Divorce Among Church of Christ Ministers

As a divorced minister this is a topic I have discussed before, but on a more personal scale.

Recently as a requirement for a research class I wrote a paper on divorce among ministers which- obviously- brought me back to this topic. Through my research here are some of my discoveries:

  • That there are quite a few resources available on this topic in both popular Christian literature and scholarly theological journals. Honestly, this was a surprise to me. Going into this project I thought the pickings would be slim.
  • That some church systems actually have programs in place to respond to divorce among their ministers- to bring healing and help for all of the family through counseling and patient support.
  • That today the majority of divorced ministers who desire to remain in ministry after divorce are given the opportunity to do so.
  • That I found zero resources from my own fellowship of the Churches of Christ on this topic. Not saying they don’t exist- just saying I did not find any. (Some of the resources from other churches went back as far as the 1960s.)

Now, the reason for this post is to explore why we are not writing or talking more about this and/or to find out if there are resources about this topic in our brotherhood.

I know/know of around twenty divorced ministers within the Church of Christ/Christian Church extended family. Why aren’t we talking about this more?

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25 Responses to Divorce Among Church of Christ Ministers

  1. J D says:

    On the Missional Outreach Network site there is a discussion group on divorce care in general … a great topic to start there (as well as here) is for ministers in specific. http://www.missionaloutreachnetwork.com

    I do not know of any resources on this subject (good writing project for … *cough* someone I know *cough*).

    I know that divorce among the congregants does not have the stigma it once had, but I think it retains it’s stigma among the ministers.

    My theory is that in the initial stages no one really knows what’s going on. Accusations are made by both parties. Everyone forms an opinion on who’s fault it is (an uninformed opinion). Gossip fires up the rumor mill. And even if someone were to take the time to read the court transcript (if it were available), no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, eh? When kids are involved everything grows even more complicated. So, I think it’s different from other situations where there is sin that can be acknowledged and repentance offered. The mystery of divorce makes it situation that divides the congregation.

    A broader subject is what do we do about ministers who find themselves in any sin … sins that congregants might feel disqualify them from speaking for God? I’m sure that divorce fits that category in some people’s understanding.

    Just a few thoughts to launch the conversation.

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    Perhaps to pretend it doesn’t exist? Who knows?

    I know some too and am myself in that category although I am not a minister leading in a congregation.

    Sadly, divorce is all too frequent in our society at large. I think partly because of the focus of “falling in love” being the principal reason for marriage, rather than finding a person who shares your values, goals, and is willing to make a real honest to God pledge to stay together until death.

    Henry Blackaby once pastored a church in California for several years. He refused, as the shepherd of that flock to allow divorce to happen if at all possible. His radical yet loving response to marriage problems in that congregation resulted in no divorces in I believe his 7 year tenure there. I fear most of us take it too lightly and should work harder to avoid it. Two people who are surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus are not candidates for divorce. One of them must be out of sorts spiritually for it to happen.

    Royce

  3. Danny Holman says:

    I think the reason we don’t minister to it among ministers is the same as in the congregation as a whole: (1) We don’t like to stare personal hardships in the eye; we’d rather they spin just beyond our reach and hope someone else is doing something, and (2)Some churches are the exception, but, it seems few organize to address “life issues” in its membership.
    I would like to think we are all hoping that someone is ministering on a personal level. However, especially when it comes to church staff, I fear its “hiding out” from the problem. Perhaps Royce is right… pretending it doesn’t exist.
    However, one note… the congregations I have been around who dared to “wade out” into the “life issues” of membership did so very well. I think, should we address this issue more prominently, we would be suprised at how well we would do.
    Danny

  4. Curtis D. McClane says:

    Danny: My suspicion is because of a fundamental philosophy our fellowship has of both ministers and marriage. If we expect members in our congregation to stay married, how can we listen to one has not. We expect ministers to provide the ideal example of a married couple. Our fellowship for the most part is couple-oriented anyway. It is also rooted in a theological perspective that is legalistic in its interpretation of the marriage-divorce passages in the gospels. For these reasons, and others, our fellowship has in the past seen no need to produce resources and raise up leaders who can model grace, love, forgiveness and acceptance.
    I remember a number of years ago being scolded and reprimanded by elders because I dared to use a woman in our congregation for a VBS teacher who had been divorced and remarried. I asked the elders only one question: which person knows best about how to model and teach our children about the grace of forgiveness and love and acceptance–one who has needed it, or one who “has it all together” and does not need it? The palpable silence that immediately followed still rings in my ears today. Curtis

    • Blair Willsey says:

      Curstis asked the wrong question. Just because someone is divorced and remarried doesn’t mean she knows anything about modeling forgiveness and love.

      • gcoriell says:

        Curtis asked the right question – Just because someone is divorced and remarried “can” mean she “or he” does know everything about modeling forgiveness and love. The one that has never had to go through this experience is the one that knows nothing. John 7:24

  5. Jim Sexton says:

    Maybe since divorce has been elevated to the level of ‘unforgivable sin’ (thought that was blaspheming the Holy Spirit) it has become something that it was never intended to be… an issue/sin that has it’s own set of rules.

    Among ministers, I can see divorce being a huge hindrance in their existing work. As in all things that involve people’s view of you and who you are, there is an issue of lost trust that likely can not be overcome in that locale. I do not believe that it magically makes you unable to minister, just not likely to be effective in that location. A move, some time to pray and refocus, and a loving set of of Christ followers (for those that don’t like the term Christian) to accept you and to help relaunch your ministry is probably in your future.

    I think of Saul/Paul and his being the perfect “Apostle to the Gentiles” was a result of his needing to NOT try to be the Apostle to the Jews… they had severe trust issues that were nearly impossible for him to overcome. The calling of a minister who has suffered through the trauma (and the stigma attached) of divorce perhaps will need to be redirected into an area that will still allow ministry, yet not in the same way perhaps.

    I have a dear friend who has struggled with alcohol addiction. It has cost him a promising ‘career in ministry’, yet only because he has allowed it to do so. You see, I believe that the stumbling block, once recognized, can actually make you stronger, more able, and more compassionate to those with the same stumbling block issue. If we allow the stumbling block to win, then God is neither served, glorified, or ALLOWED TO SHOW HIS GRACE!

    The other issue for my friend (and perhaps for you) is that he viewed his ministry as a career. I don’t see what I do as a job, it is more like the adventure that the Navy ads promise. God has trained me through His word and through my life experiences to take all of it and have a lifestyle of ministry.

    Anybody think that Paul, Peter, Apollos, John, et al… every for a moment thought of what they did as a career? A ministry is a commitment of life, and frankly the reason most people don’t see themselves as ministers is because we treat it just like a job. We hire somebody to do it. We check their resumes, call their references, follow up with previous ’employers’… likely most of Jesus’ apostles wouldn’t get hired in today’s ministry.

    Wow… is that off on a tangent or what? I think that a divorced minister is still useful, perhaps because of his experiences he is now even more useful. It may need to be in a different ministerial direction, certainly will be more successful in another physical location, and should be seen as an opportunity… not as a dead end.

    Jimbo

  6. xybatt says:

    I could name probably a dozen or two who went through a divorce and were fired or at least shown the door. And, don’t forget the preacher’s wives who also lose their position if the husband divorces them. Divorce is always painful. Our churches need to intercede more actively as members and friends! Why don’t we talk about it? Because it must be the greatest sin???

  7. Darren Beachy says:

    I have been in the CoC tradition and the Christian Church (Independant) tradition but have not come across any resources for divorced clergy. My guess is that dont want to acknowledge it. Not sure.
    I have never seen so much divorce in a church till I came over to the Christian Church tradition. I dont know what to make of this.
    Sorry, no answers from me.

  8. Scottie says:

    I have no answers either. I think a lot of issues also stem from our “interpretation” of the Pauline take on marriage. Personally, (and I don’t mean this as blasphemy) the fact that Paul was never married and yet felt he had to give his own opinion on marriage is something that has always seemed strange to me…but that is another conversation.

    To answer the question, I do think the lack of resources from our tradition are due to the lack of desire to hoenstly and effectively confront the issue–simple as that. I hope that you and others like you can change that.

    be good dude,

    scottie

  9. xybatt says:

    Danny, write the first resource manual!

  10. Steve says:

    Friends:

    I know a good number of CoC churches are effectively ministering using the DivorceCare program. It’s a great resource within the congregation but also is a wonderful outreach tool (we’ve seen upwards of 50% unchurched attendance on a weekly basis).

    Details are at http://www.divorcecare.org/start

    Blessings

    Steve Grissom

    Disclaimer: I’m the founder of the nonprofit ministry that created DivorceCare)

  11. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for your input everyone. I think your brought out several valid reasons why we fail to deal with this issue. I appreciate hearing from you.

    I do plan to write more on this- simply because we cannot continue to just ignore it and then not be perpared when it happens- no one is really served that way.

  12. preacherman says:

    I think elderships within the Churches of Christ expect the minister and their wives to be perfect. When talking to elders about problems it seems as if they didn’t want to hear it. Ignore the problem and it will go away. Some elderships have even fired ministers who were going through divorce. I think our fellowship is to judgemental when it comes to this topic. Yes, not all elderships are like this but the majority that I have experienced have been this way. I think authentic Christianity is the key. We need to stress our imperection to all of those around us. We need to stress that we are sinners as well in need of grace. When I did this with the last church people saw me in a different light. As one of them. I lead people from a legalistic view of grace into a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. Stressing our own faults and imperfections can help believe it or not our own sucess in ministry.
    I am now at a congregation that is eccumenical and open to all people. It is within our fellowship and the elders genuinely care about the people. We have countless single moms, young families that are married and divorced, re-married, and old as well. We have addicts, abusers, alcoholics, and on and on. Yet the church is striving to be the church God desires in the 21st century.
    I believe as you mention that we should talk and write about it more. The more we talk about it the more educated believers within our fellowship become. The more educated the more tolerant and willingness to help. Please keep writing, blogging, speaking about this topic. We need to be a church of believers that takes care of their ministers! AMEN?

  13. Kelly Lawson says:

    Thanks:

    I thought I was the only one God has forgiven.

  14. Jason says:

    Thanks for the article. My wife left me and is planning on filing for divorce. She is also going to file custody of our three children. I pray it doesn’t happen, but it likely will. I live in a rural area, where there are virtually no divorce support groups anywhere, much less support in the church. I formerly served as a minister for about 10 years, and currently work for a hospice organization. This separation has left me feeling like my world is spinning. Any hope you can give will be beneficial.

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  16. Sister Lydia says:

    “The Days of Noah” (C) 2010 will clarify this topic. Get it for free by writing to Sister Lydia, 36, Third Street, Barataria, Trinidad West Indies.

  17. Gene says:

    I am a psychologist wanting to do christian counseling and pick up an MdiV or other degree. HU grad from 1989, married and divorced biblically (her affair) and now married to a wonderful girl in catholic church studying with me about the bible.Married by Christian church min after cof C told me she was no believer and I was in the lead for the army of Satan; of course the Catholics would not marry us. Do I write off a chance at ministry with the cofC? Seems like a critical bunch of folks. They seem to apply the material from Paul to Timothy to people like myself, but have no problem endorcing youth, musical and other roles…hmmmm…speak where that bible speaks…hmmm…not sure they are following that jazz anymore. Advice?

  18. THE REASON MOST PREACHERS DO’NT PREACH ON M.D.R IS BECAUSE THEY DO’NT REALLY UNDERSTAND THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. ALSO IF A PREACHER IS COMMITTING ADULTERY HE HAS NO BUSINESS BEHIND THE PULPIT PERIOD, BUT IF HIS X-WIFE WAS THE GUILTY ONE & HE DID NOT COMMIT FORNICATION WHILE MARRIED THEN THAT SHOULDN’T EXCLUDED HIM FROM BEING A PREACHER. BY THE WAY I’M LOOKING FOR WORK AS A PREACHER. E-MAIL garanzuay.alex@yahoo.com

  19. Mike says:

    Saved early in my youth, baptized the second time in a CoC. Felt called to the ministry, went to Bible college but did not complete it as I got married and went in the armed services. Wife left me, while I was on active dity. I believed it was the unpardonable sin, at least for ministers, and over time became the image of the prodigal son. Finally years later I met an married. Had a wonderful marriage for 24 years and lost her to cancer. I have since remarried a wonderful christian woman and again feel the call into the ministry, but I am afraid because of those who will not attend the party my Father has set up for me at my returning.

  20. dannydodd says:

    Brother, I pray that God’s family surprises you by celebrating with you at your party.

  21. Mike says:

    Thank you, and please pray that if it is the Lord’s will that He will open the doors to make it a reality.

  22. Marilyn says:

    Well, if these ministers expect their congregation members to lead pristine lives, they have to walk the talk. Do not preach against divorce while saying it is different because you (a preacher) finds that you do not want to be married any longer and desire other women. If a church member is shunned due to a divorce, the same should go for a “man of the cloth.” Hypocrisy is not very nice.

    • Ron says:

      Marilyn, The Church of Christ Throws Divorced congregation members under the bus (Denies Remarriage) on complex issues. Then turns around an hires divorce Preachers. You attend C of C for years for years & then turns their back on you. Then they wonder why GODS people are leaving the their church. They want people to be perfect, & pick every word out of the Bible, as if humans & life on earth is so simple. And those married members, who lucked out (Maybe) & have good marriage relationships (Maybe) will look on why divorce people suffer . I wonder what JESUS would say ?

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