Pastors: Dealing With Peril in the Pew

By   •   October 8, 2010

Being a pastor or part of a pastor’s family is not an easy road. Rebecca Nichols Alonzo has firsthand knowledge.

In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, N.C. with his wife, Ramona, who was expecting Alonzo, to pastor a small town church. They were warmly welcomed by this community and their congregation. In less than one year, the church grew from 11 to 100 members.

The town was happy about the new addition, except for one man who sat in “pew number seven” every Sunday – Mr. Watts. He was a wealthy county commissioner who controlled the community for years. He began a string of terror on the Nichols family that lasted for over five years. The harassment included threatening letters, drive-by shootings and explosions around the parsonage in which they lived.

Several years after this terror began, an armed man entered the Nichols home, and things were never the same.

Lessons on Forgiveness

While Alonzo’s story is an extreme example of the difficulties of pastoral life, forgiveness is an issue many clergy families must face.

“As a child, my mother and I used to pray consistently for Mr. Watts,” Alonzo remembers. “The Bible is very black and white about forgiveness. It doesn’t matter whether the offender ‘deserves’ it or whether you ‘feel’ like forgiving. Romans 12:14 clearly tells us to bless those who persecute us. The Word of God is full of instruction on how to deal with disgruntled church members or with those who usurp authority. It tells us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.

“Jesus is our greatest example of forgiveness, as He hung on the cross and asked God to forgive those who crucified Him. This principle should apply to us today as we go through hard times in churches. When there is a problem in a church, the power of God can come in and take care of that problem His way. We are blessed when we obey Him and forgive others. However, this doesn’t mean He is going to take the people out of your church who have caused the problems.”

The Power of a Loving Congregation

While Alonzo’s family suffered under the mistreatment of this man, that experience did not interfere with her spiritual growth or her connection with the church. She testifies to the power of a strong, supportive, loving congregation.

“Because everyone else in the church was so loving and thankful that my parents were there, it didn’t taint my view of the church or the community. I looked to my mom’s strength and love for people and saw that my dad was faithful to the call God placed on his life,” Alonzo explains. “Because Mr. Watts came to church every Sunday, their hope was that the Word of God would penetrate his heart, he would receive Jesus, and as a result, those seeds of anger and bitterness would melt away.”

Alonzo encourages people to pray for their pastors. “Please pray for a hedge of protection around pastors, their families, their minds and their finances,” said Alonzo. As for pastoral families, she urges them to trust in God’s protection. “Just know that He will be there with you during anything you go through.”

Learn more of Alonzo’s story; visit her Web site.

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30 Comments

  1. Katie says:

    I am a pk and saw my Dad mistreated many times, yet he always showed a gentle spirit towards those who did this. I'm amazed today that in many pulpits the pastor abuses and misuses the parishoners. We were in a church where the pastor sent out letters to half of the church telling them they were no longer members there – some of them were founding members without whom the church would not have existed. The reason? Members were asking for him to show the details of the church finances. He refused saying basically “My way or the highway” – In a church conference he sat all of those to whom he had sent letters on his left – I guess that was the “goat” section, and all of those whom he controlled on his right. He also had hired off duty armed policemen to stand inside the sanctuary during the business meeting. It was a sad situation and caused many to lose their faith. Today he has moved away from the church to his hometown, but still claims to pastor the church from this far distance – claiming it is a satellite church for him. I didn't know you could have a satellite church without a main church. I'm amazed at the extent of abuse within the church both from the pew and the pulpit.

  2. Christina says:

    My husband passed away in February 2010 and I have been dealing with Devils in the Family. Three of my step-children and their spouses (and one girlfriend) are not speaking to me at this time because they believe I should move out of our home (me and our 11 year old daughter) and give the home to my youngest step-son who is not married yet. According to my husband's will I inherited all of his personal assets and belongings to give to the children (4 step and two biological) as I see fit. I have been called many names, and a hypocrite and thief. I have been critizised for posting Bible verses on Facebook and Twitter and told that I don't need to pray for them, only for me to do what is right by my husband's blood children. As a Christian, whose faith was increased and strengthened during my husband's accident, hospital stay and death, I am having a really hard time with forgiving those that hurt me. But every day I pray for these same children to be led, guided and directed by God in everything they say and do. I will be purchasing this book to learn more about forgiving Devils in the Family.

  3. Charles says:

    Our leadership needs our daily faithful prayers. The Lord holds them to a higher responsibility as to how the shepherd has watched over His sheep. They need prayer for wisdom, for protection, for pure hearts and strength… On forgiveness: – not erring to the side of legalism at all, the Lord commands forgiveness. And as many times as it takes one to obtain mercy from the Lord to exercise it – we must go to Him until it is so — even if its' 100 times a day.. He is faithful and just to forgive us, and by His Spirit will enable us to forgive.

  4. susan says:

    What do we do when its the PASTORS WIFE that is causing a rift in the church? Our church needs desperate help. People are extremely hurt, gossip is rampant, people are angry and disillusioned and disgusted.

  5. Paul says:

    These perils in the pews are usually expressing problems in their own lives and if you listen carefully, 9 times out of 10 they are talking about themselves however convincingly they try to put someone else down; it is an attempt to make themselves look better at the expense of someone else. It shouldn't be like this in church and the real damage is only done when others join in with this evil pastime.

  6. Lee Ann says:

    I had a very dear friend who loved the Lord but stopped going to church after her she felt that the church rejected her. Her husband pastored the church but left the church, his wife and three children for another woman and her three children. This is one of life's greatest tragedies. The three children left the church, too, and are now adults who desperately need the Lord. We all need the healing that can only come from forgiveness, humility and constantly seeking the Lord. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your story.

  7. Barry says:

    How sad for the Pastor and family. Even sadder when the Pastor misuses power for personal gain. I have personally seen it both ways.

  8. ANNE says:

    I can relate to Veronica, When the unkindness and cruelty (gossip, backbiting, compromise, mocking, respecter of people etc) comes from the pulpit it is so hard to forgive, esp when the Lord has not openly rebuked the offender! I know we are called to forgive…and sometimes that comes slowly…as the wounds heal. I am thankful that both my girls are still growing in the Lord and realize we live in a fallen sinful world…and sin doesn't only live outside the church. They also came to see God using the kindness of unsaved fallen people to to support us at our lowest point. Funny how God uses painful situations to get us out of our 'holy bubble' to love the nonbeliever even more! The Lord will make it all right…that's what I lean on when the bad memories flood in.

  9. Christopher says:

    This is a difficult topic to deal with. In areas such as the initial story where there are criminal things being done, knowing who is doing them and proving who is doing them is another matter. I would assume that the law was not involved because they could not prove to the authorities who was doing them. I believe in forgiveness. I also believe that protecting your family comes before forgiving others. if I fail to protect my family from a known threat, then I have sinned against them. Protecting your family comes first. This is a very hard subject. There are many, many people who go to church for reasons other than worshiping God. The message from the pulpit bounces off of them like bullets off of Superman's chest. That sounds like what Mr. Watts was. No interest in God. Just there for some other reason. Or, maybe he actually believed that he was a Christian. if it was possible, that family should have had him arrested. But, they may not have been able to prove it or the local authorities may have been in his back pocket. Very scary and very sad situation. If everyone in church were there for the right reasons, to worship and honor God, these problems would almost never occur. The Mr. Watts of this world definitely need lots of prayer.

  10. Michael says:

    I could say a lot here but for times sake I will keep it short…… The REAL BOTTOM LINE is – Who is sitting on the Throne of your life… If it is Christ … you will yield and be patient and encouraging and pray. If you are not completely led by Christ and go to Church and Fight to be involved – there will be trouble. As far as the story in which the man set out to destroy the pastor with drive by shootings and bombs and such …..HONEY that ain't NO Christian….That's a Wolf dressed in Sheep's clothing..! I completely agree in being patient and praying for people that are opposed to our thinking or ways of doing things…more times then not I am the one learning to grow in those situations…..BUT you have to use wisdom in these kind of situations because DEMONS really do exist. Its one thing to want to be heard…It's another to want to destroy.