Flipping through TV channels, we can see shows like The Housewives of Wherever, depicting women as backbiting, gossiping liars with a proclivity toward physical altercations. Now more than ever, women in church leadership have an opportunity to model healthy female relationships worth imitating.
Debbie Altman is one such woman. She works in a world that can be filled with both explosive relational land mines and pockets of gold: the world of church ministry. Debbie and her husband, Craig Altman, founded Grace Family Church 19 years ago. Currently, Grace Family has a weekend attendance of 6,000 people with Debbie and Craig leading a large staff, including 12 pastors. Although Debbie is not a paid staff member, she co-leads Grace with her husband and believes that part of her role as lead pastor's wife is to minister to the other pastors' wives.
As an observer of people, I was curious how Debbie creates healthy relationships with pastors' wives. I also asked Kristin, the wife of one of Grace's executive pastor's, what Debbie does to create healthy relationships. Since leadership begins at the top, both Debbie and Kristin agree that Debbie has maintained certain values that have created healthy relationships with the pastors' wives.
Connectivity—When the church was young, Debbie wanted to convey the message that she cared about the pastors' wives as people. So she instituted monthly meetings so pastors' wives could share the joys and challenges of life by encouraging one another and sharing wisdom. The meetings also provided a launch pad for increased relationships not only with Debbie as the lead pastor's wife, but also between the other pastors' wives. Since Grace is now larger, the meetings occur about four times a year and consist of a field trip or dinner out.
Vulnerability—Debbie believes women are hungry to be real but afraid to be judged. To combat this, Debbie has chosen to be vulnerable about the challenges in her own life: her marriage, children, menopause, anxiety, and challenges as a woman in ministry. Being vulnerable with her own struggles empowers women in her circle of influence to be more open about their challenges.
Affirmation—Noticing excellence and faithfulness affirms to the pastors' wives that they are appreciated.
Resolutions—Smoldering feelings eventually turn into big fires. Debbie is a big believer that conflicts need to be addressed. When she has negative feelings about one of the pastor's wives, she brings up the uncomfortable relational issue in a gentle, calm, and open-hearted manner, hoping to discover her feelings and gain a deeper understanding, leading to a deeper level of intimacy and a closer relationship. Even in particularly difficult situations, where pastors have been asked to step down from their positions, Debbie has reached out to their wives and had healing discussions. Also, when Debbie has feelings of insecurity about one of the pastor's wives, she reminds herself of the following: