Years ago, Cat Stevens penned this line … “the first cut is the deepest,” which is completely true in so many aspects of life. My husband and I were in ministry, our first ministry experience together, for about five years when this first cut manifested in our lives. We met in college and my husband was working at a church as the “over-worked-under-paid” intern. Eventually, he was promoted from intern to assistant youth pastor and then, over time, to the high school pastor.
I must say, being hurt in ministry is just like being hurt in any other aspect of life. You never see it coming. It feels like you’ve been broadsided by a semi-truck. It cuts deep. It leaves a scar. And even when you’ve dealt with it, years later, the memories are still there.
During this time, my husband worked for an incredible lead pastor—a patriarch in ministry. When he decided to retire, that’s when our world began to fall apart.
The church placed an interim pastor in charge, a pastor on staff alongside my husband. The day he was put at the helm of leadership, he had a laundry list of things stacked against my husband. Strange things. Like being upset when my husband and I slept in the same room on a mission trip. Or about a bible study we hosted with our high school students. It was a very relevant book on issues young people struggled and are tempted with. We saw so many lives changed through this bible study but he saw it as “too explicit” and couldn’t believe high school students would actually be exposed to the things outlined in the book.
He would hide behind a door and listen to what my husband would speak about. He would say my husband would just preach the same message each week and just change a few nuances. He interviewed parents and told us that they weren’t happy with my husbands leadership. But when we asked for these parents names, he would never give us any.
I hurt incredibly bad for my husband. He gave everything for these students, some of which he mentored for four years. We were young in ministry and we had so much hope. But this event crushed our dreams and ultimately made my husband question if he was made for ministry. My husband left that church a broken man. He was hurt by those closest to him. By people he looked up to. By friends.
This whole process sort of numbed me toward ministry for some time. I learned to put on a front. A happy face. Because isn’t that what people really want? When I saw the hurt my husband went through in that church, I didn’t understand. It confused me that people in ministry would treat one of their own this way. So, I learned to mask my hurt, I learned to “fake it til I made it.” People don’t want to hear that people can be hurt by the church, especially church leadership.
After we left that church, my husband was burned and worn out. He took a job at the same bank I was working at and we served weekly at the new church we started attending. It was a time of healing for us. We were surrounded by people that were kind and loving and knew about the hurt we had experienced. My husband met weekly with the lead pastor and he gave words of encouragement and prayer for us. We were told that it was alright to feel hurt. He told us that people who work in church, and the church as a whole, are just that…people. And that people can and will hurt each other.
Less than a year after we left that first church, my husband was asked to be the high school pastor at the new church and he accepted. That time was pivotal for us. It helped us heal and grow and trust again.
I learned a lot as a wife during this time, giving love, support, and encouragement to my husband. I learned how to deal with hurt better and took away these few things:
1. Hurt can happen anywhere, even in ministry. When people – especially church leadership or members in the church – hurt you, you have a two choices: let it discourage you, wound you, and keep you from doing ministry OR you can learn, grow, and mature because of it. This is particularly difficult as a wife of a pastor. Seeing your husband encounter the sting of pain and difficulties in ministry can be awful. It’s a natural reaction as a wife to take on that pain and let it affect you. But, ultimately, we need to understand that we’re not doing ministry for people. Our ministry is toward the One who called us and has led us to the place we’re called to lead.
2. Learning to trust again is essential. Chances are the minute you step through the doors of the church where your spouse is employed, you can be hurt—by your fault, the leadership, or the church body. So you need to be prepared to ask yourself some questions: What will you do next? Will you choose to build walls in your life, shutting people out? Will you refuse to follow the call placed on your life? It’s very likely you will face this crossroads and you’ll have a choice: close yourself off from others OR let go of all the hurt and pain and learn to be open and honest and trust again. Trust me, this is not easy. This process can take a long time and it’s exhausting. But you owe it to yourself to be whole again.
3. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Reach out to others who have been through what you’re going through, the pain and hurt of ministry. I know there was one woman in particular who really cared and listened to what I went through during that time. She reassured me that my feelings were valid and that it was alright to reach out for professional help. The pain of hurt in ministry cuts deep and it’s something that could really be imprinted on your life for a while. Talk to someone you trust and allow them to be a support in your healing process.
4. Let it be part of your story. “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.” -Joseph son of Jacob (Genesis 50:20)
The life changing part about pain and hurt, which I find rather incredible, is that it can be part of your story. When you share your story, others can grow and learn from it too. It allows others to heal and know they’re not alone. Your story needs to be shared, just like I’m doing now, not only for others but for yourself. It’s a biblical example of grace and compassion. When you accept it as part of your beautiful story, lives will be changed. And so will yours.