A Pastor’s Reflections: Three Important Responses
I served as an ordained minister for about five years before I was married. Among the different things I told my wife, I gave her three important responses that she should put in her church-conversation arsenal. It seems inevitable, that people talk, share problems, and sadly, even gossip. As the pastor’s wife, I knew she would hear her fair share of unsolicited information. To that end, I told her to use these three responses:
• “Hmm . . . that’s interesting . . .”
• “I’m sorry, this conversation is making me uncomfortable.”
• “This is something you should discuss with my husband.”
There might be different variants or perhaps combinations of these phrases, but they prove useful in the following ways.
First, I knew people would approach my wife and share controversial ideas with her, whether they might be political, theological, or personal. People often look for allies, for others to agree with them. In some circumstances a definitive, Yes or No, may be required, but in others, a circumspective, “Hmm . . . that’s interesting,” is quite useful. It’s non-committal, recognizes that you’re listening and engaged, but doesn’t require you to give an opinion. As impassioned as someone might be about the latest ballot measure for the city council meeting, responding with, “Hmm . . . that’s interesting,” can keep you out of the fray, and more importantly, keep you out of the middle of unnecessary debate or argument.
Second, I knew people would approach my wife with gossip, or things that were of a very personal nature. In the case of gossip, regardless of who you are, you should gently remind people that such talk is sinful (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:20). But on the other hand, there might be situations where someone wants to tell you all about their latest visit to the doctor’s office in all of the gory details. You don’t want to be rude, but neither do you want to hear about the details of an upper GI exam. A simple and kind, “I’m sorry, this conversation is making me uncomfortable,” will usually suffice. It lets the other person know you don’t want to continue the conversation.
Third, I definitely knew that people would try to approach my wife with issues that should be addressed to the session or me. Sometimes people treat the pastor’s wife as a back door to the pastor or session, and some pastor’s wives probably feel like they should carry the message. I told my wife to let people know very quickly, “This is something you should discuss with my husband.” In other words, the pastor’s wife isn’t a minister and doesn’t sit on the session or consistory. She should not have to deal with such matters.
There might be other things that you can say, but my wife has told me that over the years she has found these three phrases to be helpful to her. Perhaps they might be helpful to you as well, whether you’re a pastor’s wife or just someone in need of a few conversational extrication tools.