Q: If a member of a congregation confides in a pastor or teacher, should this person be able to assume that the information will be shared with the spouse of the caned worker?
A: Confidentiality ought to be given top priority when led workers of the Gospel are privy to information at arises from counseling a congregational member. This is necessary not only from the standpoint of professionalism, but most importantly from the standpoint of the called servant’s desire to observe what God has stated in the Eighth Commandment. Out of love for the counselee’s soul, it is suggested that pastors and teachers refrain from sharing damaging and embarrassing facts with their spouses, so that nothing will hinder the application of the Law and Gospel to the counselee’s troubling situation. It should remembered that the spouse of a called pastor or teacher is not a co-participant in duties and responsibilities of the Divine Call, even though the spouse serves a very important supportive role.
Pastors and teachers have to use good judgment on the kinds of things they share from the life of the church or school, when they are at home in their parsonages and teacherages. This particularly is the case when it is obvious that a spouse may have a hard time keeping sensitive information secret, or may have the tendency to wish to meddle in the affairs of the called worker. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” Proverbs 11:13. And the Apostle Paul writes in I Timothy 5: “And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”
What can be shared and what cannot be shared by the pastor or teacher with his spouse cannot always be determined with certainty. Called workers may at times need to talk over difficult matters in the congregation with their spouses, so that they feel encouraged to go on serving in their’ appropriate callings. But it would be terribly unwise for a called worker to share something with his spouse which he knows could undermine the “confidentiality” of his ministry, as well as risk the spiritual growth of his own spouse.
In 1980 Pastor Hugo Handberg delivered an excellent essay on this very subject. The title of his essay was “How Involved Should a Spouse be in a Spouse’s Ministry?” Permit me to quote here from one of his closing paragraphs: “Servants of God are entitled to spouses, and it ought to be a foregone conclusion among us that, when a congregation acting in the name of God Himself, calls a teacher or a pastor to labor in its midst, the spouse ought to give the utmost respect to that call. Other things ought to take care of themselves quite readily, especially under the guidance of common sense sanctified by God the Holy Spirit.”