“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)
Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.
Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord had sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.
Some pain never leaves.
The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.
Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors. The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times. The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own bit of hades-on-earth.
As a result of all this, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.
It’s not a choice he makes.
He could no more ignore that event in his life than forget his wife and children. The memory, the pain, the lessons–all are forever a part of who he is.
From time to time as the pastor mentions that bit of his history, some (probably) well-meaning soul will say, “You need to get over that.” We thank them, but some things you never get over.
The scar remains.
At the age of 9, I had surgery on my hip. As was the practice in those days, I was put to sleep with ether, my arms strapped to the gurney and a soaked cloth clamped over my nose and mouth. No one had prepared me for that frightening moment. After the surgery, I lay flat of my back in Beckley, West Virginia’s Memorial Hospital for another 10 days before being stood to my feet–don’t miss that; not once had they stood me up in ten days–and fitted for crutches. I’m 81 now and still carry the scar of the 20 stitches, perfectly covered by swim trunks. (Clearly, the surgery was successful, for which I give thanks.)
That scar remains, as does the memory.
The suffering of a difficult experience comes to an end; the memory never leaves.
The lessons and the guilt, the self-recriminations and the regrets, become a part of our very bone and marrow and never go away.
The memories remain
“God doesn’t waste suffering,” we like to say. For the God-called pastor who has been the victim of self-righteous (or mean-spirited) church leaders with an agenda of their own and sent packing, some things he cannot forget and will retain the rest of the way home.
–He cannot forget some of his own mistakes. “I wish I’d been more patient there….more assertive with that group…less abrupt with that man. I wish I’d made more pastoral visits in homes, had spoken more forcefully on moral issues, and had not terminated that staff member. I wish, I wish, I wish.”
–He cannot forget how his family was treated. The phone calls in the middle of the night to disturb the household. The anonymous letters. The harsh comments from the children of church people. The vicious rumors which were completely without foundation. (Note: My Bertha, a pastor’s wife all her adult years, comments, “If the pastor hurts, then his wife hurts in the same way.”)
–He cannot forget a few comments from antagonists. “You think you have won this one, pastor. But it will never be over until you are gone.” “I don’t care what the Bible says. I just want you gone from my church.” “Unless you go quietly, preacher, you will be fired and there will be no severance.” “I’m going to tell the congregation there are things you did that we can’t talk about, things too shameful for words. That’ll do it!”
The pastor makes a conscious effort to forgive them, and as far as he can tell, he has. But as much as he would like to forget the ugliness, it will not go away. Nevertheless, he tries to leave it behind as he goes forward to the next assignment the Lord has for him.
The lessons never go away either.
As much as the pastor suffered through that experience, he knows however that he learned some valuable lessons.
–He remembers the importance of showing a spirit of Christlikeness at all times. He cannot forget the times he lost his cool with church members who were trying his soul and vexing his spirit.
–He remembers how critical prayer is and determines he will live for the rest of his days on his knees. When life is coming unraveled, nothing is better than knowing you are right where God put you, that He has this situation well in hand.
–The pastor looks back and remembers the importance of giving strong leadership to the ministerial staff. Allowing a lazy or carnal staffer to go unchecked was a mistake for which he himself paid dearly. Likewise, passing onto the staff the pressure he was receiving from church leaders was another mistake. He hopes to get this right next time. If there is a next time.
–He reminds himself how important is the balance between protecting his wife from the daily stress and yet informing her of all that is going on so they can pray together and be a strength to each other. It’s so hard to know.
And he knows something about the future—
–The battled-scarred pastor must not make the next church pay for the sins of the previous one. He must not be too harsh or demanding with them because of how the last church failed to get it right.
–He must abide in the Lord and let His words abide in him.
–He must begin every day on his knees with the Lord and before the Word in order to find strength and direction for all that day contains.
–And even then–if the past is any indication–he will make mistakes. So, he prays for an understanding church and a wise heart. He prays for the Holy Spirit to “lead him in the path of righteousness” and for boldness to declare the whole word of God.
–And he prays for one more thing, a huge request which He hopes God will grant. He prays the next church will have a corps of prayer warriors who will intercede day in and day out for their pastor, even though they know little about his past and the battles he has come through. Let them pray for their shepherd, asking the Chief Shepherd to care for him and be his all in all.
God, bless your pastors please.