Riva Tims: When It All Falls Apart
By Kristi Watts
The 700 Club
CBN.com - The news of the sudden death of mega pastor Zachery Tims shocked the Christian community.
He was a man driven by unlimited energy and great vision to win souls to Jesus.
In just a few short years, Pastor Zachery and Co-pastor Riva Tims, his wife of 15 years, grew their church of 5 to an astonishing 8,000- member congregation.
But the pressure of their meteoric rise would eventually take its toll… on their marriage, on their ministry, and on the life of pastor Zachery Tims.
Riva Tims has spoken very little about the events that lead up to the death of her ex-husband…. Until now.
“I loved that he had a boldness about him. He wasn’t afraid. He was always thinking big… doing things grand. And that really pulled me in.”
Zachery and Riva were 22 when they first met at church. With a shared passion to win souls to Jesus they married and shortly thereafter ventured out to start a ministry in Orlando, Florida.
“We labeled ourselves an outreach ministry. So our whole goal was to pull people in from the street, not to pull them from other churches, but really to get those that were unsaved. And I think the people felt our love, they felt our sincerity, and we were young. We had a lot of zeal for the Lord, a lot of excitement.”
“If God said, ‘Go on TV.’ we had the faith to do it. If God said, ‘Go into the community,’ we just had the faith to do it.”
But as church membership grew at an astonishing rate so did their stature in the church world.
“It becomes an empire. It becomes your own name that’s highlighted. And it becomes about you when that’s never how it’s supposed to be. Everything ought to point to Jesus! Everything ought to point to the Lord.”
“And if you’re not careful, they’ll begin to worship you more than they worship God.”
“In the beginning it did not affect us. He used to put on the back wall, HUMILITY, a huge sign. So every time he preached he would see that. But then when we moved to our last building, and TV, you know, we were on national television people were calling all the time, it started to infiltrate the church.
And began to interfere in their marriage.
“There was somewhat of a distance that began to take place. I could still connect, but I knew that there was something different.”
“The travel - When he began to travel a lot and wouldn’t allow me to go. Then I knew something was wrong.”
“It was always a reason why I couldn’t go. That’s when I knew.”
“I found out that there was infidelity.”
“In the beginning he was remorseful he got caught. And that’s the part that hurt. There was no running after me, coming after me. He was trying to keep everything together.”
“My heart hurt. Not just in a spiritual way, not just in an emotional way, but a physical way. And I didn’t realize that people hurt that badly.”
“But the Lord told me, ‘Hold your peace.’ That was the hardest thing you could ever do, to hold your peace when you get accusations, you know, ‘Well, you’re just weak.’ God said, ‘Hold your peace.’”
“I loved my husband. And church belonged to God. I wanted my husband. And I wanted my family. If that meant that we had to sit down or step away from the pulpit for a season, I was willing to do that. But that’s not how, when you’re in a mega-ministry.”
Zachery was reluctant to step down from ministry to pursue counseling… but he did.
“If I could have just had my husband sit down for a year… Pastors are like, ‘No, your church is going to die!’”
“No! If it belongs to God, someone else could come in, they could run the ministry and the family could get healed.”
But that’s not how it happened.
“They became enablers as well. But not realizing it.
“Members, well meaning, who loved their pastor, ‘Pastor’s okay. We don’t care what you did. Pastor, just come back. We’re going to support you.’”
After only 3 months of counseling he chose to resume ministry.
Riva felt her husband’s return was premature. Their family was still hurt and broken.
But she was even more devastated by the reaction of the leaders within their church.
“I was just kind of booted out, so to speak - asked not to come back. It was like, ‘If they see you, they won’t heal,’ I was told. ‘So just stay away.’”
Believing things couldn’t get any worse Zachery dropped another bomb.
“He says, ‘Uh, I have something else to tell you.’ And he begins to share with me more about the affairs.”
When she tried to seek help from some other high profile pastors…
“They would say, ‘Get over it. It happened to me. You gotta think about the church. You gotta think about the ministry.’”
“My mindset was, ‘It first starts at home.’ Your relationship with God starts at home first, before you can go out and minister. So that just kept bewildering me because I couldn’t understand that.”
By now Riva felt abandoned by her husband, the church and at times… God.
“I would try to rehearse in my mind, ‘What did I do wrong that I would go through this?’”
“Because in all actuality everything looked like he was being blessed and I was being rejected. And I kept saying, ‘Why are they rejecting me? Why are they blaming me?’ And I never could understand that.”
But it was in that place of brokenness where Riva experienced the true loving heart of God like never before.
And I just began to see God in a whole new light.”
“I realized He never left me! He was holding me. He was guiding me. He was instructing me. Although I couldn’t hear Him clearly, His love never stopped.”
And that love would eventually transfer to her now estranged husband.
“I thought I forgave him? But it was still rooted deeply and it was bitterness. It was resentfulness because I felt, ‘You ruined my life.’ I felt ‘You took everything away because of what you did.’”
“It wasn’t until I began to pray for him, for real. And when I began to pray for him, I began to get compassion. I began to see the root of his struggles. I began to feel sorry for him. I began to feel love for him.”
“Then, and only then, forgiveness came.”
As Riva spent time in prayer for Zachery the Lord began to reveal the areas of brokenness in her own life.
“And so I began to take a look inside. And I didn’t like what I found inside.”
“Self righteousness. Lust in my own self. Just wanting to be accepted by men and not God. So He began to shine the light on the filthiness in me. Again, I was going through something. God was purging things out of me when I thought he should have just been dealing with my husband.”
“But He said, ‘No. There are things in you that also have to be rectified and changed and done better.’ And thank God, I listened.”
Riva and Zachery’s marriage eventually ended in divorce. Zachery continued in ministry while Riva quietly focused her attention on raising their 4 children.
A week before Zachery was found dead in a New York hotel room, the couple had a chance to reconcile on a family trip to Puerto Rrico.
This picture was the last time she saw him alive.
“He came to me and he said, ‘I’m sorry.’”
“He ended up telling his church at a marriage seminar that ‘I believe my wife would have still been with me, and our family would have been okay, if I had listened to better counsel and ran after and fought for my family, instead of running and fighting for the church.”
Today pastor riva heads up a new ministry called Majestic Life Church.
“I teach ‘No celebrity pastors’. You know, it’s all about God.”
She’s also written a book called When it All Falls Apart, a candid portrait of how God heals those facing heartbreak and betrayal.
“His blood can cover anything, no matter how dirty, no matter how nasty, no matter how horrible, it will cover. But you have to make a decision that you’re going to repent and not continue as a lifestyle.
“God’s grace covers. But when you go through a situation, when you find yourself in a trial or a tribulation, understand that God’s love and his mercy are amazing. He is a forgiving God.”
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