I could see out of the corner of my eye she was headed toward me after church again. I knew when she reached me, I would be politely listening to 30 minutes worth of stories coupled with photos on her phone.  The tension in this moment for a pastor’s wife is the deep desire to show compassion to those who are emotionally broken and needy, yet the inward pull to welcome those who are new and feeling out of place. We also feel compelled to connect with others who may simply need to be seen. Emotionally needy people can see the pastor’s wife as a safe go-to and can consequently try to monopolize time on Sunday morning, maybe without even realizing it. The emotionally needy person typically lacks the understanding of boundaries and social cues to recognize that although the pastor’s wife still loves them, she cannot spend the entirety of a Sunday morning with one person.


I knew I needed advice on how to handle this in the kindest way I could, particularly because this woman had faced a very difficult life.  The thought of hurting her feelings added an additional layer of complexity for me.


So, I “phoned a friend.” (And just so you know…this is one of the MANY reasons why Alongside is here…you have “phone a friends” too…you are NOT alone in what tricky situations you may be facing! That’s why we are here!)


Q: Coletta, I have an emotionally needy church person who is trying to monopolize my time on Sunday mornings.  She has faced a very difficult life and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I need to connect with other people besides just her. How do I handle this?


A: Such a great question and one I have to work through often. Here are some things I remind myself of:


  • “Trying to monopolize my time” is an assumption of motive. I don’t know that this is what she is trying to do. Most likely if you asked her if that was her goal, she’d be mortified. All she knows is that she feels alone and is reaching out to someone who has been kind to her. And that’s you. That’s what you DO know. Be careful of judging her motives or awareness.
  • She has never walked in my shoes and likely has no idea of what needs to be on my radar every weekend. God hasn’t called her to my role. So that’s not on her.


Q: Ok, right. Sometimes I think that everyone should be able to understand what my life is like and I’m disappointed when they don’t. Yep, got it…I need to manage my own heart and resist judging her motives. 

So how do I handle this situation, in the moment, without hurting her feelings? 


A: So I need to change how I’m framing this in my mind. I need to use this as an opportunity to train and disciple this woman to be more others-centered instead of trying to get out of the situation. Here’s the process I’ve used before with gals like this:


Coach her. Plan to have a 10-minute conversation with her where you do the following:

  • Let her know that you love her desire to connect. That you value her as an integral part of your congregation.
  • Pull back the curtain and explain to her that your role is tricky. That on Sunday mornings, there are so many people that are feeling lost and alone and that part of your job is to introduce them to Jesus, to the church and help them get connected.
  • Ask her to help you. If you feel comfortable having her stand with you as you greet people, invite her to do that. However, coach her that you will have a signal that when you sense someone needs to talk to you privately, this is what you’ll do. It might be as plain as “Susie, I need a few minutes with Pam.” Coach her that this is not a time to have her feelings hurt. You are doing what God has called you to do, and she is helping. She will begin to see that she isn’t going to be the focus of your attention – and she might even start following your lead in reaching out to those that need a welcoming smile.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable having her with you, put some boundaries on your time on Sundays. Simply say, “We’ve said we want our church to be welcoming and for people to feel seen and loved. I have to be leading out in this. This means that we can touch base for a few minutes on Sundays, but then I need to be connecting with others. This is part of how I am serving Jesus.” 
  • Then ask her how she is serving Jesus on Sundays. Again, an opportunity for discipleship.


Q: Ok, that makes sense. I think I can do that. She might feel a little hurt initially, but I think I can lay out some clear boundaries while being kind. 

So in a more general sense, how do I handle Sunday morning situations with people who need more than I can give in that moment? 


A: Being ready for those situations takes a little work on the front end – but totally pays off if you do it. I have had to think through the process that I can depend on when people need more than I can give. So first, I have developed a team. For me, this team has changed depending on my life phase, my church, and what kind of needs are coming to me. But generally, here’s who I try to always have on my team:


  1. A Server – I look for another woman who is trustworthy and can handle sticky situations. She needs to have the gift of service so that when someone is in crisis, she is able to see what the immediate need is and either meet it or coordinate those that can. Just practically, it looks like being someone that can coordinate providing a meal or picking up kids in an emergency.
  2. A Counselor It’s great if this is a person who is licensed so that when I see the need is beyond what I am equipped or have the capacity to meet, I can refer her to them. Our church has always worked out a partnership with a local counselor so that we could be billed. Sometimes we have the congregant pay a portion so that they have skin in the game and don’t flake and not show. Yes, we did this even when we were at a small church that was struggling financially.
  3. An Elder/Mature Leader – I pick one of them that exhibits compassion, wisdom and isn’t afraid of messy. I have a conversation where I explain to them that because my husband has earned the trust of the congregation from the front, people often come to me with painful situations that are beyond what I can walk through alone. I explain that I need others in my corner. And then I ask if he would be someone that I can call on to enter into sticky situations and help connect them to resources that I haven’t found. You might be thinking, isn’t this the role of our husbands (the Pastor)? Yes and No. Eph 4 says that the offices of the church are “to equip the saints for the works of service.” So it’s actually biblical to spread out this responsibility and have leadership entering into the messy of ministering to people in pain. Plus, it has the added bonus of you not pulling your pastor/husband into more “messes” than he’s already involved with. It’s spreads it out. As your church grows, believe me, you and your husband will not be able to be the ones attending to all of the crisis going on in your Body. You’ll need to develop this team.


Q:  This is a great idea.  Do you think this is possible to start/develop this team in a smaller church setting?  And if so…which of these 3 roles would you lean towards recruiting first?



A: Absolutely. In fact, I did this first when our small church (under 150) was struggling and losing people left and right. If I hadn’t done it first in a small church, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the weight that comes with shepherding this larger body of believers that God has entrusted to us now. But start small. I didn’t always have all of the roles filled. But start with the Server and pray that God will fill in the others. 


We hope you can see that, in these intricate and complicated situations you find yourself in because of being the pastor’s wife, God chose and trusted YOU with this unique and special assignment. He’s empowered YOU with the steadfastness and kindness required. And He’s equipped you with the people around YOU to help you walk out this calling with courage.