Mean girls

What am I doing borrowing a title of a movie I’ve never seen? I did a quick search on the summary before keeping the title because a girl trying to adjust to a new school — the cliques, the unspoken rules and the tricks paid by her peers — is really appropriate for a pastor’s wife trying to adjust to a new church.

There you are on candidate Sunday, smiling until you’re sure you’ll never get the crease out of your face. Everyone, you included, is on their best behavior. They all laugh and joke with each other, nary a cloud in any relationship surfaces, no hint of politics churning beneath the calm sea of Sunday morning. Whatta gift! You’ve visited the perfect church of perfect people and you can’t wait to move and minister.

THEN it’s six months later and you’re wondering where the people you met that Sunday are now. You have been subjected to intense pressure to join a side. The people not in power with the previous pastor see an opportunity to seize a bit with the new pastor for themselves. Invitations to dinner aren’t just an invitation to a meal, it’s a campaign. You’ll hear everything that was wrong with the previous administration and the way we would do it from your hosts.

Why on earth would I write a post about something this ridiculous? Because it happens and you need to be pre-warned before you mistake friendliness as only good will. Let’s take the dinner invitation for example. Who doesn’t want to be gracious and friendly to your host for the evening? However, you must guard your response or they will take it as capitulation, and two days later your husband will ask why you had agreed that having a daycare in the facility is a great idea.

Maybe it’s as Charles Issawi said, “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.” [Issawi’s Laws of Social Motion]. And so are the politics of a church. Members will fight just as doggedly about their perceived ideals — Whether church begins at nine a.m. or ten…whether there will be a Sunday night service or not…whether the women’s group is passé and needs to be dropped from the roster. All of it will be hotly contested and each side will want your approval.

Much angst can be avoided if you will take time. Don’t make close friends or offer opinions on controversial issues until you’ve been in your new church at least six months. I’m not talking about the running of the church as that is your husband’s administration. You should always direct any questions addressed to you by saying, “I don’t have any information on that, you’ll need to ask my husband.”

I’m talking about friendships. Everyone will want to be your friend, just take your time before you reciprocate anything beyond friendliness. You do not want to spend your years regretting who you let get close and sway your opinions before you’ve given yourself time to sort them out.

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