My dear friend Eric Spivey tells the true story of a minister whose wife sinned and caused the minister to have to resign his church. I know “Bill” (name changed) very well.
Like the stories of Israel and the disciples, my friend Bill’s story begins with an illusion of normalcy. As a young pastor a few years out of seminary, he loves his church in a rural South Carolina community. And he’s good at it too. He has led the congregation to partner an African American church in the community, begun a Bible study in a local truck stop, and even started renovating the church. All first! He is loved by the church and the community.
Everything gives the perception of perfection. He has a beautiful young wife and a young daughter, who are both loved by the community as well. His life is exactly how he pictured it when God called him out of law school to pursue a life of pastoral ministry. As Bill scans his life – he believes the advertising – all really is perfect.
That is until the day he gets a phone call. The woman on the other line tells him a new and different tale of his family – a secret life he never imagined. Soon there is a photograph of his wife in the arms of another man. For any man or woman – this situation will radically change our lives. This is the desolation, Bill most fears. For a minister – this phone call is even more devastating. Our marriages are not just personal – they are vocational. The photograph on his screen not only threatens his marriage – it threatened his vocation, his calling.
After the confrontation, Bill and his wife begin living out a new reality. Counseling, forgiveness, trust building and prayer are poured into the relationship not only to save a marriage but to save a calling and ministry. After a couple of years of work, feeling more confident in their relationship, Bill and his wife welcome a new son and accept a call to a bigger church where they can expand his pastoral influence. Once again – all seems perfect.
Within the first year – like the disciples who were blinded sided in the Garden and People of Jerusalem who were still waiting for God to save the town as the Babylonians poured in – Bill’s greatest fear comes true. His wife’s mental illness and infidelity come to a head. His family empties retirement accounts and sends her to the nation’s best clinics to help heal her childhood scars and save their marriage. He takes a month off from his pastorate to be with his wife at the clinic. She decides she wants to escape it all and moves out to her hometown. She later files for divorce and is quickly remarried. He loses both his marriage, his home, and his church. Hopeless, afraid, beaten down, he packs up his remaining items and moves out of state – exiled from church ministry. Desolation has come.
And Bill’s story – healing came long and hard. And slowly – as the years progressed – God continued to provide. First came healing of his heart, then came a secular job to support him, then a new wife, and now a new child. His desolation transformed him, but it did not destroy him. God used this experience to give him a whole new ministry of healing.
How does the church deal with a divorced minister? Is it a scarlet letter? Is there room within the Southern Baptist for divorced ministers? What happens?