Family secrets of betrayal, mistrust, physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional incest, neglect, abandonment, ridicule, and the absence of genuine love creates extreme tensions within a household. Such secrets also have a devastating impact upon each member of the family. Some families maintain a respectful appearance in front of people in general, but show no respect for others at home. Some family secrets are so well hidden that outsiders sometimes find it hard to believe such disrespectful behavior goes on in that family. Do we find similar secrets within the family of faith--church?

Do you remember the last time you heard a sermon or read a devotional on respect? Verses with the word "respect" occurs many times in the Bible. The New Testament writers exhorted the early church to treat people with respect; to live in honorably in Christ to gain the respect of others; and to select people for leadership in the church who are well respected both within and without the family of faith.

Duke's recent "Pulpit and the Pew" study focused on clergy health. It concluded that just telling clergy to take better care of themselves was not enough. The real answer is the church regaining respect for the stewardship of one's health. Then churches will respect the pastor's weekly time off, other time related boundaries for one's family and personal exercise, and annual vacations. As a result these activities will not be seen as time away from ministry but as time spent taking care of ministry.

My dad played tennis with a retired Lutheran pastor who served as a troubleshooter for almost his entire ministry. Like my dad, the man not only plays tennis, but he competes in tournaments as well. He is a remarkable man and a cancer survivor. However, every time dad sees a member from the Lutheran Church the retired pastor attends all they can talk about is how much that man plays tennis. From the way they talk, one would think that retired Lutheran pastor played tennis all the time.

Dad assures them and me that the man does not play tennis all that much, he's too old to. It's as if some in that church believe even a retired pastor should not exercise or have a sport they really enjoy.

Personally, I'm not sure how really Lutheran those petty complainers are. The grown up Lutherans that I knew in my teen and college years were only a little above the Presbyterians in the respect in which they spoke of their pastor.

Anyhow, Martin Luther had his own disrespectful parishioners. One day, the story goes, Luther was hanging out diapers outside his home with many children. A parishioner told Dr. Martin to return quickly to his pastoral duties and cease his present activity. Being a family man and a quick theological thinker on his feet, Luther replied "The angels in heaven rejoice!" as he continued his present course of activity.

Surely the angels did not rejoice over the televangelists scandals of the previous century. They exemplified disrespect for God, others, and damaged others respect for the church. We can make similar comments about this century's horrific scandals within the Roman Catholic Church. However, this is not the worst or the most frequently covered up "dirty little secret" within the North American Church.

In the Old Testament book of Malachi, God presents the pointed question, "Where is my respect?" Do we dare ask, like the Israelites, how? As much as we have expressed disrespectful behavior or withheld the respect due others within the body of Christ, we have also done such to Jesus.

A non-Christian leader in India, Gandhi, once said something like, "your Christ I like but your church I can do without," Unchurched people who say things like this have either heard reports the church's dirty little family secret or know people  who have. Our de-churched brothers and sisters in Christ don't often say the same phrase. They just leave the institutional church because of their firsthand experience with the lack of respect within churches and those who cover it up. They have had all they can take with those who demand a false peace at any price while treating others with extreme disrespect.

Not every de-churched person suffers with memories of abuse like the pagan Britons portrayed in the movie "King Arthur." Some are no longer willing to remain trapped by a parochial dysfunctional system like Martin Luther.

A preteen boy described the church where his dad was pastor as "racial." True, he meant to say racist. In addition, he felt like an unwanted orphan in that "loving" congregation. Trauma of various types comes into every ones life. However, the church's disrespectful racism, clannish treatment of others and this unwelcoming treatment of the mentally ill as well as their family members also create de-churched people.

One Sunday, a six-year-old boy asked his mother who owned the church. She told him God does. After thinking for a moment, he replied, "well God owns the church, dad's preaching God's Word and some people don't like his preaching. Hey, let's go see a movie."  So, after lunch they went out to see Star Wars.

Ever hear of an E.G.O. person? (By the way this is not Freudian. It's Lutheran.) They don't respect who owns the church for they Edge God Out. Some act as if God died and left them in charge. During the choir special, one such clergy killer type once gave a pastor a fussy note about forgetting to recognize birthdays and irritably said, "This is from the lord of the universe." He thought but did not tell the man "step aside Darth Vader, I'll deal with the empress later."

Yes, there are a few spiritual and very gifted Luke Skywalker types for very troubled churches. God provides to them   possibly lead a congregation to freedom from the death grip of parishioners who Edge God Out.

Some pastors are potential healthy leaders of 1st church Corinth type congregations. Their ministry gifts and graces are impressive, yes very impressive, but they are not a spiritual Jedi night for Jesus yet! Far too often they jump too quickly into a troubled church. Sometime they will accept such a challenge for a denominational official persuades them to do so without telling them all the facts. If that is not disrespectful enough, the pastor oftentimes becomes sacrificial lamb. Sad to say but the slaughter goes on while some denominational leaders wash their hands as Pontius Pilate did with Jesus.

What impact does it have on churches to see these pastors come and go, but never hear a denominational leader call them to task or really back up the pastor? As my Lutheran friend, Rev. Tom Fischer, has written in his article, Protecting and Investing God's Pearls--The Pastor,

If the denomination and those placing pastors won't respect the worth of pastors, but send them to places of certain failure anyway, Is it any wonder that the congregations won't respect them either?. . . Let's not take God's "talents" and bury them in a hole of multiple dysfunctional congregational dynamics when opportunities for maximizing such gifts abound.

It's long overdue, but it needs to stop now. Pastor after pastor comes and goes like a revolving door. Often, these churches feel entitled to a pastor regardless of how they treat him or her. Almost every time another pastor leaves after one or two years, some more of the healthy members leave never to return. However, as the healthy ones leave, more of the unhealthy ones come back. Thus, the later state of the congregation is worse than the former.

Very often the clergy and lay ministry leaders who leave do so in far worse shape. Depending on the disrespectful inflicted trauma's depth and breadth, their recovery may take years or wait until the resurrection. To abandon these brothers and sisters in Christ is very disrespectful. King David demonstrated more respect for the very unhealthy king Saul than we often do for the church's deeply wounded clergy who very often have not done anything wrong at all.

Whenever any ministry leader, clergy or laity, is the target of very disrespectful behavior and actions, several people are hurt by Christians are disillusioned. Children are frightened. The ministry leader's children often suffer the most pain. Their secure world is shattered and they find themselves very worried about his or her parents. They often wonder if their relationship with their parents or their parents’ relationship will be traumatized also. Sometimes couples do break up because the spouse just can't take it anymore.

Forget the naive belief in how resilient children are. If the adult ministry leader in their home is horribly mistreated, then their spiritual journey is in great danger. Truly, it would be better for those who cause these young ones to stumble if a millstone were upon their neck and someone threw them into the sea. Believe it if you will, but some pastors' children will no longer darken the door of a church.

Whenever a ministry leader experiences extreme disrespect, it wears down their self-confidence, their emotional health, as well as their trust in the local church and/or denomination. It does the same to their spouse and children. Furthermore, the ability of the family to trust again, their commitment to stay in ministry leadership, their ability to be a loving spouse; and their ability to be a loving person as well as a caring person.

The Family Secret

The church scandal that does not make the news.


Rev. John Marshall Crowe, D.Min.