I’ll write an article for the website on preachers who get hurt by thoughtless church leaders or are themselves the perpetrators of wrong against church members, and the comments arrive in droves. Everyone has a story. There is so much pain in the church today.
No one can hurt us like a family member can. Since a church is a family of believers, we become vulnerable to injury as a result of our close dealings with each other.
A friend wrote, “I just read (in your blog) about mistakes preachers make. May I share a story with you?”
She and her husband were members of a church in another state. A casual, impromptu conversation with the leader of the church’s Bible-drillers was misunderstood, then blown all out of proportion and may have resulted in a death. Here is her story, which I have edited for clarity and to cushion her from identification.
“We were chatting in the bathroom at church. I thanked the woman for her work in teaching the children the way to use their Bibles. She commented that she had only one child in her program at that moment. She had sent letters home with the Sunday School children encouraging the parents to get their kids in the program, but with pitiful results.
“The pastor’s wife happened to be in another part of the ladies’ room and overheard the conversation. Apparently, she read more into it than was intended. Later that week, my husband received a nasty letter from the preacher.
“The pastor told him that he had to do something about me as I had criticized him in front of his wife. He said his wife and ‘his staff’ (not ‘the church staff’) would no longer converse with me and they would no longer come to our home. We had had the church staff in our home several times for dinner, so this was upsetting.
“I phoned the church office, but the pastor refused to take my call. My husband made an appointment to talk with him. And since he was not taking calls from me, I sent him a letter by my husband asking why he didn’t talk with me as Jesus had instructed in Matthew 18.
“The pastor replied that he did as Jesus did, that he came to the head of the house. He wrote the letter to my husband because when God came to the Garden of Eden, he condemned Adam for Eve’s sin.
“I tried two other times to talk with the preacher and he refused to talk with me.
“Three weeks later, my husband dropped dead.
“Needless to say, I did not ask this preacher to do my husband’s funeral. In the four times I’ve seen the pastor since the funeral, he has been extremely friendly, acting as though nothing had happened. (He had told my husband that the woman I spoke with in the bathroom was very embarrassed by my conversation with her. When she came through the line at the funeral home, I apologized for embarrassing her by what I said in the bathroom. She was shocked and said she had not told anyone of our conversation. It was clearly all the pastor’s wife’s doing.)
“If my faith had been weak, I would have been angry at God and left the church. But I know that ‘greater is He who is with me than He that is in the world.’ I have since moved back to my former home in another state and am happy in my Baptist church there. I am happy to say I have a pastor as well as a preacher.
“By the way, I have forgiven the other preacher. I know he is not mature in the Word. My prayers are with him and the church.”
Those who know me — this is Joe talking now — know of my deep love for pastors. I usually end up defending them in most situations. But the behavior of such a pastor as this is indefensible.
My quick assessment, based solely on my friend’s account, is that such an immature wife-dominated pastor has no business leading a congregation. He is not a shepherd who cares for his flock. He is cowardly (he refused to talk to the woman whom he accuses of wrong before hearing her, then turns around and wrongs her!), yet he compares himself to God (calling the husband to account for the sin of his wife!). Furthermore, he forbids the church staff from having anything further to do with my friend and her husband. I’d like to know where he finds that in the Bible!
What I wish is that my friend and her husband had not suffered in silence on this, but had called in two or three church leaders, assuming the congregation had some mature enough to see the situation and courageous enough to stand up to the preacher. Every pastor has a few individuals in his church whose opinions and judgments he values. Failing that, he has one or more whom he fears because he knows they hold the keys to his continued employment.
Pastors who wrong their members need to be held accountable, if for no other reason than that they might face their misdeeds, repent and be forgiven. In the process, they will grow, and eventually might even become true shepherds of the Lord’s people.
Whether the wrong originates in the pulpit or the pew, once it threatens the well-being of a child of God and the health and fellowship of a church, it should be dealt with promptly.
I heard this week an illustration of how miscommunication and misunderstanding can quickly jeopardize the fellowship of a church and the work of a minister.
The incoming pastor had last served with our SBC North American Mission Board (referred to colloquially as NAMB), headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia. On his very first Sunday in the new church, the pastor said something to the effect that “I want to thank my NAMB friends for their encouragement