For three years, my church laid the groundwork for a church planting project in Houma, Louisiana. Finally, the time arrived for one last evangelistic endeavor in the target community. Our guest evangelist and Bible workers were in place, and we were excited for what we knew the Holy Spirit was poised to bring to fruition.
Each night of the first week of meetings was well attended, and the nightly sermons were well received. As that first Saturday night drew to an end, we looked back with pleasure on the solid foundation that had been laid. I had not slept well for much of that first week, for we had encountered several issues; and one of my responsibilities, as host pastor, was to make sure that all problems that arose were properly rectified. Now, with each challenge having been addressed, I was looking forward to my first good night’s sleep in quite a while.
But shortly after midnight that Sunday morning, July 16, 1995, I was startled out of my sleep by a message that I never in my wildest dreams expected to receive. My mother had fallen ill and was taken to a nearby hospital in serious condition. When I was able to speak to my father, he told me that she had suffered a stroke a few hours earlier, but the doctors believed that it was minor, comparatively.
I was able to hear my mother’s voice a few minutes later. And as many mothers do, she did her best to assure me that there was nothing for me to worry about; that she was going to be all right, her slurred speech notwithstanding. But now I was facing a difficult dilemma: Do I go back to my hometown, spend time with my mother, and give support to my dad? Or do I continue on with the work that we had started in 1992?
That was only the beginning of a trying summer for many of our team members, for we soon realized that we were being attacked by Satan— and he was attempting to thwart God’s work by afflicting our family members. First it was my mother, then the wife of our evangelist—she was hospitalized for most of the time we were preaching and teaching.
Clergy are people too
Sometimes we can easily forget that members of the clergy are people too—people with our own heartaches and physical pain. Interestingly, we as clergy—whether pastors, professors, leaders, chaplains—are the ones who sometimes fail to recognize this reality. Perhaps that is because we feel we have to be strong for everyone else; or perhaps we aren’t comfortable with sharing our personal issues with church members or other clergy in the same way we want them to share with us. As such, we keep a lot of things bottled up when the truth is our brothers and sisters in Christ are— aside from our family members—our greatest human source of strength and encouragement.
My own challenges
I earlier mentioned a family challenge; but like every other pastor, I have also faced professional challenges. I am thankful for pastors such as recently retired Alfred Booker and the late A. R. Carethers, who took me under their wings and shepherded me through personal and professional frustrations during my early years of ministry. Other pastors, especially young ones, face their own questions and wish someone would help them find the answers. To such pastors and other gospel workers, we dedicate this issue. Among the many articles that speak to ministerial families and the challenges they face are articles by S. Joseph Kidder, Dan Serns, and Martin Weber—men who have mentored hundreds of pastors over several decades. They share sound counsel with our readers that will prevent many stresses both in the home life and with their congregations— stresses that could needlessly derail many fine ministries before they even take root.
But there are also those particularly agonizing moments when we are touched at the deepest level of our being: when a friend from childhood dies earlier than should be expected; when someone close to us experiences inexplicable violence; when a dear relative suffers through a horrible disease. For me, my toughest moments transpired in 1987 and 1995, and my wife was there to hold my hand through it all. In our lead article, Charles A. Tapp shares his personal story and how God brought him—and continues to bring him—through his personal tough moments.
If you are reading this issue and are going through your own personal “storm,” as Tapp refers to it, I pray that you will experience the full strength and support that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, stands ready to give to you.