Jump Off the Pedestal
By Michelle Vandepol
The expression “it’s lonely at the top” is never truer than when you’re a ministry wife or a woman in leadership in the church. Often other women come to you with their problems and questions. As you reach out to help, there can be the misconception that you yourself have it all together.
Have you ever left a Bible study with the thought that the other women in the group have the wrong idea about you? Do you feel they have put you up on a pedestal? Do they defer to your opinions and fail to voice their own?
It is not God’s plan for you to feel isolated and misunderstood. He wants us to experience a joyful fellowship with these women as our peers. But experiencing this godly kinship feels next to impossible when there is someone who seems convinced that her minister’s wife is an ultra- holy superhuman person. When we sense that someone has the wrong impression about us, we are likely to hold back our true selves. But God doesn’t want us to be timid in sharing our testimony or His gospel and truths with others.
If you are getting the “You don’t know what it’s like - you’re such a strong person” line, do something about it. Diane, who understands what it’s like to be an elder’s wife and a Bible study leader, advises, “I would tell them I don’t think they really know me. I would share an episode to correct their train of thought and show them how it is God who carries and upholds me.” Irene, a pastor’s wife, agrees, “I tend to tell little stories or anecdotes from home or family life that show I am human too and that my life isn’t much different from theirs.”
Prove their perceptions wrong.
Ask your study group their opinions on something you are battling or struggling with in your life. Don’t just ask for prayer. Ask them if they have some godly advice for you. “Wait a minute. Doesn’t this sound unnecessarily uncomfortable?” Maybe. Unnecessary? Definitely not. God will not show Himself through you if you are preoccupied with your own agenda of how you want to appear to others. God’s word says, “So then, no more boasting about men!” (1 Cor. 3:21a). It is not our self-discipline or wise judgment that has bought us salvation. Humility is the best working uniform.
Examine your misconceptions of others.
It is not only non-ministry women who put other women on pedestals. Irene shares, “I myself, when seeing another pastor’s wife in action, kind of put her on a pedestal. You tend to think that they’re such wonderful, upright people who have it all together.” If we all examine our hearts, we will likely see that in our own insecurities, the same frustrations we have with others when they misunderstand us are the ones we perpetuate when we look at others we admire.
Tell people it’s not about personalities or opinions or perceptions.
Let people know that a certain personality type is not what God prefers. He is honored by the woman who takes Him at His Word and lives it. In discussion the leader’s point of view can easily be taken as gospel by an intimidated member of the group. Diane reminds others that “God’s Word holds the final call.” We can make a lot of mistakes following our own opinions, but we can never go wrong pointing others to Scripture. The Bible tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10a).
Be sensitive to how you’re coming across.
It is important for the study to stay on track and stay focused on the Bible. You do not need a rigid structure for this to happen. However, this does not mean that one can shut a rambling sharer off mid-sentence or rapidly change the subject to emphasize disapproval of the direction the discussion has taken. Diane says, “Killing [the discussion] could cause the one who is voicing it to shrink back and be leery to participate with their thoughts next time.” Realize, too, that some people aren’t comfortable in a group. Invest your personal time in them. Not all of your functions need to be announced by way of bulletin. Send off casual e-mails. Extend spontaneous invitations. Recognize births, retirements, and birthdays personally. Allow yourself to let your hair down. Sylvia, a study leader, advises “relaxing more, incorporating humor, seeking more group participation, and speaking informally to the women in the group before and after the meeting about their jobs, children, etc.”
Share your testimony.
One woman - an unbelieving church attendee who knew me before I was saved - made my testimony difficult by agreeing almost overenthusiastically about just how depraved I had been before I was saved. Admittedly, I fought embarrassment, but by God’s grace I let it go and He used it to His glory. While she will likely never think me perfect after hearing my colorful testimony, that is a good thing. That is what being a witness of Christ’s saving power is about. It’s all about Him and not about us. Diane says, “Sharing proves you are just like them. You are no different and are just as exposed to the same life and world they are.” We are to use our life experiences to encourage others. That’s how God uses trials even to the good of us and our fellow believer.
Compartmentalize the details of running the Bible study.
When you find yourself getting wrapped up in the minute details of running the Bible study instead of losing yourself in it, take a few extra minutes to pray, prepare, and refresh beforehand. Let others share the opportunity of leadership. Ask questions to encourage deeper thinking. Be willing to learn from everyone, no matter how young, old, or unlike you they are.
Accept criticism from another.
Be open to hearing how others feel when they come in contact with you. As much as we may try to live above reproach, we are not perfect. Do not erect a pretty picket fence around your heart. Galatians 6:1-5 tells us to not think of ourselves above others, but to help them in a God honoring way, being aware of our own shortcomings.
Ask God for direction.
You don’t need to flounder around on your own. If you are in doubt of what your next move should be in any situation, James 1:5 points the way, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Remember the Golden Rule.
If we want others to look past our role and see us for who we are - forgiven sinners in need of fellowship - we need to do the same for others. The next time you meet a woman who seems to have it all together, pray for her and the part of her life you cannot see. Instead of being awed or intimidated by her walk with the Lord, ask her to pray for you. Nurture a relationship that honors Him. Ask Him to show her to you as the person she is inside.