The balance between being tough and tender

By Jenna Fleming

Some say ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to understanding our temperament as ministry wives, ignorance is ignorance. A lot of conflict, misunderstandings and problems will be avoided not only in learning about the people we serve but about ourselves as well. I find that ministry wives tend to fall into one of two categories: One being “tough,” self-protective—not a “push over” by any means. The other being “tender,” always available and eager to please. Either of these temperaments may be expressed in the same woman at different points in her ministry, but one will manifest itself more than the other overall as either “tough” or “tender.” Neither temperament is necessarily good or bad, but when we lean to the extreme of being too tough (hard, unapproachable, short-tempered) or too tender (oversensitive, easily accessible, overly involved emotionally) we run the risk of jeopardizing the impact of our ministry. If we ever come to a place where we feel weary, resentful, or discouraged in ministry, instead of looking to the outside we should first look within and ask ourselves, “Is this situation I am currently dealing with inflamed by how I am handling it?”

I once had a conversation with another ministry wife about a situation we were working through. I said, “We need to try and have a gentle and quiet spirit,” to which she said, “Well, that is just not my personality. What you see is what you get.” I did not respond, but I considered her words and thought to myself “Is ‘a gentle and quiet spirit’ a personality trait or the fruit of the Spirit?” Because we all have days when our spirits are less than gentle or quiet, but when our spirits on many days are described as such do we simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, that’s just how I am, accept it”?

While my friend’s temperament tended to lean towards the tough side, my temperamental tendency leans more to the tender side, and although it may sound “gentle” or “quiet,” it really is not. I am a pleaser and will do whatever it takes to avoid conflict to be liked by all. I have grown through the years, but I used to hold myself captive in every conversation on Sunday mornings with tired and hungry little ones in tow. I didn’t want to be rude or thought of as unfriendly, so instead of drawing boundaries I made myself feel responsible to be readily available to anyone who “needs” me at any given moment when the ones who truly needed me (my kids) were sidelined. Of course, there are times when children must wait and ministers’ wives must serve beyond their families, but there is a balance to all this that requires prayer and discernment.

Often our immediate reaction to needs and people in ministry will determine our tendency to being too tough or too tender. What is on the inside will flow outward. Knowing this is so important, because belonging to Christ means that we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). If we are more passionate and desirous to protect ourselves or to please others then we are not serving Christ. Our temperament, either tough or tender must engage the Spirit, and “if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Our temperament may lean too far one way, but when the Spirit takes hold of us, He enables us to not be too tough or too tender, so we will both serve people and worship God rightly.

Consider these ways ministry wives can develop their temperaments in ministry, to find the balance between being tough and tender:

Ask for guidance.

Pray for the Lord to reveal your temperamental tendency in ministry. Remember that neither temperament, “tough” nor “tender,” are bad in and of themselves. Let God show you areas of weakness as well as areas of strengths, and determine which temperament characterizes you.

Consider how to grow.

In what ways do you need to grow in character? Is there someone you need to ask for forgiveness because of something you mishandled? Do you need to draw boundaries or politely say “No” more? Let the Holy Spirit lead you daily and see His fruit manifest itself in your life and ministry.

Respond with care.

A great verse to memorize and recite often comes from Jesus who said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). There is a toughness we are to exude as servants of Christ. We resist the devil. We stand firm in the faith. We run the race with perseverance. We boldly proclaim the gospel. We are “wise as serpents” in this way. And yet we are also tender, “innocent as doves”- quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. We want to be above reproach walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Walking in the Spirit daily will empower us to respond to people and ministry needs with care. We will have wisdom to handle whatever comes our way regardless of our temperament, because God will give us the grace to do so.

We do not have to be ignorant as ministry wives. In knowing ourselves and how we are wired helps us anticipate our reaction to people and needs in ministry. We are not married to our particular husbands or serving in our particular places by accident, and God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, including our temperaments. It is only when we come to God in prayer and rely on His Spirit in our work that we will lean the right way in ministry, which is always on Him.

Read More: Redefining A Woman’s Strength: The Balance of Grit and Grace

Published September 11, 2017

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Jenna Fleming

Jenna Fleming is a pastor's wife and writer whose credits include LifeWay's Journey Magazine, ERLC, True Woman blog, For the Church, and the Tennessee Baptist Reflector. She received her MA in Worship from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and now serves at home with her husband, Travis who pastors FBC Gallatin,TN. They have three children ages 7, 5, and 2. You can read Jenna's blog at or follow her on Twitter at @jennafleming81.