It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it.  An older ministry wife had actually admonished me during our first year of marriage and ministry about this same thing that I was hearing now.  What was framed as “encouragement” was actually a firm warning that I would contemplate for years to come.  I would hear it preached at pastor’s training conferences, written about in blogs and talked about as a generally accepted survival strategy for pastoral families.  It’s called “building a wall”.

The argument is that building a wall around your family is essential because “ministry will consume you” and “people will take all that you have, leaving nothing left for your family” and “people are mean and will hurt those you love (your children), causing them to not only walk away from the Church but away from Jesus as well.”  Building a wall is the only loving, responsible, and wise way to navigate the life of ministry.

In the last 23 years of life as a pastor’s wife, I’ve come to radically and fundamentally disagree.  Not only that, I’ve determined to walk a totally different path.  Interesting enough, a few months ago, Craig and I were out on separate lunch appointments that provided amazingly different perspectives on this – leading us to again define who we are and where we stand.  The well-meaning men that Craig was meeting with definitely said, “You have GOT to create a wall around your family.”  I say they were well-meaning because I know that they were trying to offer advice to Craig about navigating this larger church setting we’ve found ourselves in (we recently moved from pastoring a church of 400 to a church of 4000+).  At the other end of the spectrum, I was meeting with a woman who said over and over, “It’s so refreshing to see you live with us.  You are authentic and you approach people with your arms open.  You want to know us and for us to know you.”  This happened on the same day – at exactly the same time!  And I’m so glad, because it caused me to reaffirm my commitment to loving people the way Jesus did, authentically and fearlessly.  Is that scary?  Sometimes.  But here’s why it’s what God is calling us all to be and to do.

1.       Building walls of protection is motivated by fear.  God calls us to trust Him to be our defender.  Isaiah put his into words when he said,
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense[a];
    he has become my salvation.” (Is 12:2).
and our Protector.
“You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble

    and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”  (Ps 32:6-8)

He is honored when we love radically, even those (no, ESPECIALLY those) that are hurting and broken – knowing that they are the ones who are most likely to hurt us.  Hurt people hurt people.  Jesus knew that, but He loved sacrificially anyway.  When we invite others into our lives and allow them to know us, they see what it looks like to follow Jesus when it’s hard, to submit to Him when we want to do our own thing, and they are inspired to follow Him more wholeheartedly and authentically.
2.       Building walls can encourage the making of “celebrities” in the Church.  When we create distance (or don’t move to shrink the gap) between us and the flock God has called us to lead, we become “mysterious”. That distance and mystery puts us in a place of isolation and elevation, where falling is almost inevitable.  It allows us to compare what “we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about someone else” (Mike Yakanelli to Youth Pastors in a message at Youth Specialties a long time ago). Fame is a dangerous thing that can rot us from the inside, twisting our motivations and making us seek after our own Kingdom rather than His.   We are to be people seeking Jesus’ fame – and no one else’s.  And His fame means necessarily forsaking ours.
3.       MOST IMPORTANTLY, walls prevent us from sharing our lives – which is a biblical idea.  Paul describes his ministry, which was no small enterprise, as
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God
but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8)
So if you are resisting the urge to build a way around your family, to keep the Church at a distance so that ministry can’t hurt you – keep on resisting!  There are times when you will want to pile up stones of protection, because when we share our hearts, we are vulnerable.  But don’t do it!  Instead of piling up stones, go to your Savior who longs to be your Protector, your Shield, Your Strength and Your Defense.
If you have found yourself hiding behind some well-placed rocks in hopes that you’ll be able to survive this season of ministry with less wounding, consider this.  What does the Kingdom gain by your hiding?  God longs to work through you to bring healing to the broken and to do things that He has placed only you in this time and place to do.  Faith calls us to courage.  And faith means taking down that wall – one stone at a time.  So ask Jesus to show you today where you are hiding behind a wall and what stones He wants to remove – so that He can bring you a joy in walking out your calling that you’ve never known before