I really thought we belonged to a loving church, the kind that accepts broken and wounded people.  Lately I’ve learned it’s easy to pay lip service to being a loving and welcoming church, the type that doesn’t judge people. It’s easy to claim this when it’s in the abstract. It’s another story when you have a concrete opportunity to test out just how loving a church is.  

You never really know how healthy a church is until it’s faced with the chance to manifest its true colors.  We had just that type of opportunity recently where I preach, when one of our sons returned home after a month in rehab.

Our son wrapped up 2018 wrecking two vehicles and he kicked off 2019 racking up two DUI’s in the first month.  That’s when he decided he was ready for rehab. He spent a month there. Two days ago I drove over 100 miles to pick him up from rehab, and when he came to church today, no one shunned him or treated him differently.  

Our church has been loving and supportive, and this is a breath of fresh air for me.  There are enough people trashing “the church” these days, which is why I’d like to share our family’s experience — to let you know there are good churches out there who do love people even when they make major mistakes, even in a minister’s family.  

I realize in some churches, I would’ve been taken into the boardroom and the elders would’ve “quietly” asked me to relocate when our son’s recent problems became public.  For us, that wasn’t the case at all. Our church has been praying for our son weekly during the worship service and we’ve received a lot of encouragement.

I’m not now, nor through this whole process have I been ashamed of our son.  He’s the preacher’s kid with the tattoos and the child out of wedlock. He’s also the one with a heart of gold, and a sense of compassion that reaches beyond my understanding.  My love for him hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Am I sad and disappointed? Have I cried, have I grieved, have I been frustrated? Sure. But not once did it ever enter my mind to be embarrassed of him.  In fact, as troubling as this situation has been, we’re proud of our son for admitting he has a problem and for taking steps to recover.

How did we get here?  I’m sure there’s a multifaceted answer as to how our son fell into this abyss, but I know of at least one contributing factor.  Sadly, ministry can be tough on its families. Our son was at the wrong age when we went through the fallout from a catastrophic church conflict.  Our older two sons were more stable emotionally being college-age at that time and our youngest son was too young to know what was going on then. But our son who just finished rehab was in his mid-teens back then and he was hit the hardest.  Coincidentally, he shared with my wife and me, he wasn’t the only preacher’s kid in the rehab.

It’s one thing to wait for the prodigal to return, it’s another to have them home and try to navigate through the emotional minefields.  None of our ministry classes at Harding prepared me for this, none of my professors ever admitted to dealing with this type of struggle.  There have been many sleepless night, many tears, and a lot of stress. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. Drug addiction is like cancer or layoffs, you always think, “That happens to other people, not us.”  

While our son was in rehab we’ve had a lot, I mean tons of folks encouraging us.  At first I was surprised, but it really only makes sense. For starters, we aren’t alone in this problem; lots of people are going or have gone through this (many, sadly silent out of shame).  And secondly, authentic christians rally around those who are hurting and they minster to each other. I’m thankful for the love we’ve received in the midst of this turmoil — especially from our church family.  

There are awesome congregations out there, yes even in our Restoration Movement!  And while sometimes “church” takes its toll on us, not all churches are backwards and legalistic.  If you haven’t already, may you find a church family that “practices what they preach” and may your church family grow in grace and mercy.