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Help For The Dysfunctional Family of God: Silent Suffering in the Pews

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Gloria Morrow Upland, CA - The community of faith continues to be put on public display in the media, with the recent murder of a beloved pastor in Tennessee by his wife. Their unfortunate tragedy underscores the need for more attention to be devoted to those who are silently suffering in the pews. Without benefit of a clear motive in the case, it is apparent to me that something was terribly wrong in that family, and their dysfunction went unnoticed and unattended to by the faith community. Two important questions come to mind. Was the church a safe place for the troubled pastor's wife to seek help for her personal and/or marital problems? Or was this another case where the pastoral leadership encouraged folk to pray when and if they struggled with problems in their marriages or mental illnesses instead of seeking professional counseling outside the church?

Whatever the case, the dysfunctional family suffers from a variety of issues that may require the help of trained professionals in addition to prayer and other spiritual disciplines. Some of those issues include: (1) Individual personality differences and personal issues; (2) Unresolved issues from the past; (3) Marital and family problems due to domestic violence and abuse, infidelity, and poor communication; (5) Financial problems and poverty; (6) Separation/divorce resulting in grief and loss and abandonment issues, depression, and sometimes a lack of financial support; (7) Mental and physical health problems; and (8) Spiritual disconnection. Any of the aforementioned problems can create high levels of distress, and failure to seek help can be lethal. Furthermore, when a major trauma strikes, families are rarely prepared to deal with it, and if they are unaccustomed to seeking outside help, family members may never recover emotionally.

However, the church can sometimes experience the same level of dysfunction with the same issues. In fact, there are some striking similarities between the nuclear family and the family of God that gather in churches, synagogues, and other places of worship each week. Remember, the church is made up of the same people who suffer outside the church. In addition, when there is a major problem or trauma in the church, parishioners are often more traumatized because they have come to the church to escape their everyday crises and calamities. Unfortunately, many churches are unprepared to appropriately deal with problems in the church, traumatic events, or other devastating situations, so most folk resort to talking to one another in order to make sense out of what has happened, which may not always be a healthy solution. It may be problematic for hurting and broken people to attempt to rescue other hurting and broken people, because everyone may drown in the process.

Abandonment issues and separation anxiety can also be pronounced for church families because in some denominations, pastors and their families are reassigned to other churches every two or three years. While reassignment can be good for both pastors and people, both may suffer because there is little to no time to process, say good-bye, grieve, and heal from their losses. Once again, many people sitting in the pews have had to cope with the abandonment of fathers, mothers, and other caregivers, and to be forced to go through that process again and again can be devastating. In other denominational groups, pastors are terminated by congregations, which leaves the body of Christ broken, especially the pastoral family. There is rarely a process for healing in these situations and many become bitter and disillusioned with God and the church in the aftermath of these occurrences.

Therefore, I would like to recommend the following strategies for minimizing silent suffering in the pews and responding to the needs of the dysfunctional family of God:
  1. Denominational leadership must promote good mental and physical health for pastors and their families by increasing opportunities for marriage and family enrichment and counseling, as well as paid vacations and time off throughout the course of their ministry because of the high stress associated with the role and responsibilities of the pastoral family.
  2. Pastors must promote health and wholeness from the pulpit by focusing on family issues, such as domestic and family violence, sexual and physical abuse, infidelity, mental and physical health, and economic empowerment.
  3. Educate the church family about the signs and symptoms of family dysfunction and provide outside resources for professional counseling services
  4. Develop a process in collaboration with trained professionals to help pastors and people to deal with grief and loss issues because of death, reassignment, termination, or disasters that impact the church family.
  5. Develop policies and procedures in collaboration with denominational leadership to develop a better process for reassigning pastors and their families which includes a process of healing for all concerned regardless of the circumstances for the movement.
  6. Develop a ministry to deal with trauma and crisis in collaboration with crisis counselors to intervene when a traumatic event occurs that impacts the church community.
  7. Consider the concept of family therapy when appropriate for the church family by trained professionals.
  8. Bring in trained conflict resolution professionals to teach church leaders how to appropriately handle conflict in the church in a respectful and compassionate manner, and develop a process for handling church family problems in the church.
  9. Promote a greater sense of tolerance from church family members who may erroneously believe that their brothers and sisters have fallen from grace.
  10. Give permission to parishioners to seek professional counseling from trained professionals inside and outside the church when necessary.

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About The Author - Dr. Gloria Morrow

Dr. Gloria Morrow, speaker, workshop facilitator, and author, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Upland, California. She is the author of Too Broken to be Fixed? A Spiritual Guide to Inner Healing, and educational DVD Suffer in Silence no More. She is also the author of Strengthening the Ties that Bind: A Guide to a Healthy Marriage and Keeping it Real! 7 Steps Toward a Healthier You. Her latest book, The Things that Make Men Cry is scheduled for release in the near future. Dr. Morrow will discuss Silent Suffering in the Pews at Miles College, Birmingham, Alabama sponsored by the Office of the Chaplain, Larry Batie on April 11, 2006, the First Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, May 5-6, 2006 and the First Lady's Conference in Dallas, Texas, sponsored by Dr. Lois Evans of The Urban Alternative, June 8-10, 2006. Please visit Dr. Morrow's website or call 909-985-3773 to purchase product, view calendar and speaking engagements, or to complete a booking inquiry form.

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