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Question:
My husband’s a pastor. His mom attends our church. She is constantly critical of him and other members of our church and she meddles a great deal in our personal lives.

Some examples: (the reader included a list of incidents that YES, were some seriously meddling, busybodyness and of a critical spirit)

I struggle with how to respond to her- how to “smooth things over” when she offends people at the church, how to address this issue with my husband, and if/ how I should address the situation with her. She is a Christian. She’s a leader in our church. But it’s becoming a divisive thing where people don’t want to participate in activities that she plans or attends.

How do I be a godly daughter-in-law, pastor’s wife, and sister-in- Christ in this situation?

Thanks for whatever help you may have to offer.

Answer:

There are several things in your email I want to comment on before giving my advice.

First, you say your husband is “Pastor”. Does this mean he is the sole leader/authority/Shepherd in your congregation? If yes, this is one of the primary things that are wrong with this unBiblical structure (ie, one man being the sole leader/authority of a congregation).

Scripture clearly calls for a plurality of Shepherds in the local church (look up Scriptures about Elders; it’s always plural in context). This situation is a perfect example (but not a primary one) of why. If you had a group of Shepherds (Elders) then they could deal with this situation as they would deal with any divisive member of the Lord’s church.

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (NKJV)

Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (NKJV)

1 Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. (NKJV)

1 Timothy 6:4-5 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (NKJV)

James 3:14-17 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (NKJV)

If you do have Elders, then the answer becomes relatively easy: the Shepherds should deal with your mother-in-law as a divisive, contentious Believer, regardless of her “status” as “the Pastor’s mother”.

(Note: we refer to our “teaching Elder” as “Pastor” too, but it’s more of a tradition than any distinction. He is an Elder, a Shepherd… one of several in our church; but he is the one who teaches publicly to the congregation so many people refer to him as “our Pastor”.)

My next comment is about your mother-in-law being a “leader”. Much of her behavior is in violation of the qualifications of any sort of leadership in the Church. Most of all, she is not demonstrating humble servanthood which automatically disqualifies a person as a “leader”.

Matthew 20:26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. (NKJV)

Since you don’t qualify what type of leadership she is engaged in, I won’t comment here on which specific leadership roles the Bible does NOT grant to females. I’ll assume you speak of other types of leadership granted to either male or female by God.

You have two distinct issues: how to deal with her as a fellow member of the local church, and how to deal with her personally as your mother-in-law.

First of all, you ask how to “smooth things over”. You don’t. You meet them head-on with honesty, directness, love, mercy and compassion. But you don’t “smooth things over”.

As a Pastor, your husband’s duty is to Shepherd the church, not allow his mother to run roughshod over the congregation causing division and turmoil because of her favored status, OR because of a lack of courage to confront her like any divisive, troublemaking busybody Believer should be confronted.

On a personal level, you and your husband have a FIRST duty to your own children and family. Where your mother-in-law is intruding and violating that God-ordained duty, you simply have to confront her, lay down the boundaries and expectations, and not worry about her response.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t compassionate, patient and loving. You are. But mercy is not weakness or cowardice. Compassion is not avoiding the “tough” situations in life.

My advice in summary:

  1. If your church is not Biblically structured with a plurality of Shepherds (Elders), your husband should change that immediately.
  2. The leadership of the church, your husband included, must confront and deal with your mother-in-law as a Believer who is being divisive, making trouble, being critical and engaged in “busybodyness”. Her relationship as “mother-in-law” is irrelevant to her being disciplined as a member of the flock.
  3. You and your husband, with regards to your personal and family life, have to be clear to her about what you will, and will not allow related to her interaction with your family and kids. You must set boundaries that if not met, must result in some degree of withdrawal from the relationship with her. Your marriage is first, your kids are second. Extended family must respect this.

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