Pastors need care. It is a simple statement, but many pastors live in practical denial of this truth. Pastors spend their lives pouring out care to others in many forms, and if they are not careful, they will give out care until they themselves give out. Burnout, according to one recent study, is happening at an unprecedented rate, estimating that some 1500 pastors are dropping out of ministry every month.
I’ve been a pastor in this community for 30 years, and I can tell you that I’ve seen the isolation and difficulties facing pastors first hand. However, never before have I seen anything like Church United — pastors and churches who are connecting and collaborating together for the sake of mission. But what’s really special and unique is the emphasis on seeking to see healthy leaders leading healthy churches. For Church United it’s simple; the emotional, spiritual and relational health of a pastor affects the life of a congregation and spiritual vibrancy of a community more than any other factor. Healthy leaders lead healthy churches, and healthy churches change the fabric of their regions. In short: pastors need pastoring; pastors need one another. And that is where we begin. Church United is connecting pastors to one another and then to essential resources designed to bless and serve church leaders.
Isolation is the pastor’s enemy. Everyone needs gospel community. There we all receive Christ-centered Spirit-filled encouragement, support and accountability. Leaders are no exception. While community happens in local settings, there is also a need for community amongst one’s peers. John Witherspoon, an early president of Princeton, liked to say, “Pastors thrive in clusters.” When leaders share life and work together, they are energized and strengthened, effectiveness increases and burnout decreases.
We start with meaningful connection and healthy relationship. From there we move to transparency and trust. Sadly, pastors do not always feel safe in their own churches to be real. Church United is hoping that authenticity will burgeon as a safe space is provided for pastors to let down their guard. There it will be safe to address essential life questions. What is the condition of your soul? How is your marriage? How is your walk with God? Are you struggling and defeated by any serious temptation? Are you in faith and full of joy for ministry? Do you feel prepared and ready for the challenges of Christian leadership in a post-Christian era?
All of this is to say that before Church United does anything else, before we build and before we affect change, we want to care for the souls of our pastors. Healthy pastors will result in healthier churches. Then we will see dramatic and measurable Christ-exalting impact in our cities, communities and neighborhoods.
Upon this gospel platform, a model for care is being employed which expands to challenge every pastor to fill six needed roles in life and ministry. According to Jimmy Dodd, author of Survive or Thrive, every pastor needs three professional supports and three personal supports. Professionally, every pastor needs a trainer, a boss and a coach. Personally, every pastor needs a mentor, a counselor and a friend. Church United is helping pastors understand these various roles and facilitating a conversation on where to find them. They are seeking to serve pastors, intentionally calling pastors out of isolation and providing a comprehensive model with teeth – here is how to do it… here is a place to begin when you want to get healthy.
The model went for a test drive in February. Twelve pastors and their spouses came together at a local beach resort for 24 hours. A speaker was brought in. The setting was amazing. The food was fantastic. Pastors and their spouses were cared for and the model was launched. Leaders shared and related as they were introduced to the model of six roles every pastor needs. This cohort will meet together throughout 2018, delving into the what and how of each of these aspects of pastoral care for pastors.
There is no claim of having arrived on the part of those serving Church United. The core of leadership amongst these pastors understands that this is very much a work in progress. But it is a work worth our best resources. Pastors need care. It is a simple statement and one that many pastors are learning to practice.
Brian Brookins is the senior pastor of Riverside Church in North Lauderdale. www.954church.com.