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WHERE DOES A MINISTER GO?

(WHEN IT HURTS)

by William D. Morrow

Here is the simple reality. When it hurts, get help! It does not matter who, how or where; just go somewhere so the pain can be addressed, relief found, forgiveness applied, worth re-established.
It was a long time ago that I heard this question for the first time. It has been repeated by many others in a whole variety of circumstances and ways since then. While the words are not always the same, the message is an expression of pain and a deeply felt need.

I certainly recognize that there are many ministers in all areas of service to God who function well and might not ask this question at all. However, the health of some must not negate the need of others.

Where does a minister go when it hurts?
This question makes two assumptions. It assumes there will be moments of hurt in the life of a minister. Clergy, like everyone else, face challenges in health, family, marriage and occupation. I hardly know one minister who has not had unsaved family members, a child in rebellion, problems with priorities and scheduling, moments of excessive demand, or personal issues of health, discomfort or stress. Most of us struggle at times with uncertainty and even insecurity. And we are the people who know God and know that what He has in mind for us is best. Then there are the challenges of ministry itself. It is amazing how difficult ministry can be. I have too many conversations with excellent ministers who reveal their susceptibility to the expectations and costs attached to ministry.

So much of life is governed by choices, either ours or someone else’s. Every choice has the potential for good or bad, freedom or pain, hope or despair. The life of the minister is intricately linked to people who have messed up by making bad choices and been lifted up by the greatest choice of making Christ the centre of their lives. However, even in the church, choices—if they are unwise—have the potential to diminish our ability to function in health. It seems to matter little whether the bad choice is ours or not.
It is possible to feel trapped in ministry and by ministry. It is possible to want out and have nowhere to go. It is possible to do the right thing in the right way at the right time and for the right reasons, yet pay an incredibly high price for functioning in principle and integrity.

Most times ministers find solace in God, in dialogue with a friend or staff member, with a supportive spouse or in a balanced lifestyle that makes room for rest and recovery.

However, there are times when the pressures mount and we feel overwhelmed, too small to cope and too little to climb out on our own. Invariably, those are times when bad decisions can be made. The answer is not a new town, new church, new lover, new spouse, new car or new hobby. The answer comes in finding out why we feel this way and learning how to care for ourselves in God.

Where does a minister go when it hurts?
The second assumption is that there are times in our lives when we would be better served if we could confide in someone who actually has the gifts and training to help us sort out feelings, priorities, values and choices. I am convinced this is why coaching has taken off so quickly and dramatically. However, there are times when more than coaching is needed. To be in need of help in the ministry can get very complicated. One of the realities is that it is difficult to go to anyone in district leadership for help. There is no question that district leaders care, work hard to support clergy, and invest heavily in the health of their credential holders. I do not know of one district that does not have some form of financial, redemptive and counselling support in place for its credential holders. However, these are still the people who grant credentials and determine future opportunities in ministry.

Among the common themes repeated by those who have confided in district personnel or run into a credential problem are isolation, lack of understanding and support, and even abandonment.

Here is the reality, however. Not to get help is to go it alone, to face diminished emotional, spiritual, social—even physical—health. Not getting help often results in wounded leaders putting up barriers that become self-protective but do not let anyone else in, and ministry then becomes professional. Not getting help can make us vulnerable and so easily lead to ministers becoming defensive, negative, unapproachable and even more fragile. Not getting help often means denial of the truth and sometimes a covering of sin. Not getting help ultimately leads to preaching one gospel and living another.

Here is the simple reality. When it hurts, get help! It does not matter who, how or where; just go to somewhere so the pain can be addressed, relief found, forgiveness applied, worth re-established. Leadership in every district has provided places for ministers to get the help they need. Many of those arrangements are tied to confidentiality and privacy. If there is uncertainty about this approach, talk to a friend and find out about local avenues of counselling and help. Even if travel is required, then consider ways and means to get there.

What am I saying? If you ever find yourself asking the question, “Where does a minister go when it hurts?” do not be satisfied until you find an answer. Take responsibility for more than the pain. Take responsibility to become free!
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BILL MORROW—has long been a supporter of health services for clergy. He worked with the Western Ontario District (and Al Saunders) to write the first PAOC ministers recovery manual that became the model for all the districts across the PAOC. He worked with district leaders when he served at the PAOC National Office to establish the Minister’s Helpline, a much used phone counselling service for families in ministry. For many years he sat on the board of Emerge Ministries in the USA and eventually began Emerge Ministries Canada, with the primary goal of supporting ministers when needed. Today, Emerge Ministries Canada has been enfolded in Shalem (www.shalemnetwork.org), a Christian counselling ministry that serves ministers and their families with professionalism and care. He continues to serve Shalem as an advisor for clergy care.

On April 26th, 2008 Rev. Morrow was installed and presently serves as the eleventh president of Master’s College and Seminary.
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