A little history that may explain why I’m having a difficult time walking away from our church experience this last year without resolution or reconciliation:
My husband was forced out of his first ministry job by a small group of people in a manipulative way that was veiled in secrecy. There were never any charges brought against him, no explanation given…he had done nothing morally or Biblically wrong. He had simply fallen short of the desires/unvoiced expectations of some very influential men in the church…men who could change what they did not like without revealing their actions to the church body. We were “encouraged” to quietly look for another job and then the church would make it appear as though it was our choice to leave. We were young. We were naïve. And we were nearly destroyed by the experience. The church as a whole never knew what actually transpired behind the scenes….and that included some of our closest friends. We moved on to another church…only to witness the same thing happening to the pastor of that church. Unable to stomach the devastation again and again, my husband resigned and we left full-time ministry completely.
Eventually we returned to that original church where we had first served…only this time as “regular” church members. And this is the church where we witnessed the forced resignations of two ministers this last year…amidst manipulation and secrecy. Sounding familiar. When church members encourage me to move on and get over the events of the last 18 months, I have a bit of baggage to haul on my journey toward renewed religious bliss. It’s just not that simple.
After the second minister was forced to resign last year, I wrote a letter to the committee who made the decisions without providing either minister with a list of allegations, a formal complaint, a chance for reconciliation or a Biblical basis for their decision. I have not shared it publicly, but now I feel I need to put it “out there”…
…for those ministers’ wives who have experienced similar circumstances and been forced to keep it to themselves.
…for the ministers’ wives who have yet to experience it, but likely will during their lifetime in the ministry.
…for the “regular” church members who are kept in the dark by committees, deacons and teachers who feel it is “above their pay grade” to know the truth about what is actually taking place in their church.
…for friends and family members of these ministers’ wives who don’t fully understand the seemingly disproportionate amount of pain and anger.
…for the minister/husband who falls victim to these Clergy Killers and then becomes the recipient of his wife’s subsequent emotional breakdown.
… for the children of the ministers who live through these events and have their lives turned upside down…having to move, change lifestyles and live with the awkwardness of the situation.
My desire to speak out is no longer about seeking change in our current situation because the leadership seems to be making it clear through their actions, inactions and words, that they will not report to the church as a whole the truth of what happened in the past 18 month…and they will not make an apology to these ministers nor address the untruths and subsequent rumors that are still circulating around our community about these men today (I would love for someone to correct me here…with action, not words). I will learn to live with that. I will not, however, keep my experiences to myself because there are too many ministers, wives, children and believers in Christ struggling through similar situations…alone and isolated. There is healing and strength in knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle. So, for those who struggle, here’s the letter that described the truth of my experience:
Dear Members of the ***** Committee,
I would like to ask you to pray for [the wives of the ministers forced to resign] in the days ahead. I know the range of emotions and the depth of despair they are encountering at the moment and will encounter in the days, months and years to come. Life will move on and they will eventually re-engage in normal living, but they will be changed forever because of their experience at [this church]. They will fight disillusionment with the church, anger that their husbands’ integrity has been questioned and feelings of helplessness to ease the burden on their husbands. They will fight anxiety that, at times, may be debilitating…both physically and emotionally. They will watch as their husbands struggle with the burden of finding another job and providing for their families. They will try to convince their husbands that they did not fail the Lord or their families and they are still worthy of being ministers. They will have a hard time trusting church members again with their thoughts, feel suspicious of people in church leadership and feel abandoned by the church. At times the stress of the situation will cause them to unleash their anger and hurt on the only person with whom they feel safe…their husband…causing further stress. They will experience the accusatory looks from church members and members of our community who were given inaccurate information as grounds for their husbands being asked to resign. They will struggle to bury their anger and disappointment for the sake of their children. They will try to teach their children to trust in a foundation that has been rocked to the core in their own lives. And they will try to take people’s advice to “get over it” and “move on” because “it is in the past”. No one will be able to tell them how long the pain will last and no one will be able to speed up the process of moving past it. Only the Lord will be able to heal their hearts…in His timing. And, just when they think their healing is complete, they will witness another minister’s wife start the awful journey. The pain will be fresh and new…and the process will start again.
I know these things to be true because my husband was a minister in this church 25 years ago and, like [the two ministers who were forced to resign], he was asked to leave this church under similar circumstances. We left this church for another with the words of staff and deacons ringing in our ears…”May the Lord richly bless your ministry and your family in your new place of service.” Just 2 short years later in our new place of service we witnessed the whole process again…this time as a bystander. As we watched the church slander and tear apart the ministry of our Pastor in the new church, we knew that we could no longer serve in church ministry. We made the choice to leave church ministry. Ultimately we returned to [this community] to be near family and friends. We made the tough choice to rejoin [this church] as a testament of our faith in the Lord’s ability to heal broken hearts and relationships. We have served in this church as laypeople for the last 18 years and rarely spoken of our experience here 25 years ago.
The struggles I mentioned above were mine. Maybe ministering to the brokenhearted wives of ministers was God’s calling on my life from the beginning. I would not have chosen this ministry for myself. In my case, it took 12 long torturous years and the words of my then- 4 year old son to finally start my healing. The other ministers on our staff and their wives have just witnessed the same heartbreak. They, too, will feel many of the emotions I mentioned above. Please join me in praying for [the two wives mentioned above] and ***** (as her husband has been questioned and was mentioned numerous times in [the business meeting last night])...for as long as it takes the Lord to restore in them what we have robbed.
That letter was written 15 months ago. I bet if you asked the ministers’ wives mentioned in the letter if I got close to the mark on what they have experienced, they’d tell you it was pretty accurate. If you know a family who has experienced a forced resignation, ask them. They would probably be relieved to share their experience. Honesty feels better than secrecy…especially when it’s met with genuine concern.