Monday, November 29, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Waiting

I've heard some murmuring of this issue recently and have experienced it myself, so I thought I would address it in print today.

What do you do when you are not happy in the church where your husband pastors?

Been there, done that twice. When you figure that my husband has been a full-time vocational pastor in four different churches, that equals 50%. Those aren't good odds. For the record, I wasn't unhappy the whole time we were at either church. In fact there were some really wonderful times at both places. However, for a total of the 13 years he served in these two churches, three of the years were very challenging and, at times, downright miserable.

(For the record, for any former church members who may be reading this, one of the churches is obvious, the other not so much. I am leaving out some details to intentionally be a bit cryptic and not provide absolute identification. And...I'm not saying which is which.)

So at this one church we were plugging along, life was good, and out of the blue Robert was asked to interview for a position as a youth minister is a "hip, progressive church" in a Big City. This interview was totally unsolicited as we were content and not looking to leave. We had started to have the very slightest intuition of some things at our church, but nothing out of the ordinary that would cause us to leave. However, Robert decided to test the waters and he interviewed. Everything went well and they invited him back for the second interview with me and the kids in tow. They paid for all of us to go to Big City and we spent the weekend doing the couple interviews and the "we're checking out how well behaved your kids are and are also secretly making judgments about your parenting skills" interview. The boys were well taken care of and had a great time. We were wined and dined (well, not was a Baptist church, after all) and enjoyed getting to know everyone on the search committee. We loved everything about the people and the church. Plus...they were offering Robert big bucks. More than double his current salary and a salary pretty much unheard of for a youth minister in those days. The funny thing is the night of the big couple interview when everything had gone SO well---we liked them and they liked us--we got in the car to drive back to the hotel and we looked at each other and simultaneously said, "No." To this date, it remains one of the most obvious that-was-God-talking moments of our life together. Everything was perfect on paper and in experience, but for some reason, in our guts, we both felt that it wasn't the right time or place.

Fast forward a few months. Church members are starting to come to Robert with complaints about the senior pastor. This puts a youth minister is a very tricky position. He was diplomatic and always had the senior pastor's back. However, he was starting to sense truth in some of the complaints, mostly related to lying. Over time he was having trouble serving underneath the authority of someone he didn't respect and couldn't trust. Of course, Robert couldn't share this with anyone in church or any friend in the community. It was our horrible secret.

We prayed, Robert started having some significant stomach problems and weight loss from the stress of working with this man, and we were both frustrated and angry. I hated sitting in the pew every Sunday looking at this man preach, knowing full well other details which made me hold no esteem for him. The thought that he was preaching the Word of God and living such a double life repulsed me. I hated going to church. We started praying about leaving. Robert had a good reputation throughout the state as a youth minister and could have had any number of new positions. However, God told us to be patient, wait, and stay. STAY!??! In these conditions? Yes. The answer was clear.

During this time God taught me that even though the messenger may be living a life of sin, His Word never returns void. Every Sunday I would tune out the pastor's words and focus on the scripture and prayer. God taught me a whole lot while I sat in that pew. There was a big positive change in me. We waited it out for a whole year, before we felt that it was okay to move on. It felt so incredible to be free from that burden! I, being vindicative at heart, wanted Robert to out this man to the church after we left. That wouldn't have been productive though. Robert did confront him. He ultimately was "found out" for other issues and was forced out.

The other experience was at a church that split. Splits are never pleasant and this was no exception. However, we both knew again that we weren't supposed to leave. The church service dwindled to a third of what it had been and our youth group of over a hundred kids was down to the high teens and twenties. It was a time of feeling defeated and broken down. The joy was gone. However, Jesus never said He wanted us to be happy. The Bible doesn't guarantee a life of ease. In fact, Jesus told us quite the opposite.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We were ready, willing, and able to leave. We wanted to move on. God said, "Wait on me." Ugh! As uncomfortable and frustrating as it can be at times, there really is no better place than in the center of God's will. So we waited...for two years. During those two years more staff left. Robert was covering work of others who had left. The work at church was disheartening because the numbers were down so much and the wind was knocked out of everyone's sails, staff and church members alike. Rumors were running rampant and there was no joy in Mudville. Robert had promised the youth that he wasn't going anywhere and wouldn't even consider looking until a new senior pastor was found. Almost two years later and still pastorless, we both felt released to start looking at other options. Godcidentally, a new SP was hired about two months before we left. God's timing is perfect. Every time.

Personal lessons I learned:
*Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy is dependent on a relationship with Jesus. Joy is where I want to be.
*It's much easier to hang onto Jesus when He's all you have.
*God's timing is frustrating and nonsensical from where we are sitting sometimes, but it is always perfect.
*There are great lessons to be learned about oneself and the character and nature of God during times of trial.
*There are few things more heartbreaking than to watch your husband be defeated and broken and be helpless to do anything about it.
*I learned to be content (not happy) during very bad times.
*God really does speak. We just have to be listening.