a guest post from Mitch Ross
Since marrying my wife, who happens to be a pastor, I’ve met a lot of people. The vast majority of people are cool. Most people are interesting and are fun to hang out with. Very rarely, though, a Strange Ranger comes along with some very unhealthy behavior. Over my wife’s entire career, I’ve met about 4 or 5 people I’d classify as “Pastor Stalkers”- though I’m using the term very loosely here.
I’m sure there’s a whole class of people here, and I believe that pastors all have at least one story that fits. I only have experience with the subset that hangs around women pastors. As a pastor’s husband, those types of people get my attention pretty quickly.
Let me preface this by saying that if you know me or my wife, and suspect you fall into this category, you almost certainly don’t. These people are oblivious to their actions being unusual and unhealthy.
Who They Are, What They Do
- There’s some kind of strange attraction to authority figures. Like a groupie.
- There’s a lot of brown-nosing, and a lot of attention given to the pastor. They love to talk with the pastor. Maybe “talk at the pastor” is a better way to put it.
- Some people are very social, and they give many people lots of attention. Not the stalker- they usually focus their attention on the pastor, and give very little elsewhere.
- The stalker will show up at unusual times & places, wanting to have many, long one-on-one conversations. Normal social cues like “I’m finishing up my notes for tonight, can we make an appointment for later?” are bushed aside for “I just want to talk for 5 minutes”. And by 5 minutes, they mean for as long as possible, usually for over an hour if you let them.
- There’s a hyper-spiritual aspect about everything with talking with the pastor – but not in their life in general. They are different people when the pastor is and isn’t around.The result is that they are highly annoying and time consuming. I presume this is NOT the impression they wish to give, since the pastor’s opinion of them is a very important topic in their life.
- The need for the pastor’s approval sometimes leads to “very thoughtful gifts” given in visible, public settings. (At the start of a bible study group, for example)
- I’ve seen this in both genders, and in a wide range of ages.
- Most disturbingly there’s a creepy sexual aspect. Most of the time this is just a feeling with nothing concrete to back it up. Sometimes there’s very real evidence.
Long Term Damage, Self-Destruction
- These people, sadly, tend toward this behavior over long periods of time. The pastor that’s the focus of their attention may vary, but their basic actions remain the same.
- I’ve seen this type of behavior lead to destructive relationships for themselves and others. Typically this leads to them thinking there’s a conspiracy against them (for no apparent reason), and then leaving the church dragging as many others as they can with their tales of woe.And then this pattern repeats at the next church. And the next. They act like the man with limburger cheese on his face, proclaiming that every building in town stinks.
- With all this drama and misplaced focus, they’re missing out on that God has for them. They’re on a treadmill, rehashing the same problems in their lives over and over, from place to place- not giving God a chance to heal them.
- For some people, the best answer is to just avoid them, and set clear boundaries on time and attention.
- For the more out-of-line cases, I’ve been tempted to do a husband style, very memorable “keep away from my wife, or else pal” intervention. Because these people interact with my wife’s professional realm, there’s more at play, so a Matthew 18 style intervention is more appropriate. I suspect that some day I will grab someone’s collar.
- In every case, there’s no acknowledgment that their actions are unusual, unhealthy, and inappropriate. One pastor (not my wife), told a story of a member of the church who had a key to the parsonage. And felt the freedom to enter any time he wanted. Even when the pastor was gone, and the wife was in the shower. He didn’t see anything wrong with that, and refused to give up the key.We’ve got stalker stories on par with that level of creepy strangeness.
- One thing I’ve learned over the years is that for the worst offenders, bright sunlight is the best cure. Keeping things hidden and quiet allows them to spin their defense story any way they want. “It was all just a misunderstanding” makes sense until all the facts are on the table. Even getting the different versions of their story together shows that’s something’s amiss. For some, we’re given the stalker a few chances to correct their behavior in private. Once attempts those were are ignored, we’ve had to let the facts be plainly known to the leadership team in our church.We’ve only had to do this a couple times, and it’s never pretty.
So, anyway, not to be a downer or anything, but this is another strange aspect of being a Pastor’s Husband. These people don’t come around very often, and as the years go by they’re easier to spot.
Mitch Ross is a Systems Integration Specialist for a power company. That has something to do with computers, but he’s never been able to explain it in english. He is a science nerd, introvert, and pastor’s husband. He, his wife Rachel (one of the founders of Preacher Girls), and their 3 boys live in Michigan.