Ben and Lynley Mandrell recently discussed how starting their podcast, “The Glass House,” has given them an opportunity to share their struggles as well as encourage pastors and their wives.
Through The Glass House, a Lifeway Christian Resources podcast, the couple helps address challenges ministry leaders and their families often face. Ben Mandrell, Lifeway’s president, and his wife, Lynley, were recent guests on TAB Media “Special Report,” hosted by Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Rash and co-host Margaret Colson, special assignments editor.
In discussing how their podcast began, Ben said it was on a walk with his wife during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“We were talking about the number of pastors and their wives we know who were struggling with some personal issues as they were also trying to lead their churches during this time of crisis,” Ben said.
Living in a glass house
Lynley told her husband on that walk that she thought it was difficult living in a glass house, referring to the challenges of ministry.
“I remember saying that’s a really good title for a podcast,” Ben recalled. “We were also going through a season in our own marriage where the more we talked out loud about our own challenges, the more we sensed that we were not alone.
“Dealing with emotional issues in the life of a pastor and a pastor’s wife, as you’re trying to lead a local church, can be difficult and we feel like we help them by just exposing some of these things and talking about them,” Ben said.
The Glass House and its positive effects have been a surprise for the couple, they noted. He related that they were asked to speak at a local church on the topic of Soul Care, but at the time they were actually in counseling themselves and their marriage was unhealthy.
“It connected so deeply that we were not prepared for [it], and had so many conversations afterwards,” Lynley said. “We were thinking, ‘Goodness, what the churches are going through right now. There’s a lot of emotional unhealth that is not talked about, so how can we talk about that in a way that brings it to light?’
“For me, if we can’t be honest about it, then we can’t help others. I just think, ‘Let’s be completely honest about what’s going on and maybe our brokenness, our story, will help someone else.’”
Ben, who was elected as Lifeway’s 10th president in June 2019, previously was pastor of churches in Colorado and Tennessee, so taking the role at Lifeway presented new challenges.
In discussing how employees at Lifeway have responded to the podcast and hearing about the difficulties the Mandrells have faced, Ben said he thinks it’s been good.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve gotten closer to people in the organization as I’ve been real about some of the challenges of leaving a church that we love to come to an organization in a state of transition and trouble,” he explained. “It was very hard on us, and just talking about the difficulty of transition and working through new seasons of life has created more connections with our employees and I think made us a little more relatable.”
He added that one of the biggest surprises of the podcast has been the impact on pastors’ wives.
“We talk a lot about pastors but the pastor’s wife gets a lot less attention, but the role is so critical to the life of the church — and she struggles,” Ben said. “As we’ve heard from lots of pastors’ wives, it’s been encouraging to know that’s an area we need to dig into.”
When Ben took over as Lifeway president, the organization, according to him, was in a difficult place and he discussed how that affected him and the family when they made the transition.
“I think we all have moments when we can relate to people walking outside that boat and feeling a little overwhelmed by the size of the waves, and there’s no doubt that coming to Lifeway in and of itself was a challenge,” Ben said. “And you pile COVID on top of that and churches not gathering and stores closing … but there were some things that really needed attention.”
Unfortunately, the attention he gave Lifeway drew it away from Lynley.
“All my attention went to those issues, and I essentially emotionally abandoned Lynley for a while as I was trying to get that under control,” Ben explained. “Through that struggle, I learned so much about what intimacy is.”
He confessed to trying to take all Lifeway’s problems on his own shoulders, resulting in damage to their marriage.
“Many pastors and wives relate to that,” Ben said. “That he’s carrying the burden of the church, he’s not involving her, they’re not doing it together, and in that case, church can tear your marriage apart if you’re not trying to lead and minister together.”
The couple said they learned that brokenness and vulnerability are big parts of what it means to be human.
“We can’t ignore our brokenness and fragility,” Ben asserted. “Things like sadness, shame, guilt — these emotions, if we ignore them, we ignore them to our peril.”
Lynley noted her naivety in thinking things would be the same at Lifeway as they had been on staff at their church.
“When we took the job at Lifeway, naively we just said we’re doing Lifeway together because we were in the pastoral ministry mindset,” she explained. “Corporate ministry is very different.”
The Glass House has helped her feel more included.
“We’ve adjusted our expectations,” Ben added. “Lifeway is on a new trajectory and we’re really excited about [it], but it takes time for things to take flight. We’re learning to embrace that. This is a different kind of leadership where it doesn’t rest on Sunday to Sunday. It’s more year-to-year and it takes time for things to develop.”
As far as Lifeway’s future given recent changes, Ben said, “The closing of the bookstores was a massive change in the focus of Lifeway. I keep saying it this way — it wasn’t 174 bookstores. It was 174 counseling centers. People were coming into those stores and they were having marriage problems and they were having church problems and that was a counseling center. This is why the organization struggled so much with letting the stores go even though the finances were heading in the wrong direction.”
‘It’s okay to struggle’
Ben said the new challenge for the company is getting back in touch with local churches.
“We’ve got to be more conversational, more relational, more approachable to church leaders,” he explained, “because the tools and resources we make, that churches buy in bulk, really are the engine for Lifeway’s mission.
“The local church is God’s Plan A for fixing and redeeming the world — not bookstores.”
The struggles the Mandrells have faced also have helped them teach their teenage children that it’s okay to struggle, and there is help available.
“We are amazed that there is very little training on how to handle your emotions,” Ben said. “What do you do when you get angry? What do you do when you’re sad? As we have conversations as a family about what to do with your anger, those are equipping and important conversations.”
Emotions and how to effectively handle them has become a key aspect of The Glass House. Ben said season one is about core emotions everyone feels, but are uniquely felt in pastoral ministries.
“There’s a whole episode on a pastor who confesses a significant challenge he has with anxiety,” Ben explained. “That is so freeing to many other pastors and pastor’s wives who struggle with the same thing. This is why listening is so important in evangelism today. When you find a wound, you find an open door.
“I think we might be too focused on getting the right truths in front of people and trying to make sure they’re processing cognitively what the gospel means,” Ben continued, “when the whole thing starts with relationships and finding out where people have experienced these hard things in life and getting them to open up about it.”
Called to be faithful
The podcast, although marketed toward pastors and their wives, is applicable to anyone, Lynley said.
“I think it’s interesting — the laypeople hearing it may not realize some of the things their pastors are struggling with.”
Looking back at the move the couple made from Colorado to Nashville and all they went through, Ben wonders if he would do it again.
“Had I known how painful it was going to be then,” he said, “I would not have done it because it hurt. It still hurts. It is not comfortable, but I don’t think God calls us to comfort. He calls us to be faithful.”
To watch the entire TAB Media Special Report go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHO6Zg-qNAo.