This wasn’t supposed to happen. The thought repeated in my mind as I wrestled to understand how everything had gone so wrong. My husband had taken his first full-time ministry position after seminary, but somehow, within a short time period, we were leaving under hurtful, unanticipated circumstances. The place we had excitedly moved to, where we purchased our first home, among whom we felt called to love, serve, and pour our lives into seemed to be rejecting us. It felt like our only option was to trust God and move on.
Time and distance have now broadened my perspective of this life-altering event, and though I hope pastors and their wives will never have to experience a similar situation, I’d like to share some tools to help them navigate the situation with wisdom should it arise.
1. Expect to feel a range of emotions.
Pain will always follow any time we’re met with resistance or outright rejection after we’ve attempted to love and serve. The hurt is felt even more deeply when the church rejects us, a people and place we expect to find love and acceptance. The effects can be devastating, and the emotions are wide-ranging.
In our situation, I was truly shocked at the turn of events that took place. Then confusion set in as I analyzed every detail of the events that had unfolded. I was angry at the people I thought caused it all. My husband and I also felt alone. None of our friends had been through this. I worried about the future, but in my best moments, God graced me with peace to trust Him even though we had no idea what was next. Expect to feel a broad range of emotions.
2. Try not to cast blame.
As we mentally dissect the situation, specific faces will come to mind as well as the harm they caused. But my warning is to try not to cast blame on these people.
For starters, blaming others will only lodge seeds of bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts that can become our undoing. Forgiving those who harm us is really the only path forward, though it’s tough. The Apostle Paul provides us a great example in 2 Timothy 4:14-18.
Secondly, time will show there were many factors involved that we were blind to in the moment. Sin and its entanglements are more complex than we suppose. Spiritual warfare is usually unseen but plays an enormous role. The spiritual immaturity of the congregation or our own mistakes can also be factors. The situation may appear black and white on the surface, but time will usually reveal that finding fault is more of a complicated matter.
3. Don’t turn your back on God.
The psalmist who penned Psalm 73 saw the prosperity of the wicked and wondered what the point was in following God when it led to suffering. We may be tempted to feel this way, too, when it seems like schemers win at our expense.
We may also be tempted to question God. We believed He had a good plan for our lives in sending us to that particular church, but now it looks like He was wrong. Can He really be trusted?
With thoughts like these, we must turn our eyes to Jesus, who knew rejection well. He loved, served and forgave those who would murder Him. The cross did not look like a good plan, but the Father’s good for Jesus came 3 days later and for the rest of eternity (See Phil 2:8-11). We must lift eyes of faith beyond our temporal good and trust He is working an eternal good for us as well.
4. Guard your heart from bitterness, apathy and cynicism.
Witnessing and being the recipient of professing Christians’ sin can tempt us toward this deadly trio, but there is hardly anything more destructive to the heart of ministers and their families.
The insidious nature of bitterness, apathy, and cynicism allow pastors and their wives to say the right words, teach the right doctrines and smile at all the right times, while underneath the façade lies a deadening of the soul and faith that can leave their ministry spiritually lifeless.
I’ve written about how God led me out of cynicism, but the best warning I could give pastors and their wives would be to guard their heart from the beginning.
5. Be humble enough to learn from it.
My husband and I can now look back at the situation we were involved in and view it with new eyes. Our hurt has faded, and we’re mainly thankful for the invaluable lessons we were only able to learn by walking through that hard season.
These lessons fall into categories such as the nature of man and depravity, our own weaknesses and blind spots, what it means to love and serve others patiently and also the reality of church world/politics. We thank God for opening our eyes to these things and truly wish the very best for the church we served for that short time.
Dear pastors and wives whose church wants you to leave, God will take care of you. He sees you and loves you, and He is working even right now behind the scenes for your good. Keep trusting Him!