Pastors talk over challenges to living a healthy life in preparation for a group discussion with Georgia Baptist leaders. The listening session took place Jan. 29 at Turning Point at Mabel White in Macon. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
MACON — One asked if anything could be done to help with the cost of insurance. Another brought up churches unable to provide a respite or sabbatical. Yet more addressed the stress on a pastor’s family, the isolation that often accompanies the pulpit, and access to peer-led prayer groups.
A pastor’s overall health greatly determines his ability to lead, said Tim Dowdy, Georgia Baptist lead strategist for Wellness, to a group at Turning Point at Mabel White in Macon. And as a pastor himself, he told those at the first of a series of listening sessions devoted to wellness how he was well aware of the toll it can take on an individual.
“When I was in seminary, I got to know Jim Henry, who was pastor of First Baptist in Orlando. “[My wife and I] hadn’t had a vacation, and he invited us to the beach,” Dowdy recalled.
One day Henry suggested he and Dowdy take a walk on the shore. There, he told the young pastor to ask him anything about being in the ministry.
“I started asking him all these questions. It was one of the most powerful moments early in my life,” Dowdy reflected. “I asked him, ‘What is your greatest challenge in ministry?’
“He said, ‘The relentless return of the Sabbath.’”
The anecdote illustrated the common sentiment of how ministry is, indeed, a marathon that can wear any pastor down. Henry is one of the most well-known names among Southern Baptists. Dowdy would go on to found Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, a congregation that would eventually grow to more than 7,000 in membership.
At the Jan. 29 Macon gathering, a group of ministers got honest about their wellness needs. The session – along with another at First Baptist Thomson later in the day – were held to serve the pastors in the East Central region. More sessions throughout the state will take place beginning Feb. 26. For times and locations click here.
The format was simple. After a brief introduction by Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond, Jr., Dowdy explained the agenda of the meeting. That agenda, he said, would be determined by the participants.
Attendees broke off into groups of four or five to answer three questions given by Dowdy in better addressing wellness:
- What are your greatest challenges?
- What are the resources that would be good for you to have?
- If you had a blank page and could design a ministry to help pastors, what would do?
About 30 minutes later, the groups rejoined. The first challenge discussed concerned insurance, which also came up at the Thomson meeting. While specifics can’t be shared publicly, Hammond and Dowdy gave both groups insight into steps being taken to address the matter.
“It’s very high on our list of priorities,” Hammond assured the group.
Living in a figurative glass house can be difficult, said one pastor. And while it’s good to talk to peers, that isn’t always the case.
“Can there be some kind of biblical counseling available, such as a helpline? Obviously, there are pastors, friends, and associational leaders to talk to, but sometimes there are things you can’t share with them. You need confidential, biblical counseling to talk through issues that may have to do with your family or marriage.”
Help for wives and children
Wellness is associated with physical, mental, and spiritual health. For example, helping a pastor learn skills in areas such as finances can be extremely helpful for his emotional well-being, one attendee said.
Pastors also discussed sabbaticals. They are typically associate with larger churches, but could the Mission Board help in providing pulpit supply for a month or so? Yes, said Dowdy and Hammond.
And that need for support doesn’t end with the pastors. Attendees queried as to ways to help their families. Stress in a pastor’s marriage is different from others, they said. Their wives and children require just as much care and investment.
Building connect points among pastors was discussed as well. Hammond pointed out that the Mission Board is talking to churches in hopes of providing a little-used room or section of their building as a place for pastors in the area for fellowship. Those rooms, added Dowdy, can serve as collaborative areas or “man caves” custom designed for pastors.
“I’m very encouraged by the attendance and responses to how we can better serve our pastors and their families,” said Hammond, who encouraged pastors to attend one of the remaining sessions. “I’m looking forward to gathering more ideas of best practices for serving our heroes.”
Dowdy was also pleased with the gatherings thus far.
“We’re getting different ideas, but several of the same issues are also popping up,” he told The Index. “The conversations are really good. The questions asked help us outline the struggles shared by pastors and develop a plan for how the Mission Board can be a resource for them. The process has been really productive.”
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.