DULUTH — Once a topic discussed in whispers or private phone calls, pastor wellness is currently getting the overdue attention many say is long overdue.
“It begins with awareness,” says Tim Dowdy, lead strategist for Pastor Wellness of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to wellness for a pastor to get the help he needs. If his marriage is in trouble, if his kids aren’t doing well, if he is struggling emotionally or spiritually, he needs to know there is someone available to talk through those issues.”
It’s been a year since Dowdy was hired by Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. for the newly-formed department. As pastor, Dowdy had watched Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church grow from a small mission into a larger church with multiple ministries. He also experienced the stress that comes from leading a congregation at different sizes, but more importantly, the crucial helps available to deal with that stress.
Dowdy espouses the benefits of looking at all the areas of health, not just what may be in front of us. Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional well-being, each impacts the other.
“Amazingly, pastors, for the most part, know how to help others when they are struggling but don’t know what to do when they struggle themselves,” he points out. “Often pastors feel like they have no one to turn to for help. In fact, some pastors feel the need to hide emotional or mental needs from everyone because to admit that this kind of struggle reveals a spiritual weakness or failure. Most pastors find it difficult to find a safe personal friendship in which they can be transparent and honest.
“A lack of close friendships and the turbulent times that have surrounded the COVID-19 crisis may heighten the feelings of emotional distress. To be honest, when life is jolted off its normal course, and almost every area of life gets disjointed, it is easy to get weighed down emotionally. Even people that are the strongest find these seasons of life can be discouraging.”
“The question is, how do we create the place where we’re residing in a state of good health?” he asks. “Sometimes it’s hard to preach on Sunday. You wake up on Saturday and feel numb about it.”
Assessment tools and numbers for help
Early in the COVID-19 shutdown, Georgia Baptist Pastor Wellness consultant Tanaya Meaders recognized the need for pastors to take care of their emotional health and publicized some the opportunities for pastors.
A number of tools are being provided by Georgia Baptist Pastor Wellness to pastors. For starters, a self-assessment tool on the website allows pastors to see if they are dealing with depression and if so, to share those results with a doctor and seek help. Another recommended one from Kaiser Permanente can also provide the assessment.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is also partnering with Eagle’s Landing Christian Counseling Center for its services. For more information call (678) 289-6981 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Immediate access to routine or crisis services can be obtained through the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) at (800) 715-4225 at any time. To reach Georgia Baptist Pastor Wellness after-hours for non-emergency calls, dial (770) 936-5590.
A recent Barna study compared the current mental and emotional well-being of pastors to a State of Pastors report from 2016 and another released in April. The numbers show a worsening of pastor wellness over the last four years.
In 2016, 39 percent of pastors answered “Excellent” when describing their mental and emotional health. By April of 2020 that figure had fallen to 17 percent, with it slipping even further to 12 percent as of Aug. 17. Conversely, pastors stating their mental and emotional health as “Average” answered so at a 12 percent clip in 2016, 24 percent in April, and 31 percent in August. Alarmingly, 18 percent of pastors characterized those areas of wellness at “Below average” in August after only 10 percent said so in April and two percent in 2016.
Dowdy pointed to a scene at the end of the Cowboys/Falcons game that mirrors how pastors should be able to talk about mental health. In the weeks prior, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had openly admitted to struggling with mental health issues, including anxiety. Following their game Sept. 20, Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst ran up to Prescott.
It wasn’t to congratulate him on the Cowboys’ comeback, though. Hurst is an advocate for discussing and understanding mental health struggles. Having struggled with depression and anxiety, Hurst attempted suicide in 2016 before getting help with mental health experts. It was important for Hurst to thank Prescott’s courage in admitting he had a problem, but more importantly to bring something to light with which many of their peers also struggle.
“We all have seasons when life gets the best of us and we need some help,” says Dowdy. “I just want our pastors to know we are here for them and their families. The truth is, it is very difficult to lead a congregation when our own body, mind and/or soul isn’t healthy. It is our desire to serve our pastors in these areas of their personal lives so that with great strength and passion they can fulfill the ministry the Lord Jesus has entrusted to them.”