek our advice in how to advise a particular member. Our experiences may make us uniquely suited for helping another church member. But we need to respond with much fear and trembling, for with information comes temptation to share.
Not all women are tempted to gossip, but let’s face it, ladies—-the Titus 2 warning for the older women not to be gossips is there for a reason. Even if you’re young, be careful not to turn into that older gossiping woman.
So ladies, do not demand information from your husbands that they are not free to give or do not see the benefit of sharing. My husband is cautious in sharing information with me, particularly, about other men in the church. For example, knowing about all the men in our church who struggle with pornography is not necessary or helpful; it can actually be harmful. Sometimes, sharing information with me can even constitute a breach of confidentiality, which can have legal consequences.
When we receive information, our husbands must be able to trust that we will not turn around and tell our best friends. And sharing the news as a prayer request still counts as gossip. If we cannot be trusted with confidential information, then we do not need to be told.
That said, confidential information shared with us needs to be left to our husband’s discernment. My husband has involved me in several counseling situations with women at our church, both as a protection for him and also because in some situations I can better relate. He does not meet with women alone. I trust that my husband is not putting himself in compromising situations, and he is quick to involve me if it looks like there might even be a question about propriety. But he also knows that he can trust me in those situations. Indeed, the people of our church know that I can be trusted in those situations. I do not share any information without the permission of that person, and I usually don’t even ask to share information unless she hints toward it. We can be very damaging to our husband’s ministry if we are known as gossips in our church.
Wife, Not Pastor
Pastors, we must lead our wives well to capture balance. Stray too far to one side, and we are keeping our heart from our wives and cutting her out of our inner circle. Stray too far to the other side, and she can feel trapped about situations where she has no voice or recourse. Remember, she is your wife, not your fellow pastor. Include her for her benefit and the benefit of others, but she is neither called nor required to carry the same burdens.
Tips for a pastor to deal with confidential matters with his wife:
- Gain permission from the beginning on confidential matters to speak with other pastors, your wife, or another mature Christian woman if dealing with sensitive female matters where another woman’s help and perspective would be beneficial.
- Include your wife when it would help her, the situation, and her ability to care for you as your helpmate. Make sure permission has been granted by the one who shared the confidential information.
- Remember, she is not your fellow pastor. Be mindful to protect, not dump!