But You’re a Preacher!

We all know that divorce happens. It happens quite frequently actually with one out of two marriages ending up shattered. It has long since been shocking news to hear of divorce- with perhaps one exception. Yes, divorce happens, but it is just not supposed to happen to our preachers.

Yet, it does. And unfortunately with increasing regularity. I know. I am a divorced preacher. And I am aware of a number of my brothers in this growing fraternity.

It is not like we wanted this. We did not seek it out. For reasons maybe we know and for reasons we quite probably will never know- it happened. Our mates decided life was better without us.  None of the brothers I am personally acquainted with were ready for this- who is- but we were left to deal with it anyway. For most us it was/is a painful journey full of doubt, self-blame, shame, remorse, anger, bitterness, fear, loneliness, tears and questions- many, many questions.

One question we ask- unlike most others going down this rugged path- is about our life calling and vocation. For we know all-to-well that preachers are not supposed to be divorced. I have known more than one brother who was cast aside by his church leadership after being cast aside by his wife.

But thankfully, this seems to be occurring with much less frequency and I praise God for that. Actually more churches and church leaders- from what I am seeing- are managing to hang in there with their preacher during these difficult days. It is virtually impossible for me to completely express just what this means.

In my experience it meant practically everything. Had I lost my church relationships after losing my marital relationship I quite possibly could not have ever recovered. I still praise God for the Skyway Hills congregation and her leaders who being hurt and confused themselves did not give up on me.

I think this is a true statement: No church is ever ready or prepared for their preacher to be divorced. As far as I know there are no prep courses on our Christian college campuses educating churches to deal with this.

With that in mind I offer this- some general advice- if (God forbid) divorce comes to your preacher.

  • Let love reign. In every possible way to everyone involved please be guided by love. Refrain from using harsh words (usually enough of them to go around anyway) about anyone. Be gentle in reacting because precious souls can be hanging in the balance. Try not to burn bridges. Who but God knows what might happen in the future to redeem relationships. Minister in love even to the one who left, but especially to the one left alone. He already feels unlovable.
  • Be patient. Don’t overreact or jump to conclusions. Avoid quick judgments and attaching blame. Even if you do not possess all the facts (and you won’t- perhaps ever) patiently support your preacher. Normally it is going to take him some time to begin to recover and even longer to completely heal. Encourage and even pay for counseling for him and his family. Consider offering him an initial sabbatical from preaching duties. It is extremely difficult to feed the sheep when you have been completely and totally emptied.
  • Be protective. Sadly, there are some who react with neither love nor patience when their preacher divorces. They either threaten to leave or in fact do leave his church. This just makes the already painful situation even worse. Trust me on this one- on top of all of the other shame and blame the preacher is feeling- he will blame himself for this too. He will view it as another abandonment he created. Leaders, please protect your preacher as much as possible for this kind of blow. It is hurt heaped on hurt.
  • “Do the right thing”. Our elders at Skyway back in 1994 were no more prepared to handle a divorced preacher than an alien landing on the church parking lot! lol  They did however find an eldership who had dealt with this and met with them seeking guidance. I will never forget the oldest member of this visiting eldership describe what they did after their preacher divorced. “We decided to do the right thing” he stated. They stuck by their friend and brother back during an age when this was even more uncommon. Looking back- this elder could only have been God-sent.

Okay, admittedly I am writing this fourteen years after the fact. The pain I felt then is only reflected now in that of others on this journey. Forgiveness has long since erased the bitterness. Like Job, God has blessed me now even more abundantly than before.

But I will always be a divorced preacher.

And I always shudder when I think of where I might be now if my family and friends- God’s family- had not stood with me- even when it had to have been difficult to do so -during those dark days.

I thank God for them and ask you- if divorce ever happens to your preacher- to follow their courageous course.

 

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34 Responses to But You’re a Preacher!

  1. lesjr says:

    How well I remember those days in your life. I have told a couple of your old elders way back then how it made me feel to see you so supported. God has used your difficulties to refine and use you in ways none of us could have imagined. I am proud to call you friend and brother!

  2. Rodney Livingston says:

    Hey Danny,
    We are in Leoma, TN now. Just moved and all is going well. I am the Associate Minister working with Willie Hamblin from Florence, AL. Hope all the family is well. Tell them hello. I liked the blog, good advice. I pray that i will never need it but just in case. The Lord only knows what the future holds. Have a great week.

  3. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Les. Your friendship has certainly been a blessing to me over the years.

    Good to know you are settled in Rodney. I know has exciting things in store for you there.

  4. Trey Morgan says:

    Danny,

    What a powerful post, dripping with wisdom. God forbid it happens, but when it does too many men and women are cut lose or cast off. I’m sure it was tough writing this, but thanks for doing it. It’s great advice for those dealing with this difficult subject.

    No far from where I am, in a small rural town, a preacher and his wife have just divorced. Thankfully the elders showed wisdom and stood by both parties, showing concern for their soul. I love that!

  5. Otis says:

    Danny,
    For to often, you know and so do others, the support and love never comes. Not just preachers but deacons, teachers, and I imagine even elders. To borrow a phrase, we lean toward shooting our walking wounded. Love does indeed cover a multitude of sins. It is great to know God has enriched and blessed you the way He has. We certainly need the insight of Godly men who have handled these situations in the past.
    I enjoy the blog!

  6. mkjergaard says:

    Thanks for sharing that Brother. Wise words indeed.

  7. […] I think a very needed discussion is taking place at Danny Dodd’s blog. As a divorced minister he is becoming a part of a growing population in Christianity – those ministers who have left behind one marriage for either singlehood or another marriage. Join in the discussion at THIS POST. […]

  8. J D says:

    Divorce is no longer a scandal in our culture … it is, in fact, statistically to be expected. I believe that Christians need to work in two areas: (1) raising the bar of expectations for marital longevity and (2) receiving gracefully those who have experienced the pain of divorce. This is a double edged sword and it is hard to handle with balance. The struggle that many have with this is multiplied when a minister is divorced. Ministers are held to a higher level of expectation, sometimes beyond what is humanly reasonable. The truth we have to deal with is that there are more divorced ministers than ever before. Shall we discount their giftedness to preach the gospel? Not only is there the issue of the one who was wronged and left behind … what about the minister who wrongs his wife and leaves her behind …. does there come a time when he can be used by God once again? Everyone who wants to harp on this best be careful. For one thing, the mirror reveals that we are all sinners. For another thing, if we think we are beyond the reach of divorce, we are deceiving ourselves. When a minister is divorced he often loses not only his wife, but also income … and for many of us we are only prepared to do one thing in life. Where to divorced ministers turn? I think this discussion needs to be had. Thanks Danny. (This comment does not reflect any personal reflections on your divorce … we have talked a lot about that over the years. You have a beautiful new family and God is to be praised for the healing brought about in your life.)

  9. dannydodd says:

    Good comment John. You do raise a very good question which I did not address in my post. It all can be very complicated, but I do recall Scripture teaching us to gently deal with others who struggle as we consider ourselves also.

    Thanks Otis, Mike and Trey for your input. Always welcome and always good!

  10. preacherman says:

    Danny,
    Thank you brother for your courage and sharing this great post for us all.
    I pray that God will pour his richest blessings on your life.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  11. Nick Gill says:

    Danny, God has worked mightily through your weakness and brokenness. His glory is so amazing!

    John Mark Hicks recently posted a series of suggestions on this topic over at http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com

    They are well worth the read, from another brother who has walked this road.

    in HIS love,
    nick

  12. dannydodd says:

    NIck, I appreciate you sharing that link. John Mark does indeed have some very good teaching on this topic.

  13. Royce says:

    Danny,

    I too have traveled that road. I had been married for 13 years to a good woman and things were fine. We moved to the Dallas area for me to continue my Bible training and before the 1st semester was complete so was my marriage. I didn’t want it but had no choice, and after many months of doing everything possible to reconcile, divorce was the outcome.

    I had been taught that if I walked with God, was a good husband, etc. I was isolated from divorce and other problems humans face. My friends and former church members back home in N.C. treated me as if I had raped a baby, the harsh and ugly things they said to me were unbelieable, (one of them has since had 3 divorces himself). I was too ashamed to see my own family face to face and knew that any hope of future ministry was beyond hope. I was at the very lowest point of my life.

    I was forced to rethink everything I had been taught and to begin to rediscover some things and to discover for the first time other things about God’s dealing with sinners.

    God was faithful even though I was not for a period of time. I emerged from that darkness into the marvelous light of the grace of God and the freedom to be who I really was, God’s child. I also, for the first time in my Christian experience, decided I would never again believe anything just because someone I trusted said it.

    I know first hand about wearing the big “D” on your chest. No believer is in control of another human, not even your spouse, and you have no promise of a “safe” future. What you can know without any shadow of doubt is that God will never forsake you.

    I could not have become the man I am, and (hopefully) the servant I am today, but for the valley of brutal pain that God allowed me to travel through. Deserted by one wife and many friends, the death of another wife, the shame of willful sin, and yet God is faithful. Today is the best of my life. A godly and talented wife, 6 grand children, 2 wonderful step kids and their spouses, all sold out to Jesus, and many, many ministry opportunities is God’s way of saying to this undeserving man “I love you Royce and I’ll take care of you forever”. I need nothing more.

    Perhaps the next time you hear about someone next door, or in the next pew, or the next pulpit who is facing divorce, be a bit more thoughtful about what you say, a bit more compassionate, and do some praying.

    His peace,
    Royce Ogle
    http://www.gracedigest.wordpress.com

  14. Jim says:

    we are not the only religious group hard on divorce. Friend of mine was fired when his wife had an affair, divorced him and left him with the 5 children. Was later fired when he remarried. Fickle theology abounds. But, to combat divorce, we must work to strengthen relationships. If we wait until the paper is signed, it’s too late for intervention. Only acceptance is appropriate at that point.

  15. I am one … It is a club I did not want to join.

    Bobby Valentine

  16. Thanks for sharing, Danny. I ‘re one, too!

  17. […] Dodd is discussing the unnerving experience of being a divorced preacher in the churches of Christ here. Both merit a look. This conversation is long […]

  18. preacherman says:

    I think elders and the church need to reduce the pressure they put on the preachers wife. I mean how many jobs put demands on the wife and doesn’t get paid for it. I think the church is to blame for alot of the pressure they put on the wife’s role.

  19. Danny Holman says:

    Hey Danny,

    Great post. I also appreciate several of the responses. Having taken some of this journey with a friend, there is one word of advice that stands out…”protect.” When the critics try to pounce, friends, other preachers, and particularly the couple’s elders need to form a steel wall of defence. Whatever conversations need to be had in private, the wounded need those who will protect them. That allows for healing. Thanks for an outstanding post… I will forward it to my friend.

    Danny

  20. Donna says:

    Great post and great comments. Somehow I thought this had all changed until a friend of mine with through ostracization from his church family. It saddens me that we still think this way.(when I say we I mean conservative Christians…not me).

    I love how you are allowing God to use a dark and painful time in your life to minister to others. I pray that we all find the courage to use our struggles to His glory.

  21. dannydodd says:

    Royce, thanks for your contribution to (and your sharing of ) this discussion. I was unaware that you had been down this road. I am very thankful that you allowed room for God to work in you through this journey and are now sharing his grace with others in the marvelous way you do.

    Jim’s point on acceptance is right on. What are we afraid of anyway?

    I count Bobby and John Mark as not only fellow pilgrims on this road, but as friends also. I have known them both for years- even though we rarely see each other- they both have been and are great examples and encouragers to me. Please follow the link posted earlier and read John Mark’s articles on a redemptive approach to divorce.

    Kinney brings up an excellent point of discussion- one in which I have thought much about. Do we put too much pressure on preacher’s wives? Is this somehow a factor on the growing number of preacher’s wives who are leaving their husbands. I never got an answer on this in my situation. We all know this was a part of the dialog concerning Mary Winkler too. I have asked my wife, Terri, about this and she says that here at Gateway she has never felt undue pressure. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    Danny and Donna- thanks always for you comments. They are rich additions to this discussion.

  22. Jim Sexton says:

    How is it that we have been able to turn divorce into the unforgivable sin? Sin is sin, is it not? I have learned that, been taught that, and teach that today… yet somehow we look at divorce as something different. Probably a result of Pharisaical-style hedge building.

    About wives of ministers, they need love, understanding and support. Yet, for them to believe that they ‘aren’t part of their husbands ministry’ is a pretty naive thing to think. My ministry would be significantly hurt if my wife was not part of it. It is not good for the man to be alone… seems like God said that, and she was intended to be more than a sexual companion, and another source of income. I can’t trivialize my wife in that way because without her I am not the minister that I have become.

    If anything, my wife completes me in everything that I do in ministry. Any pressure on her is self induced… she seeks to do so many things that I have to reign her in at times!

    Jimbo

  23. Adam G. says:

    It makes me feel much better to discover that so many good men have been down the horrendously difficult road of divorce. My wife and I have skittered pretty close to it at times in our relationship, especially after my ministry in New Mexico ended and we found our way to New Jersey. I’d say we are definitely not out of the woods yet, but by God’s grace and perhaps with a lot of genuine love and firm patience we can avoid the big D. I appreciate you all and have found your words in the post and comments encouraging, but I don’t want to join the club.

  24. […] for the positive reception of my previous post. The discussion there is still ongoing and I plan soon a follow-up […]

  25. James C. Guy says:

    Hey Danny,
    I appreciate your openness about divorce, especially among preachers. You know how easily we can get the axe for anything, especially the “big stuff” (tongue in cheek). I pray I never have to experience that, but if I do, I pray God will have me in a place like you were.

    I remember when Skyway Hills supported me and my work at Mendenhall and even before that. This was around the time you were going through the divorce. I appreciated then how they handled it and you.

    BTW: Do you remember Jack Taylor? He is here in Monroe at University. He speaks of you from time to time. I haven’t seen you in YEARS. You may not even remember me. John Dobbs keeps me informed about you though (all the gossip). May God continue to bless you in your (His) ministry!
    -James C. Guy

  26. dannydodd says:

    Jim, you ask a question that deserves an answer. And it sounds like you have a wonderful wife and supportive wife. God bless her!

    Adam, I pray that you and your wife will continue to hang in there together with the Lord. Practically every marriage hits rough spots- and sometimes it can just be the from the residue of life stress. You do not want to go down the road some of us have been on. I appreciate you sharing with us.

  27. dannydodd says:

    Hey James, looks like we were posting at the same time. Welcome to this blog. Thanks for the encouraging post.

    Sure I remember you- and through John I have kept up with you and were aware of your work at Univeristy in Monroe. That is a good church. I remember it from my days preaching in Delhi, LA.

    And of course, I remember Jack. He and his family were great friends and encouragers back in that day. Please give him my warmest regards and stay in touch.

  28. J D says:

    Hey… this is making me look bad … two unconnected friends confessing my gossip!

  29. mike exum says:

    Danny,

    First time commentor here. Thanks for this post. I found it by linking through Bobby
    Valentine’s recent powerful little post.

    I quit blogging last year when my wife divorced me. Shortly before she left, I posted a thesis exploring how church splits precipitate divorce. I cannot lay full blame there, but lets face it, if the Body of Christ can so easily splinter into thousands of pieces (and that body being the answer to the worlds problems) then what resources do marriages have? There is a cause among powers and forces in the air that move far deeper than we are currently analyzing, I think.

    But, alas, I am trying to make sense of my life and this world the best I can. And it is getting unbelievably unbearable. I am looking for answers under any stone.

    Thanks for this gentle post.

    Mike Exum
    The blogger formerly known as Messianic Gentile

  30. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for your post Mike. I pray that God will lead you to those answers you are seeking.

    And, I ask you to reconsider your decision to stop posting on your blog. Writing for me was a wonderful healing resource. Back then blogs did not exist so I found other outlets. Maybe it could help you as well.

    Thanks again for stopping in and posting. Your thoughts are welcome anytime.

  31. David Yasko says:

    I am also in this particular fraternity. It’s a pain I would wish on no one. The congregation I work with has been incredible, loving and supporting.

  32. Bruce Ligon says:

    Almost seventeen years ago my wife decided to leave me. I was blessed by the elders of the church where I was then serving. They stood by me and assured me from the beginning that my job was secure. In fact, I stayed with the congregation for more than twelve years following my wife’s leaving.
    Yes, it is tougher to find a congregation to serve, after being divorced (even as the “innocent party” in a divorce). This can be frustrating. Perhaps the passing of the years will slowly change this situation.

  33. […] Mark set out to write for me … but perhaps James A. Harding would say that he was lead to do so. Danny Dodd also has a very good reflection on this […]

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