Pastor invloved in adulteryCharisma Magazine – Tuesday, 13 October 2009 – Tamara Lowe

Pastor Jack (not his real name) stood before his congregation in tears. He said, “I have to confess that I have been involved in an extramarital affair. Effective today I am resigning as the senior pastor of this church. I’m sorry.” The congregation sat in shocked silence. Many wept.

I never saw it coming. Just a week earlier I had taken the pastor’s beautiful wife, Angela, out to lunch. She acted as if she didn’t have a problem in the world. Everything was great. I asked her, “How did you meet Jack?” Her answer is still vivid in my mind.

She set down her salad fork and said, “We met in high school. I was a lowly freshman, and Jack was captain of the football team. He was class president and the big man on campus.

“One day he sat down next to me in the school cafeteria and asked me out on a date. I was on cloud nine! I couldn’t believe that the most popular guy in school was interested in me.” She had stars in her eyes as she told me about it. She said they had been married for 18 years and she was still smitten with Jack.

A few months later she and Jack were divorced. How could this happen? It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.

Jack and Angela were the perfect couple. He was a wonderful, compassionate pastor who taught that marriage is sacred and that adultery is a deadly trap. Angela was a supportive, loving wife. They had sweet children, a large congregation that loved them and prominence in the community. What went wrong?

The Problem No One Wants to Talk About

Divorce is an unspoken epidemic among believers. A recent report by the Barna Research Group revealed that born-again Christians are more likely to go through a marital split than non-Christians. According to the nationwide study, released in December 1999, 27 percent of those identified as born-again Christians have experienced at least one divorce. Among those who are not born again, only 24 percent are currently divorced or have been at least once.

A related study also conducted by Barna Research found that among Protestant senior pastors, 15 percent have experienced divorce. About the time that Pastor Jack resigned from his church, my husband and I were planning a ski vacation with our close friends Scott and Julie. Every winter we would rent a chalet and take our families skiing together.

Last winter they canceled and told us they were getting divorced. We were devastated. When they told me, I said, “No!” with such force that I felt my words alone could change their decision. Scott and Julie had been in ministry for 20 years. Scott was an associate pastor in a thriving church. They had served as missionaries in Brazil and were popular speakers at Christian conferences.

Their divorce became hostile, and a bitter custody battle for their two precious daughters ensued. I couldn’t shake the memory of Scott and Julie snuggling together in front of the fireplace at our chalet. How could they be getting divorced?

Living in a Glass Church

Picture the perfect pastor and his family: He is a great leader, wise and above reproach. His wife is pretty, modest and gentle. His children are well-groomed and well-behaved.

That’s the stereotype. It’s almost never the reality. But that’s the image ministers and their families feel a burden to project.

Vicki Lyons is a pastor’s daughter. She told me, “When I was growing up my mother had only two friends that she could confide in. I was one, and my sister was the other. “No matter what difficulties we were facing in our family, my parents had to act like everything was great. It seems kind of hypocritical, but we felt that we had to be an example to the congregation. Sheep panic easily. If the shepherd shows any signs of weakness the sheep scatter quickly.”

Pastors and people in ministry feel the burden to project a perfect image because we, the sheep, demand it. In subtle ways we affirm them for their “perfection.” In obvious ways we snipe at them for their imperfections.

If pastor’s wife is not leading a women’s Bible study or working in the church nursery, if pastor’s son gets his ear pierced, or if pastor preaches about giving, heaven help them. The sheep start bleating. No wonder pastors feel isolated! Everything they do and say is being scrutinized for flaws on a weekly basis.

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 speaker and author who lives in Tampa, Florida. She and her husband, Peter, have two children.


7 Responses to “When Perfect Pastors Divorce”

  1. 1 Susie

    I came across your article accidentally, I was looking for a Christian Teen conference to set our teen girls on fire for God. I was so amazed, Our Praise and Worship leader and his wife just separated last week. For the last month he stepped down and allowed others lead Praise and Worship, He has always lead us into the presents of God every service it was very odd for him to not lead us in worship.
    I was so broken hearted, but knew what a divorce does to a family. My husband and I are both products of divorces. We both married very young the first time and made the biggest mistakes of our lives marring someone for the wrong reasons. We both Believe God placed us together. We have been happily married for almost 15 years.
    Our hearts are broken for our worship leader and his wife, I know the only thing we can do is be there for both of them. That is what I told our worship leader, I have not had a chance to speak to his wife, I will make the effort to tell her we love her and we will be there for and her husband. I really liked your article, thank you for it. Divorce is a hard life’s challenge.

  2. 2 Rev Julie Shannon

    I am a senior Pastor of a small church and also the director of a global church network that links approx 400 Christian churches worldwide . I enjoyed reading the article and have found unfortunately the same issues over and over again. The amount of pressure for Pastors and those in leadership of local congregations to be “perfect” is immense and sadly many succumb to the easy option of “pretending” to live rather than to live lives risking relationship. I also have the added pressure of being a woman in senior leadership, and even though I’m supported and encouraged by my husband, it is expected that he also should be in leadership in the church, but he isn’t. He has his own company and works very hard and is blessed through his vocation. He also blesses and ministers love to many people outside of the four walls of the church (which is another issue we could discuss!).
    The only issue I have with this article is the fact that it is assumed that the Pastor would be a “He” with a wife at his side. Spare a thought for us “She” pastors who have to contend with patriarchal theology, superwoman expectations and articles that seem to forget that we exist.
    I love my call and the God that called me, and I really do appreciate the prayers of the many people who have and do pray for myself and my family, and also accept us just as we are…human beings.

  3. 3 Peter Robins

    This topic has always been of concern to me. In the past I’ve seen many pastors families who have suffered in silence for long periods with little real support, just the constant expectation of perfection, as the pastor has to be all things to all people.
    Thankfully that paradigm is shifting for many people and churches.
    Pentecostal churches in particular have begun to realise that the church is an organism, not an organisation, and that all parts of the body of Christ need to function correctly and cohesively.
    We’re all fallible human beings, so we need to do two main things:
    1: Support our pastors and leaders and understand that they too suffer from human failings and stresses;
    2: Realise that nobody in the church is perfect, and that leaving a church for personal problems, perceptions or gripes is not going to fix those issues, just transfer them, through us, to another church.
    As the article says, support your leaders and commit them to prayer in the most powerful ways you can, but realise also, as the Word says, we are victorious in Jesus Christ. This does not mean we’re perfect, or that everything will be peachy all the time, just that we’re covered by the Blood of the Lamb of God. We’re on the winning side and we all need to act as though we fully accept that fact, and live in Godly unity, supporting and loving everyone we come into contact with, but especially our leaders. Give them space to live and to lead.
    This can be worked out through the greatest commandment as told by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength;” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The solution to every ramification of human relationships and frailty is wrapped up in these statements.

  4. 4 Daphne Boyd

    THERE ARE FEW WHO WHO STAND TO TELL THE TRUTH WHEN THE TRUTH MATTERS THE MOST……

    TAMARA REVEALS HER HEART AND KNOWS FROM EXPERIECE THE FICKLE NATURE A CROWD, YES EVEN A CHURCH CROWD, CAN BRING TO BEAR ON A HUMAN SITUATION WHICH CALLS FOR GODLY MATURE ACTIONS………JEREMIAH 29:11 THANKFULLY, THOSE PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORM OF BAD JUDEMENT OR HUMAN MISTAKES ULTIMATELY LISTEN TO GOD THROUGH HIS WORD AND HIS PROMISES AND EVEN THOUGH SOMETIMES NOT RETURNED TO THEIR ORIGINAL WORK FOR GOD, THEY RETURN TO GOD REFRESHED AND OF CONTINUED PURPOSE TO SERVE GOD……………………..TRUE LOVERS OF GOD ARE LOVERS OF PEOPLE, NO MATTER THE FAILINGS OR PROMOTIONS DURING OUR TIME ON THIS PLANET…………………….

    DAPHNE BOYD
    EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE ROLE MODELS SERIES, BROADCAST
    ROLEMODLTV@AOL.COM.COM

  5. 5 Robin

    I am writing as the new wife of a Pastor. We were married 08-08-08. It lasted a few months. He grew up in the Church. I was saved at 39 years old. He is divorced, has 3 children. Blamed his ex for the divorce. Now he is divorcing me. He grew up in the Church. He has led thousands to salvation. He is a writer. He has a doctorate degree he just obtained. He helped start his Church 7 years ago. Not only is he divorcing me so is his Church. I feel the pain deeply. Finally having done everything right to only be rejected by a Pastor and the church. I am devastated. He is a very prominent man and works for a large Christian Organization. I wonder how this happened?! I have seen the very real face of man not just my husband … I am far from perfect but divorce? and rejection I desperately need the prayers of the people. I dont know how the Church feels … they are not reaching out. I appreciate the words of kindness for the Pastors wives … and hearts who care for them behind the scenes It gives me a better perspective. I am still trusting in the Lord as I know he is in control Its not over until he says its over. I have not received divorce papers but have been asked to return to my former church … My heart is broken so very broken

  6. 6 Sandi

    I will be praying for you Robin. Leave him to the Lord!! Just because someone says that they are a Christian or even a pastor, prophet, etc. you have to check the fruit out and see if it lines up with the word, there are a lot of fakers and the word tells us to be watchful because they will come out in droves towards the end times (paraphrased). I pray healing over your broken heart, in Jesus’ Name!!!

  7. 7 LRC

    I am also a worship pastor’s wife, currently. I have experienced the pain of a neglected marriage for several years. I do not wish for it to go on any longer. We just spoke with our senior pastor& his wife the other night. Since I have been contemplating separation for five years, knowing full well the rammifications and who my decision affects (we have 3 children), I still know in my heart that his ministry will come first. This was confirmed by our senior pastor. I left my calling , dreams and hops when we moved. Now we are here, in a new place, and not much has changed from the old. I cannot walk this road with him. I grew up with him, we’ve been married for ten years. Ministry and “dying to self” is what I have known and practiced.

    It has become evident to me that this cycle of our marriage coming second or third will continue “for the greater purpose that God has for the church at large”. I was told again, it’s more than just about my happiness. I’ve heard that for years. Unfortunately, I know that what God calls us to is not misery. I am not in pursuit of supreme happiness. I know that marriage and love are more than just about feelings and infatuation. I know that both sides must choose to love. I know what mistakes I’ve made in the past, and take full responsibility for them. I have gone to counseling with him and alone. I cannot live in a life in which I am trapped, supressed, and not free to be who I know God has called me to be. I

    will put my children as the central priority right now, but as for marriage, I am afraid that I do not know what that means or is anymore. I do not wish to pursue that relationship with who was once called my husband. I know that sounds horrible, and I understand the recoil of most around me. I am accountable to Christ first and foremost, and I myself do not condone divorce, and I know this decision is mine to make alone, with repercussions falling heavily on my heart, soul ,and mind.

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