It’s Sunday and you and your spouse have had a wonderful morning worshipping at church. You are one of the key leaders on staff. You are curious because your 21-year-old daughter missed church that morning. You called her cell phone two or three times and there was no answer. Where was she? Why didn’t she come to church that morning? She has been a part of that church since she was three. She is one of the lead singers in worship on the contemporary music team. Was she sick when she got out of bed and did not make it? But if she was sick, why didn’t she answer her cell phone? You become concerned but nothing prepares you for what has happened.
You pull into the garage and there is a note on the door. In short, the note says “I love you with all my heart but I have left to move to another state 1,300 miles away. I will be moving in with someone. My cell phone will be cut off for the next two days as I drive to my destination so I can think.” Your heart sinks. You and your spouse are in disbelief. You immediately try to call her cell phone and it goes to voice mail. You leave messages to please call, please turn around and come home. You pray! You cry!
Physical and Emotional Distance
She is driving 1,300 miles to live with a former member of your church. He moved recently because he had a job in another state. He had also been a part of the contemporary music team. He is still married and has filed for divorce and has two children. He is also fifteen years older than your daughter. Her young life has experienced turmoil. She failed during her first year of college and was asked not to return. Her boyfriend at college that she was going to marry broke up with her when she did not return to college. That same boyfriend now serves on staff at your church. She cannot take seeing him every week, knowing they have no future.
She is extremely vulnerable and the other man, fifteen years her senior, provides a sense of future security. He provides an easy out from her struggles of school and relationship failures. But his past has been far from trustworthy.
You pray every day that she will see reality but instead, not long after his divorce is complete, she marries him. You go to the wedding and actually walk her down the aisle. What you want to do is kidnap her and bring her home. You know you must keep the door open for her in case one day she is hurt by this and wants to come home. There is not an ounce of happiness during the entire wedding for you or your spouse.
Later, you hear about their arguments. You hear about her bouts with depression, knowing that you must leave this new journey in her life in God’s hands. She has no close friends in her new home and every one she knows is older. She is missing out on her twenties. She is instantaneously a mid thirty-year-old.
There is so much turmoil in your family’s life. A younger brother and sister cannot believe what their older sibling has done. They know her new husband well, which makes it more confusing to them as to how she could give up so much for him.
But would there be turmoil for me as one of the leading staff members at my church? Aren’t pastor’s families above these acts? Would this raise eyebrows as to whether we were good parents and whether I was an appropriate leader in the church? Don’t the actions of my children, even as young adults, reflect back on my skills as a leader? If this appears to be a failure on our part as godly parents, does that mean my ability as a church leader will be called into question?
Pastors and Microscopes
Some staff pastors fear that the actions of their families will create a negative view of their work in the local church. Pastor’s children are under a microscope. That occurs in a church of 50 or a church of 5,000. Sometimes I wonder how pastor’s children make it.
On one hand, our daughter had the love of God, the love of her family and the support of the church. When she failed out of college, we were there. When her boyfriend left her, we were there. On the other hand, since she had a beautiful voice and sang in our contemporary worship services, people knew who she was. If there was an appearance in public that she was not living as she should, someone from the church would spot her. Growing up during the teenage years and the young adult years is hard enough without the eyes of church members observing and analyzing them almost every minute.
But what was the reaction of the church leadership? Was I asked to leave because I could not control my daughter? It does happen in churches across America. Was I asked to step down from my upper tier leadership role to another role? Was I asked to make up a story about her departure when members noticed her absence?
I am happy to say that quite the opposite took place. The Senior Pastor and staff surrounded me with prayers and concern. I was offered to take some time off to handle the emotional side of this event. I received many words of encouragement. I was allowed to tell as much or as little of my daughter’s story to members in a way I felt appropriate. The key here is unconditional love. Instead of looking at this as parental failure and ultimately leadership failure, they looked at my daughter as one of God’s sheep who has gone astray and needed all their prayers. They looked at my family as needing to be lifted up and cared for instead of torn down by accusations. The church leadership stood by our sides and wept with us while we wept.
But it all goes back to experiencing unconditional love. Jesus exemplified that love all the way to the cross. The religious leaders of the day had rejected the very people Jesus reached out to save. Those rejected received an unlimited love from the Savior. I hope no other pastor or staff member has my experience. But if they do, I hope they will allow God’s unconditional love to overwhelm them first and then an unconditional love from the leaders in their church. These two great loves have helped our family bear up under this trying and tumultuous time in our family’s life.