What should a pastor's wife do if she becomes aware that her spouse is "embellishing" his sermons with half-truths or outright lies? My husband will often tell stories about himself in the pulpit that I know to be either greatly exaggerated or borrowed from some other source. I've never directly confronted him, but on the few occasions when I've gently questioned him about this, he has become extremely defensive and attempted to justify the practice. I keep hoping the Holy Spirit will convict him, but at the same time I'm worried about the impact his behavior is likely to have on our kids. I'm also aware that it's my biblical duty to honor my husband. Is this something I should just learn to live with?
Before attempting to give you an answer, we want to let you know that we understand the challenges you regularly face as pastor's wife. The position you occupy in the life of the local church can be lonely and isolating. In view of this, we can appreciate the difficulty of your unique situation, which is especially delicate and burdensome because your husband is a recognized spokesman for God. The "embellishments" you've attributed to him take on an enhanced significance in light of the fact that he is not simply a member of the church but a pastor and a spiritual leader. Any one of us might be open to the accusation of bending the truth for story-telling purposes from time to time, but preachers have special cause to exercise and demonstrate integrity in this regard.
Honoring your husband does not mean staying silent when there are serious issues to be addressed. To put it another way, honor and confrontation are not mutually exclusive. There is an honoring and a dishonoring way to broach a subject like this with your spouse. In the end, it's not a matter of what you do, but how you do it. That's the first thing you need to get clear in your mind.
The second is this: lying, defensiveness, egotism, and a general tendency to misrepresent the facts are serious character flaws in anyone, but they're particularly pernicious in an individual who assumes the responsibility of speaking for God. Apparently your husband has some problems with integrity. And there are other facets to the situation you've described that complicate the issue even further.
At the most basic level, your husband appears to be suffering from a deep-seated spiritual malady. Someone needs to bring this to his attention and encourage him to seek expert help. There may be any number of hidden psychological motives underlying his external behavior. Somehow he has to be brought face to face with this reality. He needs to examine himself prayerfully, acknowledge what he's doing, find out why he's doing it, and make a resolution to change course. This won't be possible as long as he's allowed to go on justifying his own actions.
That's not all, of course. It seems fairly obvious that this is more than just a personal problem. From what you've told us, we have the impression that you and your husband are facing marital issues as well. When a man shuts his wife down, cuts her off, and becomes "extremely defensive" merely upon being "gently questioned" about a matter of serious concern, it's clear that something is wrong at the heart of the relationship. From our perspective, it would not be inappropriate – or dishonoring to your husband – to suggest that the two of you enlist the help of a trained marriage counselor in dealing with this aspect of the situation.
Sadly enough, in touching upon the personal and marital sides of the subject, we haven't yet fully exhausted the potential ramifications of your husband's proclivity for telling "stretchers" in the pulpit. In addition to the possible impact upon your children, there are still the organizational implications of his behavior to be considered. His embellishments of the truth aren't just posing a threat to his own spiritual well-being or the state of your marriage and family – they're also putting the entire church at risk. This is something that needs to be taken very seriously.
In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells us that when we discover a fellow Christian in sin, we have an obligation to "go and tell him his fault" privately. You've told us that, whereas you have "gently questioned" your husband about some of his sermon illustrations, you've never actually confronted him directly with your concerns. We suggest you do so, whether verbally or in a letter, before contemplating any further action. If you need assistance composing a letter or deciding what to say, consult with a trusted friend or a professional counselor. Consider your words carefully before moving forward.
If this doesn't achieve the desired results, you might ask your husband to name some third party with whom both of you would be comfortable sitting down and discussing the situation. If he still won't budge, it's time to move on to the next stage: "If he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church …" (Matthew 18:16 and 17).
At this point we recommend that you draw in a couple of the church elders, other members of the church staff, a few caring relatives, or a trusted friend or two to whose pleas and advice your husband may be inclined to listen. After that, the matter will be out of your hands. If this strategy doesn't work, the elders may need to raise the issue with denominational leadership. We realize that this sounds harsh, but it may be the only course open to you. If you love your husband, you need to step forward and hold him accountable. There's no other way to honor him and the Lord at the same time.
If you'd like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our Counseling staff, please feel free to give us a call. Our counselors are all trained and licensed in the field of clinical psychology, and you can call our Counseling department for a free consultation. If you prefer, you can also call our Pastoral Care Helpline at 877-233-4455.