Pastors: Dealing With Peril in the Pew
Forgiveness is Essential to Spiritual and Church Health
October 8, 2010 - October is Pastor Appreciation Month. During this month, we will post various articles as a tribute to pastors, encouragement for their families and help for lay people in ministering to their pastors. For the first article we caught up with Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, a pastor’s daughter, who wrote a memoir titled The Devil in Pew Number Seven. Her new release documents the years of terror her family endured at the hands of a member of the community. Find out her take on forgiveness.
The Word of God is full of instruction on how to deal with disgruntled church members or with those who usurp authority.
By Joy Allmond
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.