Saturday, June 28, 2014

Crime, Cops, and Church-growth: my first day as the pastor's wife

My family moved to a bedroom community about 2 years ago without the slightest notion that the church located in the heart of the city was without a pastor.  We have fallen in love with this town, its eclectic personality and overall giving spirit of the citizens. It didn't take long for us to sense God's hand in moving us to this location at this point in time, and that my husband's sense of calling to shepherd the church was about to be fulfilled in a city we have come to adore.

My family has been anticipating last Sunday for several months. Although my husband and I have been involved in ministry of some kind throughout our marriage, Sunday marked his first day as "the pastor" and my first day as "pastor's wife".  I felt as equipped and ready as I could have--reading blogs about ministry wives and asking questions of  every pastor and spouse I came into contact with.  Upon hearing some of the common struggles this role brings upon women, I had two main resolutions:

Resolution #1.  I will have higher expectations for the church than any church member has of me.

I think it's perfectly okay for my local body of believers to have expectations of the pastor's wife.  They can expect that I will continue to love God, love His people, serve the church and community, and join with them in the pursuit of a relationship with Jesus and knowledge of His Word.  They can expect that I will use my gifts, make mistakes, and look to God to help me not make them again.  It's okay if they ask me questions like "Do you sing?  play piano?  teach children?  like to decorate?" and I will answer yes or no according to what is true.  Members can know that I will also be asking questions, in order to understand them, relate to them, and join with them in hobbies and service projects. My new local fellowship can know that I expect great things to come in the next few years.  I expect that God has appointed my husband to lead this church for the purpose of impacting more lives, and at a deeper and broader level, than has been done before.  I expect that our church will have a vision to put people above programs and the rich Gospel above rigid rules.  I expect that our church will grow - reaching and changing the community, county, state, country and beyond. 

Resolution #2.  I will NOT become the lonely preacher's wife.

I have read that the #1 struggle among church staff wives is loneliness.  So I have decided to rarely sit on the front pew managing and maintaining my children by myself.  I will be mingling with the rest of the congregation...if they congregate at the back row, you can bet I'll be conversing with them (not during the sermon of course:)  I will find friends.  If I can't find friends, I will make them.  I will be friendly whether others are or not.  I will keep my friendships with the incredible people I know outside and inside the church.  I will not be afraid to share my struggles--I will just make sure I share them with the appropriate people, at the appropriate times, in appropriate ways.

This brings me back to my first day.  As prepared as I was, I didn't exactly know what to expect.  Quite to my surprise, I put more thought into what I wore that day.  I spent more time fixing my girls' hair.  I got a tad bit nervous even though I was excited.  I shook a lot of hands.  I smiled a little more than usual.  I was very conscious of remembering names and overwhelmed by how many names I would soon forget.  I was welcomed with numerous hugs and encouraging words.

And then, my first surprise.  Once the service ended and we finished meeting people, my husband and I had a lunch date with another couple.  Before we left for lunch, my husband went back to the front pew to grab his belongings and could not find his iPhone.  After searching for 20 minutes, he tried to convince me that someone had stolen his phone.  I rejected that paranoid notion saying "No one stole your phone from the front pew of our church!"  We decided to eat as originally planned and come back to look for it.  However, two hours later, with the help of about 20 VBS workers preparing for the week, the search for the pastor's missing phone was unsuccessful.  My husband and I came home, ran the find-my-phone app, and realized it appeared to be in the median of the busy boulevard of our town!

Knowing that my husband had to prepare for the night ahead, and feeling confident I could safely find it on the side of the road, I volunteered to go searching for the phone.  Halfway to the location, I realized the phone was actually moving, and was now be at our local drugstore.  My adrenaline was pumping and I prayed that the Lord would be with me and work in this situation. I was ready to give a customer the surprise of his life when I confronted him on why he would break the 8th of only 10 commandments on our first day.  When I pulled up at the store, I realized, that again, the culprit was driving down the road.

Feeling defeated, I went to the police for help.
"And where did this phone get stolen?"
"Um.......First......Baptist.....Church.  Wait, will that go on record?"
"And why did you wait several hours before reporting it?"
(sheepishly) "I naively thought no one would steal from the front row of a church."

Moments later, officer "B" helped me track the phone to its exact location.  It appeared the thief was no longer driving and had arrived home.  The policeman would not let me go to the location, and instead sent two wait, what!? ...MY quiet and quaint neighborhood.  When the cops located the most likely house, officer B told me to follow him out.  I was about to encounter not only a fellow church-goer, but a neighbor.

I got behind the grey car with the blue lights and realized that we were not taking a typical Sunday drive.  I followed him at 70 miles an hour on 30mph streets, passing through street lights and stop signs.  It was invigorating!  For once in my life, I felt above the law while actually following the law.

I pulled into my own drive-way, called my husband to meet me, and we casually walked over to the next street lined with 3 police cars, open garages, and several curious neighbors observing our contact with the men in uniform.  We walked into the house, made awkward eye contact with loving adults who were mortified upon our entrance, and the police soon found the phone--in the pocket of a young person who would not say a word about the wrong-doing.

It may sound strange, but we were thrilled to look eye-to-eye with the person who had caused us a chaotic afternoon.  My husband approached him, hugged him, expressed that he had forgiven him, and assured him that if Jesus would change his heart, his choices would change, too. We told him that there would be consequences from his parents, but had no desire to press charges- instead, God has brought us to his church to help lead him to Jesus.  (We soon learned that even though we had not pursued any legal action, the officials could have pressed charges, and because the stolen merchandise is valued over $500, this could be considered a felony that would impact him for years or possibly life.)

After tears, hugs, and conversation, we exited the house with two policemen.  Amidst the newly gathered neighborhood watch party, the policemen asked us questions about ourselves, our church, and gave us the background on their spiritual lives.  One officer asked if it was okay if he attended the worship service in his uniform--he was concerned about distracting others if he got called out while on duty.  Of course, we encouraged him to be comfortable in our church and feel free to bring his buddies.  I look to the Lord to ultimately protect me, but hey, He might make it happen with a row of the men in blue on the back pew.

At the end of the day, I realized that my resolutions as a pastor's wife were surely put into practice, although not in the way I expected.  In no way did I have a lonely first day.  I met more people than I intended that afternoon.  Seared forever in my memory are the names of at least one family.  That part of my neighborhood had never been visited in such a way before.   I expected God to use us to grow this church, but I wouldn't have anticipated the next visitor to be a cop.  God can use any creative method He chooses, even doing His work in spite of crime... but this is one case we where hope to stick to more "traditional" methods of reaching our community!

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