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.