A pastor’s worst nightmare…

A pastors worst nightmare

His wife stops believing in Christ and backs out of church. One such pastor’s wife shares her story with Mary Davis for EN.

EN: Take us right back. What were your early experiences of the Lord?

PW: Although only one of my parents was a Christian, I was a well taught child, through church and by nightly family prayers.

I had religious thoughts, even remarkable answers to prayer which impressed me enormously. As a teenager, I went to a women’s Bible study group and I gradually realised the girls knew the Lord in a way I didn’t. One day, I understood for the first time what Jesus’s death meant for me — that my own sins could be forgiven and I need not fear meeting God on judgment day. Soon after, I went to university and got involved in the Christian Union straight away.

EN: Would you say that your faith then was genuine?

PW: I think, yes. I was considered a strong Christian — I knew the Bible and Christian doctrine and took a leading role in Christian activities. I married a Christian man, he trained for ministry and, as the pastor’s wife, I was very involved with our congregations. It was a joy and privilege. Did I know the Lord himself? I think the answer must be ‘yes’, but not as well as I should have done. I had let head knowledge and past experiences replace a close, ongoing, personal walk with my Saviour. I guess my subsequent experience emphasises the truth of 1 Corinthians 10.12: ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’

EN: But you started drifting away from the Lord. What happened?

PW: I was very tired from juggling family and church. My husband and I had been close in our early years, but we drifted apart because of the pressures on us. We have very different personalities and the differences were highlighted by poor communication and lack of time together. I became lonely and disillusioned with my marriage, and thought things would never change.

With my husband often absent, I felt like a single parent — dealing with parenting issues on my own. Having married young, I hadn’t had a career. I felt a lack of personal fulfilment. Also, my mother’s death caused further emotional trauma and tiredness. I ended up totally overwhelmed and hopeless, and felt God was doing nothing to help me. Worse, I blamed him for putting me in a position where I had to accept everything and couldn’t complain. As a pastor’s wife, you can feel obliged to endure anything so as not to jeopardise the Lord’s work. I now realise the Lord was there all the time, but I’d stopped looking to him. My personal prayer life and daily Bible reading had vanished under the relentless daily routine and, with it, my vital lifeline to God’s presence and help. If I have just one message from all this, it must be: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life’ (Proverbs 4.23).

EN: Where did you look for direction?

PW: I went back to work, which brought me some success and satisfaction. Despite God’s kindness in this, I was very rebellious towards him. I became so angry and hopeless that I consciously gave up my faith. I’m not sure whether I turned my back on God (but still believed in him), or decided there was no God. At first I think it was the former. However, as I continued to ignore him, I didn’t like the bitterness and hardness I saw in myself, so I tried very hard to believe that God didn’t exist. Rather than being bitter because God had deliberately sent me so many troubles, I tried to believe that ‘these things just happen’, so bitterness was irrelevant.

EN: Why did you stay in the marriage?

PW: I think God used several providential factors to ‘hedge me in’: health problems, fear of hurting our parents and, perhaps, most of all, my maternal instincts that didn’t want my children’s lives to be damaged.

I stopped going to church. I tried to keep up appearances for a while — but I felt such a hypocrite and so miserable that my husband finally suggested I stop going. It felt terrible at first, and I rather thought the sky might fall in, but it didn’t. I’m not sure we managed the process well. We kept it quiet, which was probably a mistake, as my husband didn’t immediately get the support he needed (though he later confided in friends). We dropped out of Christian society as a couple. Busy urban life, or perhaps embarrassment or sensitivity, meant that most people left us to it.

EN: Looking back, what do you think was going on in your life and heart?

PW: To be truthful, I hadn’t thought about it much before now. I believe the Lord kept me, even though I was consciously rebelling against him. He graciously prevented me from wrecking my life and the lives of my family. He graciously guided me in my working life and things I learnt then were later wonderfully ‘recycled’ in family experiences.

I wonder whether I was a ‘lost sheep’ or a ‘prodigal daughter’? Perhaps an amalgam of the two? Looking back, it seems to me that the Christian life is much more personal and complex and challenging than I realised in my youth and I think young believers ought to be taught that the Christian life is a journey, not a one-off conversion event with a plateau-like experience after it. I guess that is the vital message of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

EN: You were ‘away from the Lord’ for 14 years. What brought you back?

PW: The immediate event was the astonishing conversion of one of our children. He had left Christianity in adult life, causing me major spiritual discouragement. But God saved him and changed him.

During my years away, I thought constantly about issues of faith. I read lots and listened to debates, but found secular answers increasingly unsatisfactory. They didn’t seem to go the heart of the matter. The problem of evil had always troubled me — but there was also the ‘problem’ of good. Where did it come from? And there was personal morality. I didn’t like the darkness and lovelessness developing in my own heart without God. It seemed to bear out the truth of the gospel.

Our marriage was gradually rebuilt. Through many pressures in our family life and my work life, my husband was a tower of strength to me. His kindness and support warmed my heart towards him in love and gratitude and the Lord gave us opportunities to rebuild and strengthen our marriage.

Christian friends let me pour out my feelings to them — and it was often what they did which helped and impressed me, their unconditional love, the way they lived, rather than what they said or believed. Regardless of their faults, they seemed to have a quality of life that was undeniably more loving and selfless than unbelievers — though I had some kind unbelieving friends too. All these things, including, I’ve no doubt, many prayers for me, played a part in my eventual return to faith.

EN: Do you have any advice for young couples in the ministry — or couples in general?

PW: God’s timescales are longer than ours. My husband and I could easily be another statistic of a broken marriage — it would have been easy to give up. I claim no credit — as I said, I think I was prevented from leaving. Working through issues and growing in knowledge of one another, and, most of all, knowledge of God and his ways, has brought solidity and depth to our relationship. So I would urge couples to persevere and not give up.

The Bible stresses the importance of patience — the thought of God’s patience with us should make us patient with one another, in marriage and other relationships. He has loved us so patiently and faithfully when we didn’t deserve it at all. It is hard to be patient, sometimes heart-breaking, but God’s ways are so different from our ways and they genuinely work best.

Young ministry couples need to make sure they give quality time to their own relationship and don’t take one another for granted. I think the Devil especially targets ministry families — it is a no-brainer that, if he can destroy the leaders of the church, he will greatly forward his own purposes. Churches should especially pray for their pastors and their families and not think they are ‘super-Christians’.

EN: What would you say to a Christian whose spouse is drifting spiritually?

PW: Don’t lose hope, the Lord can bring them back — ‘He is able to save to the uttermost’. Keep praying. If they have had a deep Christian faith, there will be a continuous struggle going on in their minds. They may be thinking a lot about spiritual things, even if they don’t admit it to you. God can use anything in their lives to speak to them. I did a scientific course in my leisure time and was amazed at the complexity of the structure of a single cell. It made me think there must certainly be a God because believing that such organisms could just invent themselves strained credulity too much.

EN: What have you learned about the Christian life through all this?

PW: God’s grace is so much greater than I ever imagined, his love for me is always there, and I can rely on him in all situations. I’ve also realised, a bit late in my Christian life, the importance of praying about everything. I’ve found — wonder of wonders — that God is as good as his word! Daily answers to prayer not only strengthen your faith but give you a growing sense of God’s love. I’m also learning it’s not all about me, but about what God wants for me. Most of all, I’ve learned that God’s ways are both very mysterious, and also very merciful, and I love him for it.

This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

When allegations are made – Some pointers on what should happen when there are accusations of misconduct in churches

When allogations are made

In February, Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.
His resignation followed allegations that he had made inappropriate sexual approaches. Cardinal O’Brien has publicly apologised and admitted his misconduct.
This is the latest in a series of scandals to engulf the Roman Catholic Church, the most serious of which has been the past concealment of clerical sexual abuse. However, there can be no place for complacency among evangelicals. Every year ministers and elders tragically fall into sexual or financial sin and leave the ministry. Some allegations against church leaders are not taken seriously, and in some cases known failings are hushed up and ministers allowed to resign quietly so as to ‘protect the reputation of the church’. Occasionally leaders have resigned from one ministry and gone on to serve another church, or organisation, which may be utterly unaware of what has gone on.
The proper handling of the sins of church leaders, and allegations made against them, is a vitally important issue. 1 Timothy stipulates not only the qualities and gifts required of leaders, but also provides guidance as to how to address any allegations: ‘Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism’ (1Timothy 5.19-21).
A number of key principles emerge here which apply not just to leaders, but to all in the church.

1. Don’t assume it won’t happen
Paul is clear that there can be no place for the na?ve assumption that church leaders will never fall. Gifted and respected leaders are not above temptation and deceit. If someone makes allegations about a church leader, they cannot be dismissed simply on the basis that ‘it couldn’t be true’. Such allegations must be taken seriously and properly investigated. This is essential both for the protection of the person making the allegation, the accused leader, and the wider reputation of the church.
These verses, as well as the other New Testament passages, make clear that when allegations are made the church has to act as a court. This may seem overly formal to those who view the church only as a warm family gathering. But Paul emphasises to the Corinthians that, because they are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, they have the capacity and ability to make judgments, so that they can resolve disputes internally (1 Corinthians 6.1-11). His concern is that the church should conduct a proper investigation into allegations made, judge whether they are well founded, and take appropriate action. Many problems in churches are left unresolved because of the failure to undertake this ‘legal’ function.
2. Have an established process
It is far better to anticipate such problems, and to have a clear procedure to follow before allegations are made. In the case of employed church staff this ought to be a part of their contract or terms of office, and the church should have a clear disciplinary procedure identifying the process that will be applied, and who will be responsible for undertaking it. Similar provision ought to be put in place to handle allegations that might be made against volunteer leaders and church members. The church Constitution and Rules ought to lay down how church discipline will be administered.
This may seem unduly heavy-handed, but the worst time to be considering how an allegation should be handled is on the hoof after it has been made. The adoption of proper procedures in advance prevents arbitrary, rushed or biased decisions. Policies and procedures ought to be written down and available for all to see. An accurate written record of everything that is alleged, and of the subsequent process that is followed, should be kept.
The fact that the church possesses both the jurisdiction and capacity to make judgments in this way does not mean that there are no circumstances in which allegations against church leaders or others should be passed to the civil authorities for investigation. In the case of allegations that raise concerns that children or vulnerable adults may be in danger, there is an obligation to inform the relevant child protection authorities.
Every church ought to have a proper child protection policy in place, making clear when it is necessary to refer matters to the authorities, and identifying a child protection officer who will be responsible for assessing such allegations and making the decision whether to refer to the authorities. Organisations such as CCPAS provide clear and accurate guidance for churches in this regard.
There is no general obligation to refer alleged criminal behaviour to the police unless children or vulnerable adults are in danger. An allegation of sexual assault against an adult, for example, does not have to be reported, and it is primarily a matter for the complainant to determine if they wish to involve the police. However, those to whom such allegations are brought should certainly advise the complainant of their right to go to the police, and in some cases may feel that it is necessary to report the matter themselves. Those to whom allegations are brought should never, under any circumstances, offer or agree to grant confidentiality to the person making an allegation.
The appropriate person to whom to report an allegation, and who will investigate it, will vary. Where a church belongs to a denomination, systems will probably already be in place. It is often more difficult in independent churches that have no external accountability, since the responsibility may fall to the other elders or deacons, or to the congregation. It may be difficult for them to investigate a leader who ordinarily exercises authority over them. One of the advantages of membership of a body like the FIEC is that help and advice is available.
One of the most significant difficulties is that someone who has an allegation to make may not know who they should contact, or perhaps feel too intimidated to speak up. It should be clear to everyone who they should go to with any allegation. Church business meetings are a good opportunity to remind church members of the procedures.
3. Only act on reliable evidence
Where an allegation is brought against a leader, and it is not a matter which is passed to the police or other civil authorities, then it must be properly investigated. This ought to be done quickly and comprehensively. A church leader may need to be suspended from duty pending the outcome. Allegations cannot be entertained if they are made anonymously. Leaders are not to be judged purely on the basis of gossip or rumour.
Paul insists in 1 Timothy 5.19 that an allegation must be supported by adequate evidence. This requires multiple witnesses to what had taken place. Solid reliable evidence is necessary. This will require caution where there are allegations that inappropriate conduct took place, which might be capable of another interpretation and no other witnesses can corroborate.
However, multiple allegations of similar conduct will prove compelling, as was the case with Cardinal O’Brien.
This requirement of adequate evidence is a necessary protection for church leaders. The Bible demands that we operate the principle of innocent until proven guilty. We need to be aware that people do make false or mistaken allegations. In all cases the accused person ought to have full opportunity to answer and explain.
4. Take public action when needed
Where allegations made against a church leader are substantiated, then it is wholly inappropriate that they should be hushed up by means of a quiet and unexplained resignation. Such concealment is neither helpful for the individual concerned, nor for the church. It also fails to protect other churches or organisations if that person seeks to minister in the future.
Paul makes clear in 1 Timothy 5.20 that, in the event that a church leader has been found to have sinned, they should be rebuked before the church, so that everyone is aware of the circumstances. This does not mean that the church necessarily needs to know all the specific details, but they ought to be informed of the substance of the sin, and the action that has been taken as a result. In many cases this will inevitably result in a leader being disqualified from ministry, even if there is genuine repentance and forgiveness. Even where a church leader chooses to resign immediately allegations are made, a proper investigation ought still to be undertaken, and the church informed of the outcome.
Where an allegation has been made and been found to be unsubstantiated, the accused ought to be publicly vindicated.
As long as we live in a fallen world it is inevitable that churches will have to deal with such situations. The overriding principle ought to be to do what is just and right so as to bring glory to God. God is not honoured, and the reputation of the church will not be protected, by concealment.
5. Look after your leaders
While this article has concentrated on how we ought to handle allegations of misconduct, it is equally important that we take steps to try to protect church leaders from temptation and falling into sin. Ministry is often lonely, and this can lead to added pressures that result in particular vulnerability to sexual and financial sin. Churches need to try to ensure that their leaders enjoy loving and supportive accountability, and that there are those to whom they can, and do, turn to share their struggles and temptations. They need to make sure that they are properly paid and not overworked.
John Stevens, 
Director of the FIEC

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Dear Jack: a letter to an abusive husband

letter to abusive husbandDear Jack,

I pray this letter finds you in good health, sound mind, and quiet heart.

I’m writing on behalf of your wife Jill, the elders, and all your brothers and sisters in the church family. We are all greatly concerned about your abuse and mistreatment of Jill. And I would like to take this opportunity to address you as a pastor, a man, and a father.

Zero tolerance

As a pastor, I want to lovingly communicate to you two messages. First, stop abusing Jill. As you know, our church family takes a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to marital abuse. Your hands were not made for battering your wife, but for beautifying her. It’s never permissible, under any circumstance, for you to raise your hand toward your wife in anger or abuse or in any way other than to caress her in love or help her in strength. Never. Under any circumstance. You must commit to no longer battering Jill, who is made in God’s image, who was purchased by Christ’s blood, and who is your sister in Christ. Continuing to sin against your wife in this way will result in further police involvement (I have already counselled Jill to file a police report) and the church pursuing corrective love. A better result would be a clear and tangible commitment on your part to stop abusing Jill.

Learning to love

Second, get help in learning to love Jill. As a church, we are committed to fighting for every marriage in our congregation. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to help the two of you enjoy a reconciled and fully loving marriage, as Christ intends. We’re prepared to do that over the long haul. With Jill, we have taken steps to make a safe place available for her to live. Her safety is our first priority, but it’s not our only priority. We hope also to support you both in experiencing the healing and wholeness Christ provides.

So, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to meet with me, any elder, or any one of the trained counsellors in the church who have from time to time helped others through this pattern of sin, anger, and control. If we need additional resources beyond the local church, we’re prepared to locate and provide them. We’ll put everything the church has behind you and Jill, if you’ll commit to getting some help. If you’re abusing your wife, brother, you’re not well. You need to locate the root of the difficulty in your own heart and learn to live in the grace and power that God provides. We want to help you do that. Will you allow us?

A father’s anger

Can I also say just a couple words as a father of two beautiful daughters? If Jill were my daughter, I’m afraid I’d be writing this letter from my prison to your hospital room. I know: pastors aren’t supposed to say stuff like that. But I can’t think of a better way to communicate how horrible and dark your treatment of Jill has been, and how sudden and violent God’s judgment would be as he looks on Jill, his daughter, and considers your abuse of her. I know my anger would be a pale and sinful picture of God’s. But that’s what’s most frightening: God’s anger would be perfect, just and omnipotent. I fear that for you, just as I fear for the welfare of someone who would harm my girls. My girls are 14 and 12. They’re bright, energetic, funny, quick to serve, curious and outgoing. I imagine those are some of the things you’ve admired in Jill.

As a father, I want my girls to be with a man who multiplies and nourishes those qualities in them. To do otherwise would be to slowly tread these beautiful creatures under foot, it would be to kill them slowly. The husband who does that is a gardener who tramples his rose bed with heavy work boots. I wouldn’t want such a husband for my daughters, and God doesn’t want that for his.

Finally, I also want to speak to you as a fellow man, a brother in the Lord and fellow traveller in this journey called ‘manhood’. I find being a man just about the most difficult and high-pressured thing in life. I feel like I’m often one step behind or one wrong decision from completely ruining everything. It seems to me that a lot of us live with a seething undercurrent of fear and anger. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but no temptation has befallen you that isn’t common to others of us. You’re not a monster, and you’re not alone.

But feelings of anger, control, and frustration express themselves in a number of ways: from abdicating responsibility to fleeing the relationship to abusing others. People often take out their frustrations and fears on those closest at hand — for husbands that can be the wife. We have to find a way to be sober, self-controlled, temperate and respectable. That’s really at the heart of what it means for us to be men.

Misrepresenting Jesus

Let me say something to you that you may fear hearing: as a fellow man, while I can identify with some of the pressure, anger, and frustration you may be feeling, I do not respect your abuse of your wife. The abuse misrepresents Jesus, misrepresents husbands, and misrepresents marriage. In saying I don’t respect your abuse as a man, I’m not trying to discourage you further. I’m trying to bring to light what you must surely be feeling about yourself. How can you respect yourself as a man if you’re resorting to beating the woman who loves you? Surely you can’t. And it’s pretending that you do respect yourself or demanding that others should respect you that will keep you locked in the entangling sins of anger and abuse. The pretending is a heavy blanket of self-deception. So, as a fellow man, I’m offering you a way to admit your struggles to one who shares some of them and to be free from the pretending that keeps us trapped. There’s nothing worse than pretending to be a man that has it all together while feeling inside everything is coming apart. One man to another: here’s a way out. Take it.

Hope in God

Know, Jack, that we stand ready to help you and Jill. We will stand with Jill to keep her safe, connected to the church family, and full of hope for her future with you. We will stand with you to live as the man of God he calls you to be, to repair your marriage, and to be free of the things that have led to this painful time. We serve a God for whom nothing is too hard. Let us walk by faith, obeying his word, and expecting his grace. Please do be in touch right away.

With hope and with Christ, Pastor T

‘Dear Jack: A Letter to an Abusive Husband’ is a post from Thabiti Anyabwile’s blog, Pure Church (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/), and is used with permission.


(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)