Almost thirty-one years ago, I stood eagerly at the altar, waiting to commit my life and faithfulness to the man I loved. I wore my mother’s gorgeous wedding dress twenty-five years and three days after she had married my father. My father-in-law and my grandfather, both pastors, shared as officiants. Surrounded by friends and family, I was a jubilant bride! That is, until my grandfather cautioned me, in front of the Dearly Beloved, “Now, Becky, you don’t need to know everything that is going on down at the church.”

(Cue the DJ scraping the needle off the record player.) What?!

Who wants to hear that advice at their wedding? That kind of marital advice is not romantic at all! I was chagrined at my grandfather’s  advice, thinking that, as a new couple, Doug and I needed to share everything. But time and experience, from twenty-five years as a pastor’s wife and now several years as a minister myself, have proved my grandfather right.

There are at least two reasons my grandfather’s advice is important. First, the spouse (and children) of a minister need a church family, and that can be almost impossible if he or she knows every criticism or difficulty that comes with being a minister.  Second, it helps if a minister’s home is a safe haven from those same difficulties.  In all congregations, at any given time, numerous individuals and families can be embroiled in tragic circumstances and dysfunctional family systems. Carrying all of these crises into the parsonage can have devastating effects on your own family.

Protecting your family from the negativity at your church is closely linked to another crucial aspect of ministry: confidentiality. I have encountered a few pastors and spouses through the years who do not take the issue of confidentiality seriously. Perhaps they did not have a grandfather who challenged them on this point!

2014-04-04 14.46.50 HDRThrough the years, Doug and I have considered anything shared in a private meeting to be off the record,  even from each other. Unless the congregant sharing specifically states, “You may share this with Becky,” or “I don’t mind if you tell Doug,” we do not divulge confidences or confessions to one another. Occasionally, one of us will ask a counselee, “I think my spouse would have a good insight on this. Would you mind if I share it?” A few times this means that one of us has been surprised when a church member started discussing a diagnosis or a crisis, as if we knew all about it.

We have, however, considered one exception to this rule. If a burden is heavy, we simply tell the other that we are not upset or angry with them, but there is a church situation hurting us that we cannot discuss. Then we pray for each other and move on. My Grandpa’s guidance has served us well since that moment at the altar, “you don’t need to know everything that is going on down at the church.”

Becky Jackson is the minister of music at Lexington Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. She enjoys studying, jogging, and following Baylor Bear sports teams, which is a lot more fun than it used to be! Becky and her husband, Doug, have filled their empty nest with a rescued Bullmastiff named Spurgeon.