When Pastor Rick Cryder and his wife, Diane, arrived in Hershey, Pa., last fall, they were wounded and broken down. Rick’s pastorate at a church in New Jersey had ended with a painful conflict among the leadership, which then trickled down into the congregation. His soul was damaged to the extent that, despite having ministered for eight years at the church (and 27 years total as a pastor), he made the difficult decision to resign.
Feeling emotionally drained and disillusioned, Rick turned to a friend, who recommended that the couple enter one of a number of specially designed recovery programs housed at various churches across the country.
The Cryders eventually entered the Recovery Ministry at EFC of Hershey (Pa.). “The program,” Rick says, “gives [pastors and missionaries] a chance to take a half step out of ministry and be placed in a safe environment with wise counsel. It allows you to determine God’s plan for your future.”
Healing began as the couple participated in weekly counseling sessions with Hershey Free Church’s pastor, Omar Zook. “Coming in, I felt like I was not just a bad pastor but a bad person,” Rick says, “because that is what had been communicated to me by my elder board over and over. Omar helped me overcome this malignant way of thinking about myself that had poisoned my spirit.
“Week by week, he listened carefully to my roving thoughts and tried to understand me. Then, having come to understand who I am, he not only accepted me but liked me as a person.”
“Pastor Omar affirmed our emotions—the anger and the injustice we felt,” Diane adds, “and gave us a chance to acknowledge our pain and hurt.”
The common experience of every pastoral family who receives help from a recovery church is that they suddenly lost or left their ministry position, explains John Herman, EFCA director of Pastoral Care Ministries. “Some come from situations that brought pain (death of a child, questioning their call to ministry, etc.); others come from situations involving sinful behavior (on the part of the pastor or on the part of church leadership).
“It’s important to understand that the recovery church ministry is one of basic recovery for the pastor and the family, not restoration,” he adds. “Restoration is a later step that can be attempted when and if both parties are well enough to come together in a constructive manner.”
In the Cryders’ case, their former church was not part of the EFCA movement, so no restoration steps were facilitated with church leaders.
As another part of the process, Rick decided to join the church choir. He loves to sing, and being part of a choir was something he had always wanted to do, but he’d never had the time. “Singing in the choir meant singing songs of adoration to God with other believers,” Rick says. “This did much to mend my brokenness.”
When he took part in the 2011 Christmas musical, he and Diane brought 23 of their neighbors to attend and hear the gospel.
“These neighbors welcomed Diane and me into their little community, and they became our friends,” Rick says. “Most of them are not Christians, and seeing God use me to love these lost people led me to believe that I could be a pastor again.”
Another part of the recovery process for the Cryders was Rick’s five-month role as interim pastor at nearby Community EFC in Harrisburg—a role that he says allowed him to “test the water” of re-entering pastoral ministry.
“Looking back, I can see how perfectly suited I was for this church and how they were perfectly suited for me,” he says. “They were wounded from months of dissension among themselves, and I came into the picture as a neutral outsider. Similarly, I came to them wounded and frail, and they loved me and received the Word of Jesus Christ from me with demonstrable appreciation. Life had crushed both of us, but God caused a sweet aroma to be given off from it.”
After that interim role and more than nine months of counseling, the Cryders are regaining their confidence, exploring new avenues of service with a degree of excitement. “It’s a gradual process,” Diane stresses. “We are not totally healed and there is no quick fix, but at least we have the courage to try again.”
In fact, the Cryders moved to Belgium in early October, where Rick is serving as an interim pastor for an international Baptist church in Brussels.
“Having come within an inch of leaving the pastoral ministry,” Rick says, “the Lord has given a great gift of mercy in calling me to serve this unique church.”
With their experience as wounded shepherds, the Cryders hope to offer people the same kind of grace that has been extended to them, in all their future areas of service.
Learn more about the EFCA’s Recovery Church Ministry throughout the United States.