How much should elder's wives know?

We have had some interesting discussions lately about how much information an elder's wife should be told about elder board business.  Some feel that since the wife is not elected to that position, she really doesn't have any more right to know the inner workings and matters of the board than any other church member.  Others feel that since the husband and the wife are one, and she is his support and helpmeet, she should be privy to just about any information he has, but it should go no further. 

 

I lean toward not informing them and practice that myself, but if they are to be informed, then the church should know that elder discussions are shared with the elder's wives.  This would seem to be a matter of integrity.

 

Anyone dealt with this topic before? Any thoughts?

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Rob Fall's picture

should operate on a need to know basis.  Also, by not letting the wives "know everything" let's them deal with other members without prejudice.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I don't want to derail the discussion, but I think this question affects deacons as well.  I've never been an elder, but I have been a deacon, and the exact same issue comes up -- how much should we share?

Myself, I think it largely depends on the individual wife, though of course, there are some situations which are so sensitive, that information needs to be kept to as small a group as possible.  When I was first asked to consider being put up for election as a deacon, I had a lot of thinking and praying to do, as well as filling out some written answers to questions, and listing concerns, etc., and this question was on my mind.

One thing I mentioned to the other men who were considering the candidates was that my wife and I try to keep to an absolute minimum anything we would have to keep as a confidence from the other person.  Whenever things were shared with us in confidence, we always tell people that it could (if it comes up) be shared with the spouse, and we have only rarely been asked to not do that.  And sometimes when we were asked that, we might refuse to hear it, depending on the circumstances.  So before allowing my name to be considered for nomination, I mentioned my views on this and that any information that would have to be kept secret even from my wife be very minimal, but that the norm would be that my wife would be privy to the same information I had.  Otherwise, they were free to not nominate me.

Back to the dependence on the type of wife one has, the qualifications for elder and deacon are such that the wife and family are included.  Any man that has the type of wife that would have loose lips or a tendency to gossip should, in my opinion, not be considered for elder or deacon in the first place, since his household is not in order, and his wife not sober, grave, etc.  With a wife that keeps confidences well, then the sharing of information should be less of an issue.  Of course, in some rare cases, there is a need to protect her as well, but a man's wife is, and should be, one of his greatest assets and confidences, and to keep her out when it's not absolutely necessary is to isolate himself from the partner God gave him.  To do that in *a lot* of situations is, I believe, unwise.

Dave Barnhart

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Wives are just members. While they are completers of their husbands, they are not extensions. 

 

This works for expectations as well. When deacons or elders are elected, the wives are not elected with them. They are still just members, like every other member of the church as far as expectation of involvement. This was a pet peeve of mine when I was a pastoral candidate.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

If information is shared in confidence, I think that means "in confidence". My husband and I have always understood that there would be times in ministry counseling when we would become privy to information that was not to be shared, and while we might let each other know that we were told something in confidence, we did not share the information itself. We've always asked the person permission to share what they told us with each other, and sometimes folks are fine with that, because they know both of us. 

the qualifications for elder and deacon are such that the wife and family are included.  Any man that has the type of wife that would have loose lips or a tendency to gossip should, in my opinion, not be considered for elder or deacon in the first place, since his household is not in order, and his wife not sober, grave, etc.

I totally agree with this. The pastor's wife is not 'the first lady' or the equivalent of a pastoral VP, and she is not necessarily gifted in the same way as her husband, so expectations of her should be based on her own abilities and gifts, and how her husband wants her to help him. In whatever capacity and to whatever extent she is involved in the ministry, she should be every bit as trustworthy as the pastor.

I remember years of hearing teaching about how being a pastor's wife was a calling, a high calling, and that we should try to prepare ourselves by learning to cook impressive meals, keep a beautiful house, dress and carry ourselves with confidence and dignity, know how to play the piano and sing... all of those are good things, but it sounded like we were trying out for some kind of spiritual version of the Miss America pageant, only without the bathing suits. The more beautiful and talented you were, the more likely you'd be 'chosen by God'  to be a pastor's wife. 

Ick ick ick.

Michelle Shuman's picture

If a wife of an elder, pastor, or deacon, is just another member then why does God specifically address them in the requirements for a deacon?  After all, the requirements are really nothing more than His commands for all of us that can be found in other scripture passages.  If a wife is to counsel and assist with the women in the church, then she will have to be told some information that may otherwise be confidential to the deacons only.  For example, a women who is receiving benevolence and needs counsel with financial/work/family issues.

Michelle Shuman

Rob Fall's picture

means the Elder's wives are told what they need to know in  order to effectively minister.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Michelle,

I think part of the point is the very assumption that the elder's/deacon's wives will be doing the counseling or teaching. Those may not be her gifts, and simply being married to an elder or deacon does not qualify her for these roles. The qualifications for the wives are simply matters of maturity and stability. My wife makes a great children's teacher, but she hates teaching adults and is certainly not the best qualified woman in our church to lead ladies' studies. 

 

On a side note - I don't see any reason why a deacon would necessarily fulfill these rolls either. Elders, certainly, but not necessarily deacons.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Rob Fall's picture

True, if you restrict the office of deaconess to the wives deacons.  On the other hand, if you don't then the wives have no ex officio need.

Michelle Shuman wrote:

If a wife of an elder, pastor, or deacon, is just another member then why does God specifically address them in the requirements for a deacon?  After all, the requirements are really nothing more than His commands for all of us that can be found in other scripture passages.  If a wife is to counsel and assist with the women in the church, then she will have to be told some information that may otherwise be confidential to the deacons only.  For example, a women who is receiving benevolence and needs counsel with financial/work/family issues.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Michelle Shuman's picture

I guess it all depends on a couple of things - 1.  if your church has deacon care groups, 2. exactly what is defined as confidential - I dare say that there is a lot that is probably shared as confidential in a deacon/staff/elders meeting that really shouldn't be discussed, and 3. what you believe the real role of the wife is.  If the wife has nothing to offer the husband in his fulfillment of his responsibility as a leader in the church, then yes you should tell her anything.  On the other hand if the role of helpmeet goes beyond her duties in the home, then you need to share what you can and ask for her help/suggestions/input.  I agree with dcbii that this ought to be addressed before a man is ever elected.  The church needs to set their view on the wife's role and then let it be known upfront.

 

Michelle Shuman

Michelle Shuman's picture

In the husband/wife relationship, I meant to say "should not tell her anything."  Also, what you tell her will depend on whether you have an open relationship - ie. open email accounts with each other or a joint email account.

Michelle Shuman

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

A lot of how this is answered will depend on both the role of elders/deacons, and what the role of a wife truly is.

If a wife is only something to give you comfort without ever understanding or attempting to take on the burdens of what the husband is dealing with, then in my opinion, you might as well get a dog instead. It will certainly be cheaper and argue less.

If a wife is to only help around the house, raise the kids, or be there when you need someone by your side, you can hire someone for all of those, from a maid, to a nanny, to an escort.

However, if a wife truly shares your life and your deepest burdens, then of necessity, there won't be much you don't share with her apart from what is truly necessary for protection (and church-confidential information usually does not fall into that category).

While the role of a wife is NOT that of a deacon, it still is a big help in what a deacon has to do. The one qualification that is really different from that of elder is "apt to teach," which is not required, but is sometimes present in someone with the other qualifications (reference Stephen, e.g.), but most deacons don't have to be able to teach, and their wives won't have to either. Since a deacon largely deals with "physical" issues in the church, many wives are very suited to helping out in those areas (at least those who meet the scriptural qualifications), even if there is a division of tasks to those to whom they are well suited.

But back to the original question about elders. Since I assume most of you would think it unwise for a pastor to counsel a woman alone, it would often help him to have his wife along. You could ask another elder or church leader to be there, but that would already be intimidating to most men, let alone most women, and let's face it -- men are not the best at understanding the issues women face. There's a reason the elder women teach the younger, and if they don't have any idea what is going on in their lives, they won't be that effective as teachers.

Much of this would be solved if people realized that:

1. There is much too much gossip, and it's not usually nipped in the bud.
2. Wives and husbands are one flesh, and the relationship between them should be *very* close, not a distant one.
3. We are all instructed to bear one another's burdens, but we don't really do this.

If people got this idea, they would understand that couples will share practically everything, and they wouldn't worry about it if no one gossiped.

Dave Barnhart

Greg Long's picture

Great stuff, Dave. I agree with you.

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

rogercarlson's picture

My wife and I have a close relationship.  I rarely have to keep something in confidence that I don't tell her.  In those situations, I still let her know that there is something that I cannot share, but to pray even harder for me.  I don't tell her not, because I don't trust her, but because I want to protect her.  The people of our church have said over and over again that  they are thankful.  Sometimes, sheep have been heard by confidences being broken. 

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

It is also important to note that not every confidence is necessarily of a pressing moral or spiritual nature. Some people will share physical problems or just day-to-day struggles, and if those things are told in confidence, spouses don't necessarily need to know.

The more serious the moral or spiritual implications, the more important it would be, generally speaking, to share that with one's spouse for counsel and burden-bearing. 

Also, if a wife shared something with me that she hadn't told her husband, I'd be encouraging her strongly not to keep things from him, especially if it is a medical problem.

rogercarlson's picture

That's a good point too Susan.  There are some people that a very private people with medical issues.  I have had people that shared something with me as their pastor.  The person, their spouse, and me were the only ones that knew for a while.  They eventually told their kids, but didn't want the general church population to know. 

 

Also, when someone tells me something in confidence, I will often ask if I can share it with my wife.  Almost always they say yes.  There are some instances where I don't ask that question, because it is one of those instances that it needs to stay private.  For those instances, see my previous post.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

rogercarlson wrote:

My wife and I have a close relationship.  I rarely have to keep something in confidence that I don't tell her.  In those situations, I still let her know that there is something that I cannot share, but to pray even harder for me.  I don't tell her not, because I don't trust her, but because I want to protect her.


Roger, that is exactly what my view is as well. Information not shared should be rare, and should indeed involve protection.

Quote:
Also, when someone tells me something in confidence, I will often ask if I can share it with my wife. Almost always they say yes. There are some instances where I don't ask that question, because it is one of those instances that it needs to stay private.

Again, this is largely my practice as well, though I pretty much always ask if my wife can know, otherwise in most cases I don't want or need to know it either. I would certainly ask what their reasons are for wanting me to keep it from my wife, and they had better be really good ones, because I don't want to make it a practice to keep confidences from her.

In both of your posts you allude to confidences being broken. If your wife is the kind that scripture refers to, you should never have to be worried about this (and you said you don't in your case). Telling your wife should never mean it gets out into the congregation at large when it shouldn't. If it does, then the problem is really much deeper than figuring out what information you should share with your wife.

Susan, I agree that there is some information that is not immediately shared because it doesn't come up. I don't ask my wife about the health problems of her friends either, but if she started having to spend a lot of time to support friends with health issues, I would need to know the reason why if it's cutting into other responsibilities. And yes, the same would apply to me -- if I need to spend a lot of my time helping someone in need, then my wife would *need* to know the reason(s) why.

I don't disagree that there can be some information that is so sensitive that it might even need to be kept from a spouse. I just think that if we take our biblical responsibilities seriously and care for others the way we are commanded to, those instances should be *very* rare. All Christians *should* be able to trust one another for confidences (though I understand that that's a "pie-in-the-sky" dream), but if a leader can't trust his own spouse in that area, he really should not be in a position of leadership.

Dave Barnhart

rogercarlson's picture

David,

I should have clarified.  I am also a Hospice chaplain and a fire dept chaplain.  By law (HIPPA), I am not allowed to share those instances with anyone.  Even when I am acting as a fire dept chaplain, I am not allowed to share with the cheif.  There are other instances as well, but right now I can't think of a way to write it without sharing too much information (I have been gone from the house for 14 hours).

 

 

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Roger,

I've been referring to normal information within a church context.  Obviously, I would agree with you that in any positions that include legal restrictions that you are bound by those restrictions.

Dave Barnhart

rogercarlson's picture

There are some of the same implications for pastors Dave.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Granted there are various laws on clergy confidentiality, and every pastor/elder should know those and abide by them. However, depending on the various laws, information that is shared with other elders or deacons is often already not confidential under those laws or it couldn't be shared at all.

When I was reading the OP, I was answering based on the fact that the elders were considering whether to share the information with their wives, which I assume they would not even consider if they were under legal obligation not to do so.

I have to admit that I'm glad I'm not in a field where the lawyer/doctor/pastor restrictions apply to a lot of what I hear, but I'd be able to justify not sharing it much easier if I know it's because I have to follow the law. I still wouldn't really like it, but I'd know I have the Bible on my side!

Thanks for pointing out situations I hadn't thought of.

Dave Barnhart

Pastork's picture

As Dave has observed, I think it depends upon the relationship of the Elder with his wife, her trustworthiness and ability to deal with difficult issues, and the type of situation that is being kept confidential.

As for me, I share most everything with my wife, except for a few instances where I think she may not be able to deal with it, but I do not share anything said to me in a counseling situation with a man in my congregation that he expects to be kept confidential. The issue doesn't come up with women because I do not counsel women without my wife present.

Someone has mentioned the possible legal ramifications of sharing confidential matters, and such ramifications usually have to do with counseling situations. I remember doing some marriage counseling with another couple (at which times my wife is almost always present), in which the man eventually confessed as many as 100 instances of child molestation over many years. He said he had been delivered of this problem about 13 years prior to his confession, but I did not believe him. At any rate, I immediately told the other Elders, and we ended up telling the whole congregation as well as other churches he visited. We also turned him in to the police. To make a long story short, the man and his lawyer tried to set me up for a law suit claiming that I had violated confidentiality. But, since he said it in front of both our wives, he didn't have a case, given that he had essentially waived confidentiality by doing so. In this particular case, having a wife who I could trust to be in the room helped a great deal!

Keith