Debra is a pastor's wife with a 16-year-old daughter. Her daughter, Amy, is an outgoing, loving, involved member of the congregation. She helps teach Sunday school and is active in the youth group. By all accounts she is a devoted Christian teen-ager.
Last summer Amy committed the unpardonable sin of highlighting her hair with lemon juice. So many people complained to the pastor and his wife about it that Debra finally addressed the issue at a ladies meeting.
She said, "A number of people have commented about my daughter's hair. They've said we shouldn't let her color her hair. They've said she's too young, it symbolizes rebellion, she's trying to attract attention, all kinds of things.
"Ladies, Amy is 16 years old. She put lemon juice in her hair. She didn't do drugs. She didn't commit an immoral act. She simply put lemon juice in her hair."
With all the pressure their congregants put on them, is it any wonder ministers and their families become so skilled at projecting a "perfect"image that when they have marital problems, it's easier to live a lie than to expose the truth? Usually the congregation doesn't find out until it's past the point of reconciliation.
THE PRICE OF PASTORAL DIVORCE When someone in the ministry gets a divorce a lot of people get hurt. If it is your pastor there is a sense of personal betrayal. "How could they do this to us?" For the pastor's family there is a deep feeling of shame and abandonment.
What can we do to stand in the gap for pastors and their families? Here are some practical ways we can reach out to our pastors in the hope that they don't end up as another statistic of divorce.
Consistently pray for your pastor. Make it a regular discipline in your prayer time. Don't just pray, "God bless pastor"; do spiritual warfare! Bind principalities and powers that would seek to destroy his marriage and children.
Implore the Spirit of God to move mightily in their lives. Station mighty angels of God around their home and children to push back the forces of darkness that try to attack them. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you specific guidance so that you can pray effectively. Pray also for associate ministers, missionaries and other Christian leaders that you support.
Give the pastor and his family time together. Encourage them to take family vacations and getaways. Pastors live their lives in a fishbowl. They need some private times with their spouse and children.
Give them a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, and offer to baby-sit their children. Encourage others in the congregation to do the same. If someone in the congregation has a vacation home, suggest that it would be a blessing to let the pastor's family use it for a week. Buy them tickets to a sports event, concert or circus. Create opportunities for them to be together.
Assure the pastor and his family members that they are loved and accepted. Tell them plainly that no one expects them to be perfect. Let them know that the congregation is committed to them and that it's OK to be vulnerable. Many times pastors don't realize that when they share their weaknesses it encourages the congregation to also be open with their faults.
What should you do if you know a minister who is going through a separation or divorce?
Here are some ideas for reaching out to pastors and their families in the midst of marital crisis.
Do not abandon them! They need friends who will love them. At first they may try to retreat and regroup. They may not answer the phone, or they may want to get out of town. That's a common behavior for pastors and their spouses in the midst of separation or divorce.
Another thing that's common is for their friends and family members to bail out of their lives as if they were jumping from the deck of the sinking Titanic. Don't flee the scene. Someone has to stick around to love them.
Encourage them to see a Christian counselor. Be a shoulder to cry on and a friend to pray with, but always steer them toward a godly impartial counselor. Whether the end result is divorce or reconciliation, counseling is needed.
Assure them of the love of God. When a pastor gets divorced he doesn't lose just a spouse; he loses everything--his job, his identity, his home, respectability, financial stability--and seemingly, even the love of God. The same is true for his wife. Many times he is stripped of his credentials and thinks he is disqualified for future ministry.
Reassure both of them that God loves them and that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (see Rom. 11:29). God is close to the contrite and brokenhearted. He will bring restoration and healing as they draw close to Him.
Tamara Lowe is a noted speaker and author.
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