Aggressions Toward Women in Ministry

By Katie Richardson, Kathy Phillips, and numerous other women in ministry.

Edited by Mike Phillips

A “micro-aggression” is a term first used by Chester Pierce of Harvard to describe small but significant ways certain racial groups are treated with disdain and prejudice. Most often, it describes the treatment of African-Americans and Hispanic immigrants. But increasingly, it is used to describe behavior toward any traditionally dominated group in our society.

Recently, with recognition of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, women chronicle how they are treated with micro-aggressions as well as the better known aggressive, violent behaviors. Victims and “casual” sufferers alike are calling attention to these subtle behaviors which attack the core of female identity and calling.

One oft-overlooked subset are those women serving in full-time pastoral positions in churches, church organizations, and church institutions (such as seminaries). Though women in general are certainly treated unfairly and badly on the whole in America, female pastors are an especially maligned group.

This article is compiled by two people with an unfortunate history concerning this subject. Kathy Phillips (the wife of the owner of this blog) served as a licensed, full-time pastoral staff in several of the same churches as Mike.

She has the same degree as Mike, and often does the same work in churches. She has served as Children’s Ministry Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Parish Nurse, and School Director. But Mike and Kathy have been treated much differently during that time by both the men and the women of the church.

Katie has served in many capacities in churches and missionary organizations. She has served on pastoral staffs for over 20 years. She has been a pastor for middle schoolers, missionary with Youth For Christ, full-time worker with Youth With A Mission, camp director, assistant youth pastor and children’s ministry pastor, and Co-Founder of “His Heart My Voice” mission to Kenya. Katie often worked side-by-side with her husband who was paid staff. Katie also did the same amount and type of work, but was so rarely paid or received the same recognition. Indeed, her first paid position happened only after her marital separation. She currently serves at a local church as Volunteer Coordinator and Outreach Director.

Mike Phillips is the editor and compiler of this article. He is part of several organizations which support the Egalitarian biblical viewpoint, and groups where female pastors are common. He asked all of them if they had any insight into micro aggressions against female Christian workers. And if they had any insights, could they share a few stories with us.

We received well over 200 responses to this call for insight. We did not use most of these stories, choosing to highlight some of the most typical for this article.

Suffice to say, there are many more examples we could give. We would be here all week—or all year.

We have arranged these into seven general categories of micro-aggressions. There may be more categories and if we receive some good ideas, we might do a follow up to this article.

We also gave Katie and Kathy a chance to begin and end the portfolio of these behaviors.

Here is Kathy’s least favorite moment as a female pastor:

“I was working as a church employee in charge of the children’s ministry.  One of the other pastoral staff called and asked if he could meet regarding a staff-related issue.  We made arrangements to meet at his home.  When I arrived, his wife was in the living room.  I assumed that we two pastors would meet in another area of the house, leaving his wife where she was. Instead, we met in the living room with the two of them.  The discussion centered around a lady in the church who had volunteered to help in children’s ministry the week prior to this meeting.  I explained I had been working night shift at the hospital and had not had a chance to call her, but was planning on doing so during my days off. (I worked full time as a nurse). 

He told me that this was inexcusable, and I should have called her the day that I learned she was interested in helping. He claimed my lack of organization and caring about people’s feelings were the reason that I had problems getting people to help in children’s ministry.

I should note that he had no supervisory authority over me. I had also been on the pastoral staff three times longer than he had.

As I tried to defend myself—clarifying first I was not having problems getting people to help—both this pastor and his wife listed multiple things that I was doing wrong in my ministry.  Then, the conversation shifted from the things I was doing wrong to the two of them explaining what a good senior pastor’s wife should be like. 

I was told I needed to sit in the front row with my husband to show my support to him and to the congregation.  I had three young children at the time and did not feel that this was a good place for three active children to be sitting.  At one point I laughed and asked if they knew that two out of four Sundays each month I had to work nights at the hospital, and was not even able to attend church.  They immediately shared their opinion that I should not be working outside the home and my job was to support my husband in his ministry. 

They said nothing about my ministry at all. By this time I excused myself and left feeling beat up and ready to return the favor.” 

Around our world, women pastors are treated with contempt and derision. Observe with us, at least seven of the most common ways women receive micro-aggressive behaviors.

Public Humiliation

Kate: “When I was a young newly married woman working in youth ministry, I was publicly prayed over in a staff meeting that I would “be submissive to my husband” in my ministry. My husband works in HR, and while he volunteered in the ministry he had never claimed to need headship over the ministry I was doing. It was humiliating and infuriating.”

Joan:I used to work for a church as a ministry leader. After having been there five years, the church hired a new executive pastor who was very aggressive. He was charming in front of people, but behind closed doors, he was a bully. The irony is that if he had patted my knee every time and told me I was a great gal, it would be sexual harassment. But dismantling my self worth and humiliating me because he didn’t like women in ministry and was jealous of my relationship with the senior Pastor isn’t sexual harassment and apparently is okay. It wasn’t. I complained about mistreatment to the senior pastor who either didn’t believe me or chose to let it happen because he didn’t do anything. He implied I was being overly emotional and exaggerating. I wasn’t. I went to the head of our board. They told me not to make things up about such a great guy–and if I didn’t like my job, I could leave. He then proceeded to tell the executive pastor I had told on him. I paid dearly. I eventually resigned after a humiliating period when he forced me to allow him to speak in a meeting even when a question was directly asked of me. It’s been eight years and we have reconciled and I have gone back to that church. It took a lot of work by the Lord for me to forgive and later reconcile. I hated that pastor for a long time. He derailed my life for years.

Sheryl: I was being interviewed at my denomination’s district headquarters for ordination. The male pastor questioning me told me he wanted to keep the door open. (Obviously a Billy Graham rule adherent). Everyone in the building was a minister of some sort and we were in a large conference room WITH WALLS OF WINDOWS.


Jaye C.:  I’ve encountered a number of overtly sexist attitudes (biblically supported, of course). I think the first time I encountered truly passive aggressive behavior was when upon completing one year as paid staff in a student ministry, I was informed that my contract would not be renewed. When I asked for a reason why, I was told because I occasionally had to get firm with members of my team in order to facilitate our goals, I had an unteachable spirit. How do you argue against that? If I protested, I proved this accusation right. If I asked for clarification, I still proved this perspective right. No particular instance or even a complaint from my team our team leader could be identified. I’ve encountered some blatant unethical behavior from people who absolutely knew better. In my last ministry position, at a church, I witnessed a carefully orchestrated campaign where my non-typical children were used to discredit the children’s minister, and also as one way to  discredit me. What work do I do that threatens people so much? Media ministry. I run the sound board, the lights, the supporting graphics, etc. I don’t even want to be a preacher.

Jan: I currently work at an educational organization. We recently had a financial scandal on campus among staff members. I reported that there were problems with this group. I didn’t know exactly what, but I knew something was happening because they left campus for hours at a time, sometimes most of the day without explanation. The Dean blew me off every time because his “buddy” wouldn’t do anything wrong. I was being difficult, critical or implied that perhaps I might be annoyed because of the stage of life I am in. In time, the facts showed I was right. They were all fired and the Dean appears like an idiot that he didn’t know. To his credit, he did apologize.

Penny: I was hired to be one of the pastoral staff. The senior Pastor told me I would be equal to the other pastors on staff in authority and recognition. However, in my first year on staff, I was excluded from several staff meetings, an all-staff barbecue, a prayer meeting regarding problems in the church, and several smaller but significant church events. When I confronted the pastoral staff about this, they told me that there were things they shared at these events which the presence of a woman would make uncomfortable.

Jessica: All ordained clergy in my denomination wear collars. I was ordained in December of last year. Since the moment it was announced I was seeking ordination, until today, I am asked frequently about wearing my collar. I am asked whether or not I think it’s necessary, whether or not I feel comfortable, and it is almost always with the implication that it is a distraction to others to see me in it.

Men Won’t Receive Ministry

Joanne: I was the Children’s Ministry Pastor for 22 years at the same church. The Youth Pastor had been on staff for less than two years. After a Sunday Service, where I had done a joint sermon with the senior pastor, the Youth Pastor came to me and said he felt I had done a disservice to the church. He actually said, “No one who has the Holy Spirit can accept the teaching ministry of a woman. It was so obvious when <the senior pastor> was speaking that God was there and then God’s presence left when you started.” When I told him that was his opinion, he clearly stated that he had never been able to receive ministry from a woman. He didn’t know any man who could.

Katie: I was brought on to serve as the part time admin assistant for a church plant where I attended all regular meetings with the pastors, helped form the teaching schedule, wrote sermons, “taught” never “preached” on Sundays, participated in vision casting meetings, and basically acted as a third pastor. I was not allowed at Elder meetings and was not paid for any extra time I gave. After having 2 children in two years I quit the admin job at the church (and took a break from teaching) and a few years later, I volunteered with the same church as the children’s creative ministry lead for a nominal amount of money and when I refused to accept payment anymore I was told they wanted to continue paying me so they could tell me what to do. The last straw at this church was after my 3rd child was born I asked why no other women had taught after me and was told ” a woman will never teach here again because our people can’t handle it. It would be like black man preaching in the south in the 60’s”. I was stunned and decided that night that our church had left its vision which broke my heart.

Tracey: I once asked a committee of my male peers to use more gender inclusive language instead of terms like “clergymen” and I was chastised for “making it awkward ” for them.

Rebecca: At a staff meeting we watched a ministry training video on ancient Hebrew and Greek. When part of the video showed a woman with a PhD in those languages doing part of the teaching they fast forwarded her part because “what she says doesn’t count because she is a woman.”

Misogyny in General

Corinne:  “The new senior pastor asking me to lead the new members class (that I’d led many times before as the Associate Pastor). He “sat in” on the class and hijacked the whole thing, barely letting me share and disagreeing with my theology over and over when I did offer something. I am constantly interrupted during board meetings by the senior pastor and having to literally say, “I was still sharing.” Needless to say he is usually disagreeing with me.

Gail: “Subtle comments like “I liked your talk” instead of sermon (which is used when a man preaches).

Matt: My wife was teaching classes at our local seminary, but we had gone to visit an old church in another state. We were meeting with our former pastor and my wife said there had been some challenges as a seminary professor, and the pastor said, “Oh, because you are conflicted about being a woman and teaching?” He said it very clearly in the sense of, “I just wanted to make sure you knew I don’t agree with this.” GREAT PASTORING RIGHT THERE.

Faith: A local minister and his wife invited my husband and I over for dessert. I thought it was a welcome meeting as I was a new pastor. But after our polite visit, we got up to leave and the other minister handed me a magazine from his mission group that focused on how ungodly it was for women to be pastors. In fact, they concluded it was sin. Article after article in the magazine told about the role of women as homemakers, child bearers and support for their pastor spouses. I felt as if I had been sucker-punched. But the minister and his wife never said anything to my face.

Jessica: When I told a friend of mine that I was going to be ordained, her first response was, “Wow. What does your husband think?”

Shelley: I retired after 28 years of ministry. I don’t think the people who give the slights have any sense at all that they are out-of-line in their attitudes towards female clergy. I have been yelled at during meetings in one church when I had a different opinion of a situation. I should say I was shouted over to drown out my voice.

At a gathering of ministers in one community, the pastor leading a devotion kept praying that we all might be “men of God.” Had he only said that once, it would have been enough, but he continued to say that in his prayer. There were two of us female clergy in the group that day. I thanked him for his meaningful devotion, but told him that no matter how hard I prayed, I would never be a “man of God.” He admitted his wife had been trying to get him to be more inclusive in his language.

Path to Ministry discouraged

Mollie: When I decided to major in missions in college, an Elder of my home congregation asked my mom why I didn’t become a school teacher, and just do mission trips during my summers off. I had never even considered teaching as a potential career … because I didn’t want to be a teacher.

Geneva: I’d be asked to get coffee; prayed over to be “submissive” to my husband; told I couldn’t lead worship from the front because that would be leading men (so they made a man who couldn’t sing be the “official” worship leader so I had a male “covering”). After he committed suicide from a drug overdose, I couldn’t lead worship anymore at all. I was also told that my presence on the platform might cause men to stumble because men are so visual and I am too sexual. I attended a district pastor’s training and picked up some materials. When the senior pastor of the church was talking to the same attendee, he said “Oh, I gave the material to your secretary.”

Faith: I’ve also gotten the comment several times “are you sure you are called to ministry?” And this if from pastors in an egalitarian denomination.

Denise: I made an official visit to a seminary loosely affiliated with my now former denomination. During my day-long visit, nearly everyone I met focused upon reasons why I shouldn’t attend there. The major one was that I already knew too much and they would have to create special assignments just for me. They also mentioned that I would have to be in the MDiv track because my rationale for getting a seminary education was to learn Greek and Hebrew. After that day, I never heard from them again. A few years later, I happily enrolled at Gordon-Conwell, where one of my classmates mentioned that he had inquired about the other seminary once and they were still sending him postcards on a regular basis.

Kathy: “I was doing an internship toward becoming an ordained Pastor, and the supervising pastor could hardly speak to me at our first meeting. He told me, “I was so disappointed when I found out we were getting a woman. I mean, no one is ever going to take you seriously as a pastor, so why do you need to waste a good internship?”

Bethany: A deacon asked me if I was going to seminary to give better children’s sermons. (I was not a children’s minister either.) The Pastor joked to a room full of church members that I would be the highest educated secretary because he was convinced I would never get a ministry job.


Mary: “ I served a church as a associate pastor. The senior pastor resigned after a period of turmoil. I applied to be considered for the pastor. The congregation chose a 90 year old man to serve as interim pastor. Later, a friend told me that a member of the pulpit committee told her they only agreed to take me on because they needed someone to play the piano.”

Katie: I was allowed to work in full time ministry but made significantly less than my male counterparts because they were the sole providers in their household, which included one man who had no children and whose wife worked full time. My husband did not have a job at the time.

Patty:  I know of several women who were forbidden to be in leadership ministry because they had to “take care of the family “. These same women work full time, as do their husbands. But the church is for “male leadership “. Don’t get me started!

Lara: my friend joined the church and sent the pastor a copy of her ordination from a previous church and he didn’t reply. She wrote him again just to make sure he got it and he still didn’t reply.

Geneva: I have a friend with whom I graduated from the same seminary class with our MDiv’s. We were buddies and had many classes together. He left a church after a long time of dismissed opportunities to go start his own. One Sunday he needed a guest speaker because he was going to be out of town and was looking for recommendations. My pastor, who is a mutual friend of ours, suggested me. I never heard back, because he believes that the Bible limits the preaching and teaching from the pulpit to men only.

Faith: I was working on a revitalization and was asked to visit various churches in the community to see if they might be interested in joining us by sending people. I called at one of the local churches and asked to meet with the Pastor. They said yes and then had the grounds keeper meet with me.

Cally: When my pastor asked what I felt called to do in ministry and I told him I felt called to preach he answered, “I see you and [your husband] more as a ministry team.”

A few years later, after teaching a couple rounds of marriage courses with my husband, I reminded him of his words. He claimed he didn’t mean it to be exclusive. But when I told him I still felt called to preach he told me “if” I am called I would need to find “somewhere” I could use my calling. Then said that if I had told him 10 years ago maybe he would have pointed me in the direction of colleges, internship, etc. 10 years ago I had an infant and toddler at home. Meanwhile, a year and a half after I had told him I was called to preach he’d created an internship program with two younger, less qualified interns receiving free tuition for online courses and ministry mentorship.


Meredith: The Senior pastor rang thirty-something-year-old-me and asked me to speak on Good Friday as he thought that it would be a good day for a woman to speak. He said to me: ‘and don’t get on your political soapbox’. Me: I don’t have a political soapbox. Him: and don’t get on your feminist soapbox. Me: I don’t have a feminist soapbox. Him: you must be an amazing woman. Me: I am.

I preached on the women who waited with Jesus during the crucifixion and mentioned the men who ran away. Lots of women (especially younger women) came and asked me for more information about the topic – indicating that even then feminist theology was becoming a ‘thing’ – this was nearly 30 years ago in Assemblies of God Australia.

Danielle: I am sure this is relatively minor but one of the things I have often experienced is for a man in leadership, when he holds an opinion (especially a theological one) which is different to mine, rather than having an honest discussion, he will revert to “well this is just a pink and blue issue”. The clear indication is that any further conversation is unnecessary since we will ‘never be able to understand one another’. I can’t think why it feels this way precisely, but I always feel like it is because the man in question believes there is an inherent inferiority in my female opinion. Always paired with this is inattention to whatever I am saying, regular interruption to finish my sentences for me (inaccurately I would add) and a rush to explain why I am wrong. Since it is clear the man is not hearing me well, I end up feeling dismissed and the distinct impression that he wants to end the conversation quickly.

This final word from Katie:

I’ve been serving in Christian ministry for almost 20 years. After recovering from a traumatic and, regrettably, permanent separation from my husband, I came back to ministry ready to fully be seen and valued for my spiritual gifts, no longer taking a backseat to a husband’s gifting in ministry. I took up a paid position at my church as the volunteer and outreach director.

Though supported by the pastor, I received comments from one particular male leader regarding my willingness to step in and serve.  Just after I was hired he told me, “Well, you just love doing everything around here, don’t you?”  He shocked me even more a while later when he commented on my singleness. While discussing with him again that he needed to make improvements in his area of ministry (Note: I was his supervisor), he said:“I have a personal question. Why aren’t you dating or have a boyfriend?” The question offended me, since it had nothing to do with the current discussion regarding the ministry.

He was clearly implying that I was unimportant and diminished in his eyes because I didn’t have a man in my life. I have learned on repeated occasions that he resents having a woman supervise him and give him suggestions about his work.


In 1982, Mike wrote the president of his denomination in Canada to let them know he was refusing to be ordained unless his wife Kathy was also. Refusal of ordination would cause them to fire Mike. But he and Kathy had prayed about this and felt God was leading to make this demand.

A few days later, the President of the denomination called Mike to give him a chance to back away from this ultimatum. Here was his reasoning: “There are enough pastors like you who feel women should be recognized as equals in ministry. Wait a few years; it will happen. You need to be a part of the change.” Kathy and Mike prayed about it and God showed them to stay in the denomination and to keep working for change.

It took many more years. Finally, just a few years ago, that denomination began ordaining women as pastors. But as Mike and Kathy have noticed, the micro-aggressions toward women in ministry keep happening.

One wonders if the spirit behind this anger and bitterness shown by many will ever leave the church alone. We are hoping that God is planting the seeds of unity among the sexes in his family.

These are obviously more than just doctrinal disagreements. Much of the problem relates to those elements of misogyny buried beneath centuries of entitled Patriarchy. For this to really change, God’s people must confront these types of aggressive behavior toward women. We may end up being called “trouble-makers” and “divisive”. But that is the only way to open the eyes of people.

For the many church leaders who believe women have an honored place in ministry–and always have had–our role is to keep teaching, pushing, setting good examples, and honoring women. If enough of us do that consistently, the incidents of aggressive behavior toward women in ministry can be reduced.

You and Your Government

I originally posted this the month after DJT became President and several of my friends were saying that Romans 13 requires we support his Presidency and policies.

Since the Attorney General Sessions believes Romans 13 gives adequate theological backing for demanding we all agree with the laws of the land, here is a theological refutation to that.

The True Meaning and Application of Romans 13:1-2

Recently, I had a friend tell me that not only did God ordain that Donald Trump be elected, but that God always ordains every person in power, no matter who they are. And as such, we are expected to submit to all governing authorities, no matter who they are.

I asked him the inevitable question: “Do you mean a person in North Korea is to submit to Kim Jong Un?” “Yes, of course” was the answer. “Hitler?” I ventured. My friend hesitated and eventually said, “I am pretty sure. Yes.”  “How about Nebuchadnezzar, if he is telling you to bow down to a statue of himself he had made? Do you have to submit to him as well?” My friend, though not a strong Christian, knew the Bible enough to know I had set him up. He thanked me for the lunch and left the restaurant looking dazed.

I was not sorry I had done it. I am weary of explaining Romans 13:1-2 to friends, antagonists, and Calvinists. If  Romans 13:1-2 does not immediately jump into your mind, here it is in the New International Version:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

 I use the NIV here because it is rife with translation ambiguities which encourage people to jump to spurious conclusions. I believe, after we examine it closely here, we will find:

  1. We do not have to agree with or go along with all governing authorities
  2. There is a legitimate place for public protest
  3. God does not set up political leaders and endorse them
  4. We do not have to be agreeable and supportive of any political leader. We can disagree with them, stand against them, and even advocate their overthrow.

Allow me to use accepted bible interpretation techniques to show why I draw these conclusions from Romans 13:1-2

Continue reading “You and Your Government”

Embracing Reality: Part 2 of the Myth of the Wonderful marriage

There are signs and then there are SIGNS.

This final premarital counseling session was a warning about disaster looming. This is the first wedding I had ever officiated or counseled someone about, and ten minutes into our time together, the bride-to-be looked at me and said, “I don’t think we should get married. This is a mistake.”

Up until that evening, they had both expressed positive feelings about getting married. Neither had voiced any real concerns about their relationship. In this session however, she pointed out a half dozen things she didn’t like about her fiance. Most of them were minor, especially the details of his personal hygiene.

At one point we heard a siren. It was the tornado warning. We trundled down to the shelter and waited until the all-clear. When we got back to the apartment, I wondered aloud if this warning was some kind of a sign. They both smiled. I went on to convince them they just had cold feet. Both of them finally agreed that despite their misgivings they still wanted to get married.

Two weeks later, we had a beautiful and uplifting ceremony. Immediately after the reception, they left on their honeymoon for two weeks. Since this was my first wedding as officiant, I wanted to know how they were doing as soon as they got back. I called the bride and casually asked how the trip went from her perspective.

“We’re getting an annulment Pastor Mike. So, I guess you could say it wasn’t a great trip.”

I could not convince her to stay married. Neither could the groom or her mother.

About a month after she applied and received the annulment, we sat down again and she went into more detail about her reasons. Surprisingly, neither her decision to get married nor her decision to annul the marriage was made hastily. The man she had intended marrying was a good man. He lived a moral and ethical life and she really liked him.

But there were several things about him she could not abide. Each day of the honeymoon, she asked herself one question repeatedly: “Could I live with this for 50 years?” Because she answered “no” too many times, she decided not to waste his time or hers on a marriage which would not work.

I asked her to list what she found objectionable about him. They were all variations of the same three categories: approach to money, their sex life, his personal hygiene. She noticed all these things before they got married (Note: don’t judge. They wanted to know if they were sexually compatible before marriage, despite the Church’s strictures against it. That was their choice). These grievances were the basis of her telling me at the premarital session she didn’t want to get married. She apologized for heeding me and going through with it even with her doubts.

At the time, I was only recently married myself, and I didn’t know her decision may have been based upon a very faulty premise. She believed these incompatibilities were insurmountable and would bother her all their married life. I wish I could have that proverbial Time Machine and go back to give her the wisdom I have garnered through time and experience. Here’s what I would tell her:

Almost every couple on earth is incompatible. It takes several years to clear a lot of that up. Many couples are very successful at doing that; some are not.

Couples endure a great deal of pain in the first year of their marriage. Most experienced couples will not tell you that hard truth. You will enjoy the first year of marriage, but not as much as you hope you will. I am not exaggerating. Even the couples who tell you they have an amazing relationship are probably smoothing over the bumps in the road. Here is what I have learned in 40 years of counseling:

  • You will fight about stupid things
  • You won’t enjoy sex as much as you hoped or expected
  • You and your partner will have emotional reactions which make no sense to either of you. But the reactions will be intense
  • There will be moments you wonder if you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life
  • You will learn how committed you actually are to your old daily routines. As a result, you will learn how much you resent this other person ruining all those routines
  • They will not smell, look, or sound as good as they used to while dating. Get ready for morning and weekend realities
  • It is not so much that your spouse’s family will bother you. It is the completely different approaches you each will want to take toward your own family which will cause marital tensions

I am going to stop here lest I hinder any of my readers from getting married. I recently made the list of incompatibilities most young married couples face, and I had a list of over 60 items. And I’m sure the list is completely incomplete.

Dr. Alex Lickerman eloquently states the problem:

Though every situation is different, though relationships are exceedingly complex, and though undoubtedly some couples shouldn’t remain together, a more likely explanation for why couples split than one or both partners actually changed (though, of course, that sometimes does happen) is that one or both partners lost their ability to tolerate their incompatibilities.

Of course, the reason I’m writing this article is to help you deal with these incompatibilities. In order to do that, let’s look at two very common ones as examples, and then I will show how you can walk through them.

(Obligatory blogger note: This section contains a mildly graphic description of marital sex. If that bothers you, please stop reading.)

Jess and Penny came back from their honeymoon so excited about making a life together. On the honeymoon, they had sex twice daily, or more. It was everything Jess hoped it would be. They had a book of sexual positions and they tried out about 20 of them. They decided on half a dozen they liked. They both enjoyed sex and had no problems with performance or orgasmic completion. So far, so good.

One thing they tried was oral sex. Neither of them had ever done it before so their inexperience hindered their pleasure. But because it was featured prominently in the book, they kept trying it. Eventually, they figured some things out and it was mildly pleasant for both of them. At least, that is what they told each other.

Penny actually had a huge problem with Jess performing oral sex on her. She felt he would think she smelled badly and she couldn’t shake that thought. The more they had oral sex, the more she resented it. She tried telling him and he assured her that he was fine with everything. And he was telling the truth.

The problem was, she didn’t really believe him.

When they came home from the honeymoon, they continued having sex most days. Jess wanted it a little more often than Penny, but they bargained together regarding frequency and settled their difference. However, Jess kept insisting that oral sex be part of their sexual menu. Penny didn’t want to cause problems so early in their marriage so she went along. But she resented Jess even more for making her do it.

In her resentment, she began coming up with excuses to avoid sex. He sensed this was happening, and he got angry. He didn’t want to argue about sex, so he nit picked her cooking, her choice of clothing in the morning, even her laugh. His passive-aggressive approach annoyed her so much she started openly refusing to have sex with him. One week, they only had sex once and Jess was sure their marriage was doomed.

By the end of the first year of marriage, they came in to see me for counseling, totally defeated and completely sure they had made a mistake marrying each other.

Tony and Brenda both loved to cook. They married later in life, yet it was the first marriage for both of them. In planning for their life together, they decided they had enough money to buy a new home. They spent a large amount of their discretionary money on the kitchen and what would go into it.

Tony loved barbecue and saw himself as a Bobby Flay clone. Brenda was a Pescatarian who loved to cook with oriental sauces and spices. Yet, even though they liked different foods, this wasn’t their problem.

Tony was a neat freak and Brenda was a slob. Before they got married, she had a cleaning woman come in twice a week to clean up after her. On the other hand, Tony scrubbed every surface after using it, keeping cleaning materials in the kitchen. He regularly seasoned his cast-iron frying pans (he owned four of them). Brenda loved her copper Calphalon pans. But she could go days without washing them out.

A few weeks after they got married, they threw a dinner party for 20 and did all the cooking themselves. The party ended at midnight and Brenda was so tired she went straight to bed. At 2 am Tony flopped into bed beside her making a lot of noise. He was supremely angry at her. She had left him to clean up the entire mess from the party. He started a fight with her and called her a bunch of names. The only word she heard was Slob. And, the war was on.

Her favorite epithet for him during the early weeks of marriage was “OCD”. Every time he took out the “409” cleaner, she winced. Every time she threw a pan into the sink, he groaned. They both ignored the other. He even tried to do all the cleaning of the pots and pans. But he worked late three nights a week, and when he came home the kitchen was a mess. He was an emotional person and didn’t hide his emotions about her sloppiness.

Many nights, one or the other went to bed in tears. After six months of this, they did a trial separation of a few weeks, but found they really did miss each other. After coming back together, they came to see me for counseling. They really did want to have a good marriage, but they were not able to overcome their incompatibility in cleanliness.

Whether it is the kitchen or the bedroom, whether the checking account or the type of perfume, whether the way anger is shown or the way love is not shown, all of these incompatibilities are hard to overcome. Every problem imaginable has ended someone’s marriage somewhere. If couples entered the first year of marriage armed with a few truths, they would do a much better job of weathering the storm.

So with Jess and Penny, Tony and Brenda, I went over these principles and both couples found, to their relief, that the knowledge helped them move forward. Both couples are still married and from what I can tell, enjoying their spouses.

Here is what I go over with couples getting married. If you are already married, read this as a couple and see if you can relate to this.

  1. Incompatibility Exists With Every Couple: There are many ways you are incompatible. Of course, there are also many ways in which you are compatible. If there weren’t items of commonality you would not have been attracted for long to each other. But the ways you differ from each other are going to make you angry and sad. They will feel insurmountable (remember the couple from the beginning of this article?). It is best to be realistic right from the start. On the honeymoon, come to an agreement that you will lower your expectations for this first year of marriage. It will take much adjusting to each other. At least weekly, you must have a meeting with each other where you address your incompatibilities. I will lay out what that meeting looks like in the next article.
  2. Resentment is The Biggest Enemy in this first year: When Penny noticed Jess discounting her shyness about intimate odor, she resented him. She acted out on her resentment regularly after that. He resented the way she acted out and carried his own resentment. The two of them ping-ponged their resentment back and forth until that is all they could focus upon. In another article in this series, we will address what to do about that.
  3. You BOTH must actively modify your old routines when entering marriage. Your daily routines are the hardest elements of your old life before marriage to change. But now you share a life together. You cannot expect your partner to just go along with your routine. This takes negotiation to figure out a compatible routine and then compromise to work it out. This will have to be done again as each child comes along, and then again in a smaller way when one of you gets a new job. We will look at the Negotiation and Compromise process in another article in this series.
  4. You Trigger Each other: All of us carry into marriage false beliefs, inaccurate ideas, and emotional hurts that have not been fully processed. These are like open wounds just waiting for our spouses to pour salt into. The three couples mentioned in this article triggered each other’s brokenness regularly. The first couple gave up long before they could help each other. The other two learned the skill of how to help the other in a triggered state. In our last article in this series, we will go through how to have the skill of working out our triggers.

By far, the most common areas of incompatibility in the first year are:

  • How money is spent
  • Sex: how often, when, where, and how.
  • Children and birth control
  • Food, its preparation and type
  • Personal hygiene
  • Expressing anger
  • Making decisions
  • Daily routines
  • Dealing with families
  • Bringing work home
  • Habits
  • Choice of friends
  • Pornography
  • Video games
  • Telling the truth

Marriage is a bold adventure. But the first few miles of this adventure can destroy you if you don’t navigate them well. Some couples don’t even last two weeks.

In the next article, we will talk about how to discuss marital differences in a format which moves toward compromises and solutions.

How Husband-Points are Awarded

When I teach occasionally on marriage and the pitfalls of two people living that closely with each other, the subject of Husband Points invariably comes up. That’s because I bring the subject up, fairly often. So, in the interest of education and boredom, allow me to elucidate on this important subject that may save the life of some men and the sanity of many women.

Husband Points are similar to Airline Credit Card points except Husband Points are both acquired and spent much differently. Rather than try and define Husband Points, I will describe some example point accruals and this will help get the point across.

Examine this picture and interchange: In the picture, the boy (let’s say it is the Husband for the sake of this demonstration), will be awarded 80 Husband Points by our impartial jury (made up of men who just watched 27 Dresses for the third time and women who have returned from a wine-tasting trip).  The point breakdown goes as follows:

  • 2 points for the obvious and welcome compliment
  • 2 points for getting the girls’ attention off her looks
  • 2 points for using humor
  • 2 points for mentioning pregnancy with compassion and empathy
  • 72 points for NOT mentioning PMS, the huge zit on her chin, how she finished an entire bag of chocolates, that last visit from her successful sorority sister, the magazine she’s reading, the inaccuracy of the bathroom scale, or the name of a local gym.

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

I sat with my wife at our assigned table for the graduation reception with other students and professors of the nursing faculty. I quickly learned I was the only spouse in this group, and therefore the only “civilian” in medical terms. Graciously, they ignored me, knowing I had little to add to their discussions and plans. They spoke of going on to Masters, Doctorates and Post-doctorates, the profs trying to convince the students to continue on at the Alma Mater. I threw in a comment occasionally, content to let my wife carry the conversation .

Then she left to run an errand. At that moment, they all noticed me simultaneously. One asked what I did for a living. Since I do several things, I mentioned all of them. When I said “writer” no one responded. To academics, a writer is simply an opinionator without credentials. Then I tried “Pastor”. They smiled politely at that. None of them were interested in religious types. But when I said “counselor” they all seemed to perk up as a group. One gregarious young Master of Nursing Administration graduate piped in: “Oh you mean an MFT” (Marriage and Family Therapy). I politely told her no…I don’t do marriage counseling.

“Why not?” she summarily accused.

Not only was our table looking at me, but several members of the next table were deserting their conversations to listen in. I had a ready audience. So I plunged ahead.

“I don’t think marriage counseling works. In fact, I know it doesn’t. The statistics prove it.” I threw in that last sentence to get them all off the track. Just minutes before, they had all been saying how Statistics was their least favorite college course. I hoped they would get sidetracked on that discussion again and ignore me. No they didn’t.

One of the multi-doctorate professors said, “You’ll have to explain yourself young man”. I instantly liked her. I hadn’t been called a young man since … well, around the time I was one.

“Researchers have found” (always good to start a comment to academics with this phrase) that more people will get divorced if they go to marriage counseling than if they don’t. ”

One of the grads asked, “why do you think that is?”

“Part of the problem lies in the standard format for Marriage Counseling. Traditional three-way counseling involves two people with marriage problems meeting with a counselor they hope will have solutions. Only, that is not why they are there and that is not what happens. What happens is the two of them spend most sessions convincing the counselor they are the righteous party, the injured party or the misunderstood one. And no matter how the counselor wants to claim they don’t take sides, no human being can help believing one person over the other. ” These learned scholars and their teachers were in rapt attention (or comatose) so I took that as a sign to continue.

“The counseling continues until one of the marriage partners deduces they are being identified as the one most to blame. They then drop out and the other marriage partner goes to a few more sessions alone. After that, they usually separate.”

“So is it hopeless?” asked another prof.

“Not if you take a different approach.” My wife returned at that moment, and I decided to include all of them in on the discussion. “Can you imagine if all of you were working in a hospital and realized that a particular procedure was making patients worse instead of better. What would you do?” They discussed the options for a moment as my wife looked at me quizzically. I winked at her and remained quiet until I realized they had come to a consensus.

“We would probably seek to change the way we were doing the procedure until it worked” said the nursing prof who considered me a young man. God bless her.

“That’s what a number of counselors have done. They realized the real difficulty is that no two people have the same marriage story. Even a married couple who come to counseling have different stories about seemingly the same marriage. And for the most part, there is no way to make their stories sync with each other. It is as if they experienced a different marriage. There’s a good reason for this: they have!”

I saved my best line for last: “The truth is, marriages aren’t in trouble – People are. The best a counselor can do is work with them on the details of their story and facilitate them coming to a place of health and it will bring aspects of their marriage into a healthier place.”

We then talked a little about a subject I like to talk a lot on. Most people have hidden motives for going to a marriage counselor. Once they discover in one-on-one counseling what their hidden motives are, they usually are much  more open to solving the systemic problems in the relationship.

In the next article, I will go through the hidden motives themselves. But I was pleased to have several of the profs and students tell me at the end how glad they were to have heard what I had to say. The gregarious red-headed student even said at the end, “You’ve ruined me now…you know that.”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2

In the late 70s and early 80s a group of well-meaning Christian leaders formed an ad hoc accountability group. Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, along with Ern Baxter met regularly to hold each other to certain ethical and moral standards. They were independent church pastors and yearned for the accountability of denominational allegiance.

More and more pastors from around the country joined with them and each of these men helped their “lines” to form these groups. Soon however, these groups went beyond accountability and eventually they devolved into control. Shepherding went from the pastoral level to the congregational level. Church leaders were soon given authority to tell people exactly how to live their lives.

They could direct how much they gave to the church, where they could live, who they could associate with, and even who they could marry. Some groups went even further, and abuse situations were common. Cults were even formed as groups like Community Chapel ruined the lives of many.

At the same time, many evangelicals continued to practice strict authoritarian methodologies at the local church level, even if they didn’t resort to the extremes of the Shepherding movement. Over the years, I have been involved with holding churches and individual accountable for how they abused their authority over their members. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 2”

Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1

22 months into my first assignment as a pastor and I was smacked in the head with a horrible story of pastoral sin. I had no idea what to do with it.

I had been hired as an assistant pastor of a 100 year old church in Canada. The senior pastor believed this old church could use some young blood as we moved out of the old downtown location to a brand new one on the edge of the suburbs. I had no idea I was to be cast as the new lead pastor within two years of coming on staff.

After he announced his resignation, one morning he came into my office and slapped down a two-inch thick folder on my desk. “You need to read this before agreeing to take on this job” he told me. He voiced it in such an ominous way, I was afraid to crack the cover.

After I had read the contents thoroughly three days later, I was very sorry I had done so.

This folder contained just a summary of the events scattered over three years. This had happened over 20 years previous, but the repercussions were still being felt by that congregation. Here is the summary.

The pastor of the church was an internationally-known speaker and writer. The church had over 1500 members, qualifying it as a mega-church in its day. One of the older ladies, a widow, had asked the pastor to help her with putting together the details of her will. About six months later, she passed away. Continue reading “Types of Misused Authority in Churches – Part 1”