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Posts Tagged ‘healing in the pastor’s family’

On May 21, I wrote an article called Five Tough Questions about Pastoral Termination.  In that blog post, I answered four questions that a forced-out pastor asked me several weeks ago.

But I didn’t answer this question:

What steps can the family take who has been affected by the trauma [of forced termination]? (My wife is having a hard time considering being back into a ministry position…she does not want to allow herself to be vulnerable again).

Why didn’t I answer this question?

Because the answer is complex and I needed time to think about my response.

If you’ve ever been fired from a job, then you know how humiliating the experience is … how difficult it is to explain to others … and how anxious you feel about finding a new job and being able to provide financially for your family.

But you still have your friends … your church family … your house … and your life.

However, when a pastor is forced out of office, his family usually loses nearly all their church friends … their church … sometimes their house (and credit rating) … and their life as they know it.

And the kicker is that all these losses are inflicted … often with malice and glee … by the hands of professing Christians.

So how does a pastor’s family heal after termination?

Let me offer seven brief ideas:

First, the pastor and his wife need to find several trusting friends they can confide in.

These friends need to be good listeners … empathetic … compassionate … wise … and very, very safe.

It doesn’t matter if they’re inside or outside the church.  What matters most is that they’re trustworthy.

In my case, I confided in two former board chairmen, several pastoral colleagues, and a few other friends.  To my knowledge, nobody turned on me.

My wife had several church friends that came and ministered to her … but she also confided in a few people who later turned on her … to the point that someone once told me, “So-and-So is not your friend.”

If the pastor and his wife discover that someone has definitely sold them out, the most prudent thing to do is to cut off all contact with them immediately… including Facebook and LinkedIn … and this is not an easy step to take.  It feels so final.

Second, the pastor and his wife need to locate a Christian counselor who specializes in counseling Christian leaders.

Most major population centers have plenty of Christian counselors … licensed psychologists and psychiatrists whose primary focus is the local Christian world.

And within that counseling community are counselors who specialize in listening to and advising pastors, missionaries, the leaders of other Christian organizations … and their wives.

I was blessed to have a long-term personal and professional relationship with a counselor who was so valued that some Christian leaders flew into town just to see him.

Why see a counselor?

For three main reasons:

*To properly assess responsibility for your departure: how much was yours and how much was the church’s.

*To express your pain to someone who can interpret it and offer ideas for healing.

*To create a game plan for your future.

How do you find counselors with this kind of experience?

*Ask the pastors who live in your area.

*Ask other Christian counselors that you know.

*Call your Bible college/seminary and ask for referrals.

*Call several megachurches in your area and ask for referrals.

*Contact several counselors and see who can make room for you.

While our conflict was ongoing, my wife and I were extremely blessed to be referred to a Christian counselor in a nearby city.  She had been a pastor’s wife for thirty years and understood both church conflict and spiritual warfare.

And when we moved to another state, we found another counselor who met with us both separately and together.

My research indicates that only twenty percent of all pastors who undergo forced termination seek a Christian counselor for healing.  This means that four out of five pastors try to heal without the compassion and insights gleaned from someone who is trained to help hurting leaders.

How do you pay for this counseling?

In our case, we used our tithe.  Since we no longer had a home church, we designated those funds for “kingdom ministry.”

Faced with the same set of circumstances, I’d do it again.

Third, speak appropriately with family members about your feelings.

Here’s what I mean by “appropriately”:

There are times when it’s fitting for a pastor, his wife, and their children to discuss how they feel about being forced to leave their church.

Such times differ from family to family.

For example, some children may need to discuss their father’s dismissal on a regular basis.  They may need reassurance that God still loves them or that God will provide for their family financially.

But other children may not want to know anything about their dad’s departure.  It’s too traumatic.

So rather than just launching into a tirade unannounced … and we’ve all been there … it might be wiser to ask your family, “I feel a need to discuss how I’m feeling right now.  Is anyone open to hearing my feelings?”

If someone is, speak with them privately.  If they’re not open, then don’t force them to listen.

Although it’s not easy to do, most emotional “dumping” should be done with a friend or a Christian counselor.

On the one hand, it’s toxic to a family’s well-being to discuss the termination all the time.

On the other hand, it’s dysfunctional not to acknowledge the pain involved on occasion.

The general rule of thumb is that the children heal before their parents … and that it can take a terminated pastor one to three years to heal.

I beg of the pastor’s family: give him plenty of room to be human … and don’t expect him to heal overnight.

The older he is, and the longer he was in a church, the more time he’ll need to heal.

Fourth, take some trips/vacations as soon as possible.

After the trauma of termination, a pastor’s family needs to have some fun.

If they don’t have much money, they might take a few weekends off … stay with family or friends in other locales … go camping together … or enjoy a staycation at home.

If they do have some money saved … or if the pastor received a good separation package … then the pastor’s family should take a week and go somewhere that will lift everyone’s spirits.

The time away will help the pastor and his family to feel safe … to regain perspective … and to reconnect with family.

In our case, my wife visited family in Texas, and then we went to the East Coast for a vacation.  (Someone gave us their time share in Virginia.)

You might not have this time again for a while … so take advantage of it.

Make some good memories.

Fifth, the pastor and his wife can benefit from a Wellness Retreat.

About a month after we left our last church, we flew to Tennessee for a five-day, four-night Wellness Retreat sponsored by a Christian organization that specializes in helping pastors who have experienced forced termination.

The retreat was a place to make new friends … tell our individual stories … express our pain … receive encouragement and guidance … and leave feeling inspired.

As I recall, there were about twelve of us attending the retreat, and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

We learned why forced terminations occur in general … received insights into our own situations … and had plenty of time to ask questions and trade ideas.

The retreat is offered on a scholarship basis.  The only cost to the pastoral couple is transportation.

I highly recommend this retreat.  If you’d like to receive more information, please email me at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org and I’ll be glad to put you in touch with the retreat’s organizer.

Sixth, consider attending church somewhere but avoid getting involved until you’re nearly healed.

Every pastoral couple has several options when it comes to church attendance after a termination:

*Avoid church altogether.  There were Sundays when we didn’t have the strength to get up and go to church (giving us insight as to why some Christians in our ministries missed church!), but we went most of the time.  But when we didn’t go, we didn’t feel guilty and viewed it as part of the healing process.

*Visit many kinds of churches.  This might be a good time to visit churches that you wouldn’t normally visit: mainline churches … charismatic churches … new church starts … smaller churches in your community … and churches where you know the pastor.

*Visit churches so you can find a church home.  In our case, it took six months to find a church home … and we ended up returning to a church we had already rejected and loving it.

*Visit a megachurch and just veg.  Find a good church nearby and just take it all in.  Sit in the back row.  Come a little late.  Leave when the service closes.  Get involved if you want to but don’t feel like you have to serve every Sunday.

*Find a church where you can serve.  During the first year, you’re still wounded … and tender … and emotional.  If you try and serve as a volunteer too soon, all those negative feelings may come pouring back into your mind and spirit whenever something goes wrong.

My wife and I have learned to avoid (a) new church plants; (b) churches that meet in schools; and (c) small churches.  The larger the church, the better … at least for the first year …  and maybe longer.

Finally, unilaterally forgive those who have hurt you without expecting reconciliation.

One year after a pastor and his wife leave a church, my guess is that those who “got rid of the pastor” feel exactly the same way.  They haven’t “seen the light” … haven’t repented of any wrongdoing … and have only hardened their position.

So reconciliation … enemies becoming friends once again … is almost impossible for you to achieve.

Since you can’t meet with those who hurt you … to hear their side, to ask forgiveness, and to express your pain to them … the best you can do is to forgive your detractors unilaterally.

This transaction happens between you and God.  You either:

*ask God to forgive them, or

*tell God that you have forgiven them.

Ask God when and how you should do it … but realize that your healing will be delayed until you take this step.

_______________

It’s been five-and-a-half years since my wife and I left our last church.  In my case:

*I think about our former ministry nearly every day.

*My wife and I still talk about that church from time-to-time.

*I know I will never be a pastor again.

*I still miss certain friends from that church.

*I am grateful for all that God did through us during the ten-and-a-half years we were there.

*I believe that God’s timing in rushing us out of the church was perfect … I just didn’t like His methodology.

I have accepted the fact that I will always be wounded … but that doesn’t mean that I’m bitter.

You may be wounded for the rest of your days as well, but so was Moses … so was Jesus … and so was Paul … and they were all used by God in a greater way because of their wounds.

I recall a quote from A.W. Tozer that went something like this: “God only greatly uses those whom He has crushed.”

If you’ve been crushed as I have, it’s entirely possible that your best ministry isn’t the last one you left … it’s the next one that God has in store for you.

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