Ken Miller is a long time friend who now is a pre-licensed professional counselor. Ken contributed to my earlier post addressing pastor suicides (linked below). I asked him to expand those thoughts with a focus on practical steps churches can take to address pastoral emotional health. Ken currently serves as the Missionary Development National Coordinator for the North American Mission Board.
I’m a third generation pastor. My father was a pastor for forty-three years and a denominational leader for the majority of that time. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of pastors suffer and then hide their emotional sickness. The result was often a personal implosion and forced termination.
My dad dealt with stress and emotional sickness by getting ulcers. And by getting pretty angry. I’ve had my own struggles. I got little support from the churches I pastored.
For some reason, churches have focused on providing more for pastors when they crash rather than offering preventive measures for emotional health. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. You can help your pastor feel better, get better, and maintain his emotional health. You don’t have to be a large church with a big budget either. A church of any size can do small things immediately while the church leadership (elders, deacons, board) move toward changing the church culture toward one of awareness and grace, and adopting emotional health language.
So what can churches do to help pastors gain and maintain emotional health? I’ve offered a few practical suggestions below. Start with the easy ones. I’ve listed them first. The last suggestion that will help you change the culture of your church is last. I’ve also recommended three great books to get you started.
Set boundaries for your pastor because he probably won’t.
It’s rarely explicit but it’s almost always inferred that the pastor should be available 24/7. I, nor my father, or grandfathers set boundaries for themselves for fear of congregational misunderstanding or even reprisal. Chances are your pastor isn’t any different. So, you set the boundaries for them. Boundaries are fundamental to emotional health.
Do something to help your pastor create margin for his wife.
Find your pastor and spouse a babysitter and give them money for a date night to go out to eat. I like Sonic, too, but I’m thinking something more like Longhorn. If you can do a little more, give your pastor and spouse a long weekend away at a nice hotel, the best the church can afford. Your pastor and wife are some of your closest neighbors. Love them.
Send your pastor and spouse to a marriage retreat.
Far away. In a really nice hotel. With some spending money. Do your research and hand them the reservation and make them go. One of the most effective emotional health components for a pastor is an emotionally healthy wife. A marriage retreat is also a great way to get your pastor used to receiving care instead of just giving it.
Train elders, deacons, and volunteers in pastoral competencies.
This is the best way to “cover” for the pastor while on his day off, when he’s on vacation, or while he’s on sabbatical. Just about anyone can learn how to do a hospital visit or basic pastoral counseling. By the way, equipping the saints to do ministry is biblical.
Make counseling available whenever it’s needed.
Marty talked about this, but I have to speak to it as well. Every caregiver needs a caregiver. There’s a direct correlation between good counseling and emotional health. Let your pastor choose a counselor/therapist. Make this a non-negotiable part of your church’s culture. He’ll thank you later. So will his wife, family, and the church.
Educate your church’s leadership and your pastor on the importance of understanding emotional sickness and biblical perspectives of emotional health.
Buy, read, and process the three books I’ve suggested below as a leadership team. Invite a trusted Christian therapist to work with your leadership team to help with interpreting the new language and mindset.
Suggested reading (available by clicking the links):
Peter Scazerro’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ is a great book to begin your education about how spirituality is tied to emotional health and vice versa. It’s written from a pastor’s perspective and will go a long way to helping church leadership and your pastor “get it.”
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen was a life changer for me personally. This one should be read by everyone, but your pastor will see how his emotional health directly affects his ability to do ministry. Great book.
On a broader note, Amy Simpson’s Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission will give you insight on how your church can create a culture of grace and compassion toward those that are emotionally sick or mentally ill. Amy was a speaker at Rick Warren’s The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church.
What other ways might a church contribute? In what ways might pastors take care of themselves mentally and emotionally?
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