The Impact in the Minister's Home
James Donahue, D. Min
One day, my daughter Amy asked, "Daddy, why won't Mike's Daddy let him come to our church anymore? He really likes our church!" I attempted to think of an appropriate response, but most answers held little meaning. The greater pain was that Amy and her friend had entered a bitter adult battle. My problems at the church were impacting me, my children, and my marriage. My home was fully involved in the conflict.
As ministers, we often think that the conflict we experience only impacts the adult. While we may not have the same experiences, children have their own level of distress over the dynamics of broken relationships.
How should I respond to Amy's question about her friend? Should I tell her that Mike's dad thinks that I have no business being in ministry? Should I tell her that Mike's dad wants to 'bring me up in charges of 'false teachings?' Should I tell her about the attacks I felt from Mike's dad?
Finally, I told her that Mike's dad had made a decision to go to another church because he did not like some of the things I do as pastor. She ran off to play. I wonder what continues to play in her mind?
One night the hopeless feelings resulting from the church conflict I was experiencing found me physically exhausted, ready to quit, crying in desperation. My 'weaknesses' were being discussed by others, including attacks in deacon meetings. Now the pain was so deep and intense that I felt as if I was a total failure.
As my wife, Barbara, and I lay in bed, she said "Jim, let's pray. I responded with: "No, I can't. If you want to pray, go ahead but leave me out of it." She didn't make me pray or make me feel guilty for not praying. She did not lecture me or scold me. She just held me, and I cried. It seemed as if the spiritual abuse heaped upon me (really as a family) by various members of the congregation turned by heart against God. Through reflection, I realized how gifted I was to have the understanding, compassion and sympathy of Barbara. She honored my 'spiritual' distance and held me.
The pediatric cardiologist told us that in order to 'fix' the problem in our son's heart, we needed a procedure that was new and developing. As we began the process of telling our son of the impending action, we became greatly aware of the intensity of his fears in going through this procedure.
I felt a great sense of panic and helplessness as we attempted to help him prepare for the procedure. Through counseling, he was able to process the event and we had a successful procedure. One unusual 'blessing' that came from this event was that I had became so absorbed with Jeff's struggles that my 'battles' held little or no meaning. We later discovered that some of Jeff's anger is directed toward the church. More than once, I have heard him describe feelings of anger toward some who have been my major attackers. When we argue he is quick to point out that certain ones in the church don't 'like you.' I see the impact these conflicts have had on him. It will be very interesting to see how active Jeff will be in church life as an adult.
Without mentioning names, he has certainly been accurate in picking up the pain I experienced, I know that Jeff is marked by a variety of experiences in his young life, but the greatest disappointment is the negative image he has of the church because of the pain and stress he has seen and experienced.
Maybe one of the most painful and truthful experiences came from outside my home. In a committee meeting, we were discussing the difficulties surrounding me as pastor when a young adult, raised in the home of a minister, spoke. It really was not a 'talk' with the committee it was as if he had reached down and brought out a bucket load of pain, memories and anger. Between the quiver in his voice and the softness with which he spoke, he described a childhood memory. "When I was a child, I dreamed of getting in my dad's car and running over people like you. You are what caused so much pain in my life. People like you are the reason my brother will have nothing to do with the church today." I hear people say now fortunate children are who grow up in the home of a minister. They talk of all the missionaries, all the 'people' of God these young people get to meet and with them have fellowship. Though this young man describes other very good memories, at this time, he made no reference to such.
As I listened, I focused on the intensity of his feelings. I saw a young fashionable mind that had been injured by the actions of so called 'Godly' people. I wanted to walk out on God! It was unfathomable how God could allow such vicious and malicious acts to go on among His 'children.'
This forty-year-olds pain was a stark reminder of the depth of hurt in children. My greater fear is that there are legions of young minds who have fled the church because they were abused by the conflict among 'God's people.' Because of these conflicts we may lose families and generations to the service of God.
While driving to work I was consumed with the thoughts of the charges and attacks. I was empty. I was at the end. A bridge loomed in front of me. The concrete abutment seemed to be inviting me to join it. If I did, I 'reasoned' my family would have the insurance money, they would be freed from the pain and suffering my job brought to them, and the battles would be over. It seemed so easy and simple. The radio played words to a song 'when answers aren't enough there is Jesus.' All the abuse I had suffered at the hand of 'spiritual giants' now suddenly paled. I had allowed them to take from me the joy of serving my Lord. I drove past the bridge to the church and sent into my office.
On the first phone call, the caller said, "Jim are you all right? All morning long, I have had you on my mind, almost as if God was telling me that something is seriously wrong with you." I cratered under the emotion and emptied my heart. The God I sought was not the 'god of the people seeking to destroy' but was the God of simplicity and truth, of grace and mercy, of pain and suffering, God ever present. I had allowed myself to see only the 'god' of the bullies. I now saw the genuine God through his real people.
Ministers are forced from their churches, often destroyed, as the whim of a sick religious society. The cost may be calculated in years before the church moves forward again, or in the time it takes to get a minister a 'new' job. But, the cost in the home of the minister may go on not only for this life but in generations to come.
James Donahue is a member of the Board of Trustees of the MTM Foundation and serves as pastor at Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Illinois.