Pastor’s Wives: Identifying Stages of Change

By Darlene Dryer

Editor’s note: Darlene Dryer is the new director of NAMB Replant Spouse Care. She will occasionally write blog posts geared toward pastors’ wives. Look for more soon!

One of the redundant tasks of replanting and revitalization is initiating change in a church. There are a multitude of reasons for change – some spiritual, some not.

It could be the books in the library have lost the God-centric focus and a purge is necessary to protect the young reader. (Yikes!) Maybe the flower room needs to be sorted as decorations are disintegrating and the congregation is having allergic reactions as they enter the sanctuary. (Achoo!) Change could go deeper, like updating bylaws, restructuring leadership or reallocating budgets. As silly as some changes may seem, they can strike a nerve with someone.

As a pastor’s wife, we get a front-row seat to see how others respond to change.

When, in a season of change, we witness some less-than-Christian behaviors from our fellow church members, it can be easy to respond autonomically. We might be quick to say, “Just follow the leadership or move out of the way” or “Hey, that is my husband you are talking about!” Maybe even “Don’t be a jerk” – or the self-loathing “We gave up everything to come serve you, and this is what we get!” Left unchecked, these responses can lead to bitterness (Heb. 12:15), grudges (Mark 11:26), assumptions, broken relationships (Prov. 13:10) and, worst of all, a defeated mentality about the work God has called us to (Heb. 3:12).

How can we redeem these circumstances as another opportunity to love the people God has handed us to shepherd? How can we find compassion for the congregation struggling with change? If we can identify where they are in the process, this might give us a window into their heart. If we can see from their perspective for a moment, it might help us walk the journey of change with them rather than waiting at the finish line of change to shame them with an “I told you this would work out!” finger-wagging.

There are five stages of change:

  1. Pre-contemplation (not considering change despite external pressures)
  2. Contemplation (considering action but ambivalent about change)
  3. Preparation (planning for change in the future)
  4. Action (making changes)
  5. Maintenance (maintaining gains and preventing relapses)[1]

Let’s give these stages names we can all relate to.

Precontemplation is now Pessimist Peggy. She loves to point out that this is the way it has always been done. Her motto is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The library is not hurting anyone just sitting there.

The contemplative stage gives us Calculated Carol. She has a question about everything that normally starts with, “What if ….” What if Aunt Bessy finds out we trashed her beloved books? What if we get rid of a book and then we need it?

The preparation stage introduces us to Prepper Patty. You can count on Prepper Patty to let you know how much this change is going to cost you financially, relationally and timewise. She has already figured out the value of the books we are throwing away – I mean “donating”! She is on board with revamping the library but can come across as negative with her preparedness.

We don’t tend to have as many heart palpitations with the team in the action and maintenance stages, but for the sake of our name game, let’s give them new names too. Action Alice is a go-getter, and you have a hard time slowing her down. She has bought in on the change – lock, stock and barrel. Action Alice is willing to “die on the hill” purging the books Aunt Bessy donated on her death bed.

Then there is Maintenance Maddy. She loves a system and direction. Maintenance Maddy is going to take the mission to the next level with her new requirements for donating books to the library. There will be no relapse to an unkempt library under her watch.

At some point, we all go on a journey with each of these characters. It is a process. Some of us linger with one character longer than another, but nonetheless, we do pass through each stage. The goal for the church is to arrive together and maintain the change that is needed to replant or revitalize the church God has called us to.

Pastor wife, I encourage you to meet the struggling congregants with compassion, wherever they are in the change process. As God is patient with you, be patient with them.

[1] Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins. The Popular Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling: An Indispensable Tool for Helping People with Their Problems. (Harvest House Publishers, 2011), 85. Kindle Edition.

Published September 28, 2023

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Darlene Dryer

Wife to an amazing pastor husband, mother to three beautiful daughters, leads NAMB Replant Spouse Care and Development, and counselor to the strongest women in the world. Darlene has a master's degree in Christian Counseling from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Doctor of Ministry in Counseling from Liberty University. She enjoys homeschooling her girls, being in and around the ocean, and traveling!