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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  1. mary says:

    I am a pastor's wife. Yes we have seen many people treat us cruelly in each church served for over 30 years. DID NOT feel it was deserved but we did and so forgive those who mistreat us. However, we have two grown children now that are not serving the Lord. They saw so much they can not understand why the abuse and unkind things done to them or their father. GOD IS STILL good, and we serve Him no matter what. Satan tries to break down the man of God to destroy the work. He uses whatever weak point to do so. Thanks for prayers to wiithstand him and be strong. Yes. please put a hedge around all who trully proclaim His word. mary

  2. Mary, great grandma says:

    This article brings to mind about God being in control. Yes, it is so sad to see churches in trouble. In the past, I have been active in two very large outstanding churches, growing, preaching the gospil and then, the Devil takes over, and reduces the churches to small numbers. How can this happen? Yes, we need to lift our ministers and famililes to the Lord daily.

  3. Martha says:

    We now teach English in South Korea because we couldn't take the opposition from yet another church when all we wanted to do was love people and see them saved, it was never as extreme as drive by shooting but it was enough that one of our daughters is still seeing a counselor.

  4. ELIZABETH says:


  5. Joy says:

    What a sad story. I am a Pastor's daughter, married also to a Pastor. The things I have seen in the church are an embarrassment to our Lord. It's no wonder people don't darken the doorsteps of a church. BUT what a wonderful encouragement to know this family remembered who they were serving and kept on keeping on for Jesus! God grows you through tough times and you come out stronger! Thank you for this article. Our Pastor just yesterday dealt in a.m. and p.m. services about gossip in the church; he was strong and it needed to be taught. Words, actions DO hurt! I will be sharing this article with our two girls, who see the many inconsistencies on the church and look to us for answers, Godly wisdom. It also begins in the home. Do your children see/hear you gossipping, tearing down others, hurting people?

  6. Veronica says:

    What is even more difficult is when the Pastor, who is very popular with the congregation, and (because of his position) appears to have God on his side, harrasses a member in his congregation, thereby causing the commiunity to do so as well. It takes a tremendous amount of forgiveness as well as a new address! But I always go back to what Jesus said on the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I recognize that I too am a sinner and require God's mercy as well, allowing me to forgive quickly any transgressions done against me.

  7. Cleansing says:

    What happened when the gunman entered the home? How were things never the same? I am so glad God has forgiven us while we were still sinners so we can understand how to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

  8. Jimi Johnson says:

    As a pastor's daughter, I also have memories of certain church members that could classified as “the Devil in the Pew”. St one church in Texas, we had a deacon and his family that “terrorized” us with threatening phone calls and letters. It was a hard lesson to learn on forgiveness, but like Alonzo, I had praying parents that taught us about the power of prayer and forgiveness.

  9. kanawha1kanobi says:

    I appreciate that message of love and support for your pastor and family; and I feel that all should be that way: supportive, prayerful and wanting to help in any way possible. However, it seems that some things Mr. Watts did was criminal, was the law ever involved? It appears to me that one should have to account for his or her actions including Mr. Watts. What happened to him?

  10. Adriano Brazil says:

    It's unbelievable how even in our congregations we are faced by people, we have our church problems. Incredible how in our churches we have one or more members that sometimes or always oppose the pastor or the ministrys' ideas. I believe we have must trust the Lord to solve it all. We gotta ask him strenght, courage and wisdom about dealing with those brothers. Jesus Christ had to endure Judas antil His death.Definetely there are thousand of pastors enduring church menbers.I hope we, in the person of members, realize that we are here to help our overseers.