By / Oct 27

In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on mental health struggles, both globally and within religious communities. This shift in focus reflects a broader understanding and acceptance of mental health issues, moving beyond antiquated stigmas and toward a more compassionate and informed approach. The pastoral community is no exception to this trend, as recent data unveils a complex picture of the mental and emotional well-being of pastors and the congregations they shepherd.

A notable observation from the statistics is that a significant portion of younger pastors, under the age of 45, report struggling with mental health issues. In particular, a report by Lifeway Research reveals that 26%  of U.S. Protestant pastors overall and 46% of pastors who are under 45 say they face mental health challenges. And more than half of the church leaders have witnessed members of their congregations suffering from conditions like depression and bipolar disorder​.

Mental health struggles and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have further strained the mental and emotional health of both pastors and congregants. A Barna Group study reveals that while many pastors believe they understand the immediate needs of their congregants regarding spiritual and physical well-being, there’s a lesser clarity when it comes to mental and emotional health; only 24% of pastors “definitely” understand, while 65% “somewhat” understand these needs. This lack of clear understanding indicates a potential area of growth for pastoral education and support systems​​.

The pastoral role has traditionally involved a significant amount of one-on-one discipleship, a facet of ministry that was complicated by the pandemic’s social distancing mandates. Despite the hurdles, 66% of U.S church leaders report that they are doing well at providing one-on-one discipleship, although a third of them (33%) are struggling to meet the needs for ongoing discipleship amidst the pandemic. This highlights the importance of adaptability and the potential for developing new methods of pastoral care and discipleship​​.

In the midst of addressing congregational needs, pastors themselves are not exempt from facing their own mental and spiritual challenges. Around 49% of church leaders, according to the Barna Group, find it difficult to make time for personal spiritual development, an aspect that is crucial for maintaining mental and spiritual health and effectively ministering to others. The challenge of balancing personal spiritual growth with the demands of pastoral duties underscores the necessity for creating support systems and resources for pastors​​.

The need for resources

The statistics and insights gleaned from recent studies underscore the profound need for increased awareness, education, and resources dedicated to mental health within the pastoral community and the wider church body. The complexities of mental health demand a nuanced and compassionate approach, acknowledging the unique challenges faced by pastors and congregants alike. This call for awareness is not just a matter of bettering individual lives, but enriching the collective spiritual and emotional fabric of the church community.

The survey data also suggests a pressing need for the development of robust mental health programs and resources within the church. By investing in mental health education and resources, churches can become safe havens where individuals, including pastors, can find support, understanding, and healing. This would also involve creating platforms for open discussions around mental health, breaking down existing stigmas, and promoting a culture of understanding and support.

The Church has a unique opportunity to foster a culture of understanding and support around mental health and to be a place of hope and healing. This includes equipping pastors with the necessary tools and knowledge to navigate mental health challenges, both personally and within their congregations. The narratives surrounding mental health within the church are changing, and with informed, compassionate action, there’s hope for fostering a more understanding and supportive church environment.

By / Oct 26

In recent years, there has been a spike in mental health struggles among pastors and church leaders. Dr. Mark Dance, director of pastoral wellness for Guidestone Financial Resources, has long been involved behind the scenes in what is often an unseen health epidemic. In this interview, he discusses what he has witnessed through his work and sheds lights on why mental health matters for pastors.

Elizabeth Bristow: Have you witnessed a rise in pastors struggling with mental health issues? If so, what are some of the contributing factors?

Mark Dance: I was surprised when I started serving pastors with Guidestone to find out that mental health claims have gone up 40% in the last three years. That is tangible and empirical evidence. COVID exposed some issues everyone’s familiar with, but as pastors age out and retire, younger ministers and ministry spouses are much less reluctant to talk about mental health struggles and are more willing to receive help than their predecessors.

Mental health is a comprehensive part of who we are. We are called to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, so I’m encouraged, honestly, that more are getting help in this area. I’m also encouraged by organizations like the ERLC that will say, “Hey, we’re gonna talk about mental health,” because it’s important.

EB: How can a pastor’s family recognize his mental health struggle? What are some specific warning signs they should pay attention to?

MD: I can share from my own experience of pastoring for almost 30 years. Halfway through that season of pastoring churches, I found myself different and I didn’t understand why. I was in the middle of a historic relocation of a church in Arkansas, and the church was growing and thriving. But, I was avoiding people. I had lost a lot of weight. I could not make decisions. I could not sleep well, and my insomnia led to paranoia. And I did something very radical for a pastor. I asked for help. After trying self-diagnosis, I went to my family practitioner and was diagnosed with clinical depression. He told me this was a chemical issue, not a character issue. 

To answer your question, pastors have an “on button,” and we can hide things really well. I could turn that smile on, and as soon as people left, I could turn it back off and could hide from even the closest people in my life. Thankfully, my doctor and therapist led me to get the help I needed. 

The church should be a safe place to talk about mental health challenges. Pastors are often reluctant to get help because they’re helpers. Caregivers don’t like to be cared for. But it’s important to note that Paul told Timothy twice to take care of himself. The first time was in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” This is a very intimate father-son conversation.

In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 

Self-care is not selfish, it’s strategic. Paying attention to your life means that you’re going to care for yourself. And in doing so, you care for others. And if you don’t do so, neglecting yourself will eventually lead to neglecting others. It’s important to your family and to your ministry that you be as healthy as you can be, and that you let people who are proficient in their profession help you with yours.

EB: How can we do a better job of cultivating a church culture that’s more transparent about struggles? What keeps us from doing that? 

MD: I think what keeps us from doing it is pride. Pride is really what keeps me from getting help with anything. If my marriage is in trouble, what keeps me from getting help? Pride. If I’m financially upside down or just don’t know how to do something, which most pastors don’t, pride keeps us from asking for help. We get help with our physical challenges, so why not with mental health challenges? For mental health challenges in particular, remind yourself that there are people who will help you. And the biggest opportunity is there are more and more channels for help, because the stigma is blowing away.

The greatest commandment is to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. We would like to make four points out of that, as if one doesn’t affect the other. Heart and soul are used interchangeably all throughout the Old and New Testaments. These spiritual decisions that we’re making are holistic. So pastors, don’t just focus on your spiritual health. Make room in your events for other parts and components of discipleship other than the traditional ones. This is a stewardship and a discipleship issue. As we model that to others, they will see that it’s not just okay to talk about mental health, but it’s advantageous to better myself, my family, and my ministry.

EB: What encourages you most right now when it comes to mental health and the church?

MD: I’m encouraged that I get to write and speak in places I never would’ve guessed. I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s an eagerness to talk about this. These are things we avoided for so long—physical health, financial health, and mental health. Nobody wants to talk about that stuff because they aren’t fun things. And yet we all have friends who are no longer in the ministry. It’s not usually because of doctrinal issues. It’s usually because of life issues such as marriage and parenting. These things matter. So the appetite to talk about this has moved from reluctance to acceptance to eagerness.

By / Oct 25

Pastors bear a great number of burdens but are often expected to do so without having any burdens of their own. The truth is: pastors are struggling, especially with their mental health. While we should have anticipated such a reality due to the spiritual nature of their work and the pressures of ministry, Dr. Kristen Kansiewicz, a licensed mental health counselor and professor, has been shedding light on churches and mental health for years.

Kansiewicz received her Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Regent University and is an assistant professor at Evangel University. Her research interests include pastors’ mental health, stigma around mental illness in the church, barriers to treatment amongst evangelical Christians, and development of Christian-specific therapeutic interventions. She developed the Church Therapy model, bringing clinical mental health services into church settings, and has provided clinical counseling services in church settings since 2005.

Below, Kansiewicz answers questions about pastors, mental health, and how we can help them thrive.

Miles Mullin: Have the number of pastors suffering from mental health challenges increased? If so, why is that?

Kristen Kansiewicz: It’s a little hard to say if the mental health challenges have increased, but in short, it’s likely that the depression rates of pastors have increased since the pandemic. Earlier studies of Methodist pastors by Duke University in 2012-2018 showed that about 40% of pastors experienced mild or worse depression (about 12-14% moderate or higher). A study I conducted on Assemblies of God pastors in 2020 had nearly identical results. 

In data collected by myself and the research team through the Charis Institute at Regent University showed that 53% of Baptist pastors were experiencing mild or worse depression, with 17.5% at moderate or moderately-severe levels. When isolating just the question on suicidal thoughts, 9.6% of the Baptist pastors had at least “several days” of thoughts of harming themselves or wishing for death. It is unclear if there are differences between these groups of pastors, or if the depression rates are increasing. Regardless, many studies have demonstrated that pastors experience high rates of depression, stress, and burnout.

MM: Are there specific types of mental health challenges common among pastors? If so, what are they? 

KK: It’s well-established that pastors experience depression, occupational stress, and burnout in high rates. There are a variety of reasons for this, some unique to pastors and some that they share with other professions. Stressors like financial strain and a lack of social support contribute to depression and burnout. In addition, congregational demands, challenges in maintaining interpersonal relationships, and confusion about job roles also contribute to pastoral well-being.

MM: How many pastors are in danger of suffering from a mental health crisis or burnout?

KK: Estimates of how many pastors there are in the United States vary, but there are an estimated 350,000 Christian churches in the U.S. and as many as 600,000 clergy members. If 14-17% of them are experiencing moderate or worse depression, then 84,000 to 102,000 are actively struggling. Keep in mind that an additional 25-35% are experience mild symptoms of depression, which expands the problem even further. 

Additionally, burnout is an experience of chronic stress and adds to the layers of complexity about what pastors are dealing with and how many are struggling. In short, it’s a significant problem.

MM: Who is in danger of pastoral burnout? What factors contribute to it? 

KK: Solo pastors are at greater risk for negative mental health outcomes, along with those who have limited social support. In my study of AG pastors, one’s number of close friends was significantly linked to both well-being and help-seeking. Those pastors who had no close friends or only one close friend were worse off and less likely to see help when compared to those who had two, three, or four+ close friends. For each friend, the numbers increase (well-being goes up, as does willingness to seek help when needed). 

In addition, those who have greater financial strain have been shown in other Duke University studies to have worse mental health outcomes. Obviously, things like family genetics and predisposition to anxiety and depression are factors as well. Pastors need to pay attention to chronic stress and social support in order to prevent burnout and/or depression.

MM: Which pastors are most poised to be resilient? And why?

KK: When we think about the things that contribute to depression and burnout, we can use those to paint a picture of the resilient pastor. A pastor with three or more close friends, who is paid a sustainable wage, and who has congregational support is going to be more resilient than those without those factors. 

Additionally, maintaining positive spiritual disciplines that are personal (not just job-related spiritual duties), keeping a weekly Sabbath, connecting with deeper purpose in the work of ministry, and using positive religious coping (i.e., deriving strength and purpose from God rather than seeing him as disapproving or disappointed in you) are all ways that pastors can increase resilience.

MM: What are pastors willing to do to address their mental health needs? What are they not willing to do?

KK: Based on my sample of 874 Assemblies of God pastors, they indicated they were most willing to use Christian self-help books, an accountability partner, professional counseling, retreats, and personal Sabbaticals in order to work on their mental health. Surprisingly, more pastors were willing to rely on secular self-help books than psychiatric medication (like an anti-depressant). 

We need to do more to help pastors decrease stigma around the use of medication for mental health needs. Modern anti-depressants are not a “quick fix” or way out of dealing with the real issues. Rather, they address the physical chemistry of the brain that is off-balance when someone is experiencing symptoms of depression. Combined with professional counseling, it is the most effective strategy for treating these symptoms. 

MM: Practically, what can be done in order to help pastors have good mental health and resilience?

KK: Denominations and ministry networks can do more to encourage and promote social engagement for their pastors. Helping pastors identify and invest in three close friends might be the single most helpful intervention to decrease depression rates. Denominations can also create podcasts, articles, and trainings on the importance of self-care and destigmatize counseling and medication. Finally, churches/church boards can ensure that their pastors are paid an adequate wage, take a dedicated day off, and have options for Sabbatical every five to seven years. 

By / Apr 21

In the wake of the recent shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee has called on Tennessee lawmakers to introduce an Order of Protection law aimed at preventing firearms from being bought or possessed by people who may be a danger to society or themselves.

Gov. Lee’s proposal is fundamentally about providing law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to protect citizens, while upholding the rights of Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights. 

What is the Order of Protection proposal?

Gov. Lee’s proposal is not a new law, but rather builds on already existing legal frameworks and standards. In particular, it is linked to the existing Order of Protection for domestic violence. Currently, if a husband threatens to abuse a wife in Tennessee, an order of protection may be issued by the court temporarily restricting the husband’s access to weapons. This proposal expands that law to allow the same court to temporarily restrict access to weapons should a person threaten to attack a church, school, or other area of the community. 

The Order of Protection would institute a system so that firearms could be temporarily removed from individuals who have been deemed in a court of law to be a potential threat to themselves or others. 

The first step in the process is the involvement of law enforcement. Upon an official report that a person is a danger to themselves or others, law enforcement officers would conduct an investigation. If the officers deem that there is sufficient evidence for an individual to meet the evidentiary standard, then law enforcement would file a petition to the court. 

Once the petition is filed, the court has an extensive process which includes:

  • Setting a hearing date
  • Notifying the individual
  • Having a homicide/suicide assessment conducted by medical professionals

The court process requires that both sides have legal representation. Thus, there is a high bar for the process to begin, and individuals are entitled to full due process so as to challenge the claims of the court if they believe they are in error.

If the court grants the order of protection, then a person’s firearms may be removed for up to 180 days. The judge would also be required to consider alternatives before issuing the order. The firearms must be surrendered to either a third party or to law enforcement. Additionally, individuals may petition to have the firearms returned. The proposal also includes penalties for false reports.

The Order of Protection Proposal is Not a “Red Flag” Law

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, are currently effective in 19 states along with Washington, D.C.  The guidelines and specific provisions vary from state to state, but there are key differences between these laws and Gov. Lee’s proposal. 

First, the Order of Protection only allows law enforcement officers to make the official request to the court. Some red flag laws allow multiple actors—such as medical professionals, family members, educators, and other individuals—to file a petition before the court to have firearms confiscated. However, the governor’s proposal restricts the power of filing the petition to law enforcement alone, supporting them in their efforts to prevent crime. 

Additionally, Gov. Lee’s proposal allows for a structured procedure to meet all the demands of due process. Many states’ red flag laws include an emergency ex parte. An ex parte allows for an expedited process in which firearms can be confiscated prior to a court hearing. In some states, the ex parte emergency seizure can last up to one year. The proposal from Gov. Lee does not include this provision, meaning that a person can only be dispossessed of the firearms if they go through the entire court process, which means due process is preserved.

How have Southern Baptists spoken to this issue?

Southern Baptists have spoken clearly about the need to meet and curb the plague of mass shootings in recent history. 

  • The messengers to the annual meeting in 2018 passed a resolution, “On Gun Violence and Mass Shootings.” 
  • This was reaffirmed in 2022 in the resolution, “On the Imago Dei and the Helpful Content Submitted in Several Resolutions.” 

Both resolutions affirmed the solidarity of the convention “with all those victimized by gun violence.” Further, the 2022 resolution called on local, state, and federal leaders to “take concrete steps, toward solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life . . . and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.” 

Additionally, Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in addition to a group of pastors in the Middle Tennessee region, sent a letter to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly. In a Baptist and Reflector article, Davis commented on the Order of Protection:

“This is personal for me. . . . . I am a gun owner and I strongly support the Second Amendment, however I also have a daughter who is a school teacher. She loves the children she teaches. She and her students, like all teachers and students, deserve a safe environment in which to teach and learn. 

“Measures must be taken to address the mental health side of gun violence, especially as it pertains to mass shootings and the unnecessary and deeply unfortunate deaths of innocent people such as 9-year-old children.”

Representing more than 20% of the state’s population, these Southern Baptists and other ministers called on the members to support Gov. Lee’s proposal reminding them of their duty before God as “His servant[s] in matters of justice, protecting the vulnerable from those who do evil” (Rom. 13:1-7). 

As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood explained in his own letter to the Tennessee Assembly, the actions of Southern Baptists are drawn from the commitment that every life possesses intrinsic value and worth. The same convictions, Leatherwood argued, that motivate Christians to protect the preborn, urge them to protect vulnerable children from the violence of mass shootings.

By / Dec 16

While 2022 had its share of controversies, division, and tragedies, there were also a number of positive developments that have occurred. As we close out this year and usher in a new one, here are 10 stories to encourage you:

NAMB’s Annie Armstrong Offering hits all-time high

“Southern Baptists gave a record $68.9 million to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) in 2022, breaking the giving record for a second year in a row. Giving to the offering has exceeded records in five of the last six years.”

Pastor in Michigan builds laundromat to help families experiencing “hygiene poverty”

“There’s no laundromat in a four-mile radius,” Robinson said, standing in the church’s basement and soon-to-be affordable laundromat, Good Laundry. “Over 75 percent of our people in this area depend on public transportation, so you can only imagine taking all of your clothes, getting on the MTA to go to the laundromat to sit for three or four hours to do your laundry, and then come back on that bus route. That’s taking up most of your day.”

New malaria vaccines prevent infection and transmission

“After nearly four decades of development, the world finally has a malaria vaccine. The first large-scale rollout of GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S, or Mosquirix, kicked off at the end of November.”

Testing has started on an HIV vaccine 

Human clinical trials have started for an experimental HIV vaccine that uses the same kind of mRNA technology found in Moderna’s successful COVID-19 vaccine. An HIV vaccine would be globally beneficial in containing the spread of HIV, especially on the continent of Africa. Across the globe, an estimated 38.4 million have the virus and 1.5 million people acquire it each year. In 2021, an estimated 650,000 [510,000–860,000] people died from HIV-related causes

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launches new 3-digit number: 988

“One of the goals of 988 is to ensure that people get the help that they need when they need it, where they need it. And so, when a person calls 988, they can expect to have a conversation with a trained, compassionate crisis counselor who will talk with them about what they’re experiencing. If it’s the case that they need further intervention, then likely the crisis counselor will connect with a local mobile crisis team,” Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the administrator of SAMHSA, said earlier this month during a call with reporters.”

See also: 5 facts about suicide in America

Bioengineered cornea restores sight to the blind and visually impaired

“Researchers and entrepreneurs have developed an implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin, which resembles the human cornea. In a pilot study, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind prior to receiving the implant.”

NASA smashes a spacecraft into an asteroid to practice saving Earth

“At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth.”

Supreme Court rules Maine can’t discriminate against religious schools, strengthening religious liberty

“Maine’s attempt to sidestep the Constitution was halted in its tracks today, and rightly so,” said Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC. “The justices decision here accurately comports with the fundamental nature of religious liberty in our nation.”

Scientists are using fitness trackers and AI to detect depression with ‘80% accuracy’

“Scientists are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) for the early detection of mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Unlike, for example, kidney disease, which is relatively easy to diagnose, conditions like anxiety or depression have no specific biomarkers that can be picked up with a simple test. Patients with the same mental disorder can present many different symptoms, which can make it challenging for physicians to diagnose them early and accurately.”

ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project dedicates ultrasound machine to Pregnancy Center in Florida

In 2022, the Psalm 139 Project, a pro-life ministry of ERLC, has donated an ultrasound machines to pregnancy care centers in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. 

See also: A brief history of pregnancy resource centers

By / Nov 9

Anxiety is widespread among teenagers. If you lined up 100 teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18, you could expect approximately every third teenager (31%) to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their teen years. And almost every 10th teenager (8.5%) would experience anxiety that causes severe impairment.[i] As the parent of an anxious teen, you may feel a sense of fear, uncertainty, or powerlessness. How can you help? What if you can’t help? How severe is your child’s anxiety? At what point should you consider counseling? 

Perhaps you even feel a sense of frustration. Wouldn’t your child feel less anxious if he would listen to you and and stay off his phone? Or maybe you have stepped into “fix-it mode,” searching for causes and next steps to take. You want your child to find relief, so your natural tendency may be to brainstorm solutions and offer suggestions of what you think will help. While suggestions can be helpful, oftentimes the best place to start is by having an open and ongoing conversation with your teen about their experience. Here are some questions to help you begin.

Questions to get the conversation started

What is anxiety like for you? Many teenagers don’t realize when they are anxious. Their back tension, racing thoughts, counting rituals, insomnia, nervous energy, or other anxiety symptoms feel normal because these experiences are the only thing they know. Teenagers often need help verbalizing their anxiety symptoms so they can begin to recognize when they are anxious. Ask specific questions to help them gain awareness. What does anxiety feel like for them? What thoughts race through their minds? Where do they notice anxiety symptoms in their bodies? 

What seems to trigger your anxiety? Teenagers also often need help connecting their anxiety to specific situations in their life. Is the tension in their shoulders related to homework? Do the racing thoughts occur when they spend too much time on the phone? Does the anxiety tend to happen at a certain time of day, in a specific location, or around particular people? Ask questions to help your child begin to make these connections. 

When is the first time you remember feeling anxious? You can also investigate when the anxiety first started and what was happening in your child’s life at the time. The onset of anxiety can often be traced back to distressing events such as a parent’s divorce, an experience of bullying, or the death of a family member. The impact of events such as these can linger for many years. Sometimes, present symptoms of anxiety can be resolved when teenagers have the chance to process past distressing experiences.   

How do you think your habit of _______ impacts your anxiety? Many teenagers have bad habits that make their anxiety worse. Don’t we all? Parents often recognize that their teenagers would feel better if they would go to bed at a more reasonable time, stay more active, spend less time on the phone, or stop other stress-inducing habits. But how can you help teenagers make important changes if they bristle the moment these topics are mentioned? While you may need to enforce rules surrounding certain problem areas, it’s often best to start by helping teenagers assess their habits for themselves. 

Teenagers need to begin taking ownership of how some habits such as isolating, talking to certain friends, overusing social media, or binge-watching TV impact their anxiety. Help them investigate areas such as these by framing your concerns as questions, instead of statements or lectures. For example, how does it affect them when they spend the afternoon on TikTok? If they notice that it negatively affects their anxiety, what do they want to do about this?

Are there any calming activities you would like to use as an alternative to habits you realize may be problematic? Small changes such as getting outside for regular walks, taking five minutes a day to breathe deeply, or taking breaks from homework can make a difference. Talk about some possible changes, but don’t send them off to implement these practices alone. Go with them. Go on that walk together. Breathe deeply together. Stay off social media together. Go out of your way to communicate that you are on their side and in this struggle with them.  

How does your relationship with God help you when you feel anxious? And if it doesn’t seem to help, how are you making sense of that? The way we frame conversations about anxiety and faith with teenagers is important. Teenagers are often black-and-white thinkers. They sometimes misinterpret our encouragements to “bring their anxiety to God” as pressure to simply pray harder and read their Bibles more. They can then feel guilty, confused, or angry when they do these things and still feel anxious. 

Instead of asking a teenager “are you praying?” or “are you reading your Bible?”, we need to make the connection between anxiety and faith more compelling. More invitational. More honest about the mysterious ways God does and doesn’t work through Scripture and prayer. Less focused on hints of legalism and more focused on the relationship we can experience with the Lord. 

God does not stand over us and demand that we pray more and read our Bibles more when we are afraid. Rather, we get to go to him for help. We get to be completely honest with him about our experience. How can you help your teenager grasp this comfort? This is an opportunity to share your own experience of how you go to the Lord when you feel afraid.  

Do you want to try counseling? Some teenagers fight the idea of counseling. Other teenagers want counseling but hesitate to ask for it because they have real or imagined fears about how a parent may respond. It’s worth initiating the conversation to see if counseling has crossed their mind. If they do desire counseling, always honor this request. 

Is there anything that I am doing or anything that is happening in our home that makes you feel more anxious? This is a difficult question to ask, but I encourage you to go here. You may or may not agree with what your teenager says, but either way you will gain valuable information. It’s important to assess how the atmosphere of your whole household affects your teenager’s anxiety. Children are like sponges, absorbing their parent’s energy and emotions. This is especially true of young children, but we can’t ignore how teenagers also soak up the emotions of adults. When a parent feels anxious, angry, stressed, or worried, a teenager picks up these feelings. When a parent feels calm, a teenager absorbs this sense of peace. 

So when you notice anxiety in your teenager, it’s always an invitation to consider your own inner life. If you find anxiety, fear, worry, or stress within yourself, it’s likely affecting your teenager as well. 

However, before you discuss with your teenager the questions listed above, consider answering them for yourself. Do you know when you are stressed or anxious? Are you using the habits you encourage your teenager to use? Sometimes helping your anxious teenager begins with addressing your own inner struggle. 

Exploring your own anxiety should not lead to discouragement or self-criticism, though. We all feel anxious at times. Rather, beginning with yourself may be a needed invitation. God has given you an opportunity to slow down and nurture your own anxious heart. As you do so, you will become more equipped to understand and help the anxious teenager in your care. 

[i] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder

By / Oct 31

Most pastors likely answer the call to ministry with great expectations of what the Lord will use them to do. And while pastoral ministry is rewarding, many pastors can often find themselves in seasons of burnout and discouragement. Pastor Mike Minter, author of Stay the Course: A Pastor’s Guide to Navigating the Restless Waters of Ministry, has had a long and faithful vocation in ministry and shares words of wisdom and encouragement to pastors walking through turbulent waters.

Elizabeth Bristow: In your experience, what happens to bring a pastor to the point of burnout?

Mike Minter: There are a number of contributing factors that conspire to bring down a pastor. Too much self reliance can be a major issue. The mentality of “I can do this by myself” or the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness, when in fact, it is a sign of pride. It can be lonely when you’re at the top, and without strong accountability burnout occurs in a matter of time. Carrying internal secrets leads to heavy burdens, and if a pastor is struggling and has no one to turn to, he is on a path to emotional trauma.

EB: What role does accountability play in helpful discussions surrounding ministry burnout? 

MM: The Lord has made it clear that we are to bear one another’s burdens. (Gal. 6:2) We can’t do that unless we share in them. Forty-eight years ago, a pastor friend of mine came to me over lunch and said, “This ministry stuff is hard.” We had both planted churches at the same time. I thought little of his comment at the time until he had a nervous breakdown the next day and never returned to ministry. To this day, I wish I would’ve acted on his comment. Perhaps I could have helped prevent such a loss. I trust this illustration shows the need for pastoral accountability.

EB: In the book, you say the state of pastoral burnout can lead to the imploding in moral failure. What steps should be taken to prevent this from happening? At what point should pastors seek help?

MM: “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). A pastor needs to seek help every day through prayer and introspection to see if he is progressing in his sanctification. If he realizes he is slipping, it is time to get help. Most pastors see themselves as specialists in giving help but often struggle to receive help. It’s crucial for pastors to take a daily inventory of their hearts to help keep them refreshed in the Spirit and stay alert to signs of moral decay.

EB: After your long and faithful career in pastoral ministry, what advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

MM: My number one piece of advice is to put away all expectations. Dreaming of having thousands come to hear you preach is like believing you will win a gold medal at the Olympics. The difference between expectations and reality is disappointment. Give your expectations to the Lord since he is the One who said he would build his Church. Secondly, seek humility above personal ability.

EB: How does today’s cultural climate, with all its vitriol and expectations, contribute to ministry burnout? 

MM: I believe the internet [can be] the greatest tool of the enemy’s attack. Social media has put many pastors in depression by reading about others who started a church in their basement a month ago and are now renting a 2,000-seat auditorium. Vitriol is not at all pleasing to Christ. I have never been on social media, and suppose it can be used for good, but I know many who have suffered at its hands. 

By / Sep 8

Earlier this summer, the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live. The three-digit, memorable number was designed to efficiently connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional. With calls expected to increase as people learn about the helpline, some call centers say there are limits to what they can accomplish without more local resources. 

Suicide is not something we like to talk about. Yet, we must acknowledge that there are times when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm—a spouse leaves, a child passes away, a business folds, or a house burns down. We watch people we care about hurt, wander, and undergo immense difficulty. Sometimes their pain can turn into to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even suicidal ideation.

As part of the family of God, we’re called to walk alongside struggling brothers or sisters to help shoulder the weight of a trial that threatens to pull them under (Phil. 2:3–4). The strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between finding healing or giving up. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens and to hurt alongside those who are hurting. Helping our friends, neighbors, and friends carry the weight of their troubles ought to be a priority of every Christian—and could be the answer to the lack of local resources in place to help those who are suffering.

We’re one body, called to help the hurting

When someone experiences tragedy, loss, or other overwhelming circumstances, feelings of hopelessness can arise, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts. While a crisis hotline, therapy, and medicine are extremely important, they’re not always sufficient. The best antidotes for hopelessness are a perspective rooted in faith and a community of support, both of which the church can offer to help those burdened by situational depression and suicidal ideation.

A person with suicidal thoughts may feel like there is nowhere left to go and no one who cares whether they live or die. For many people, the church is their last hope. Statistics reveal that 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of mental health issue, and those who love them are also affected by it. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. Pastors need to wake up and start talking about depression and hopelessness from the pulpit, helping people to develop an attitude of looking to Christ for help long before a person would reach a point of suicide.

While no one can assume full responsibility for someone else’s circumstances or emotional wellness, the church can, and should, help to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues by addressing them. Let‘s not pretend the church is immune to these issues. There should never be a time when someone is embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for the way they’re affected by sin and brokenness. 

Churches should prioritize caring for those with mental health struggles

Research shows that people who are deeply depressed or have thoughts of suicide feel relief when they have a community of people they can count on. A strategic way churches can facilitate these relationships is by establishing support groups that include people who have “been there” and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and perspective. Programs like Fresh Hope for Mental Health equip churches to provide those who are hopeless a safe place to process their pain and experience faith-filled hope through support groups, classes, and other resources that are led and written by peers who are living well, despite their own mental health challenges.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” With Jesus Christ as our focus, the church can uniquely offer something to those who struggle with mental health and those who love them: hope through Jesus.

Large or small, every church should strive to become a nurturing and compassionate haven for people with mental health burdens and their families. People who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to create a safe and honest place for them and love them well. 

By / Jul 11

Your wife feels lonely after two years of COVID-induced isolation. Your husband was recently laid off and feels rejected and insecure. Your wife struggles with depression and is having a particularly rough day. Your husband just lost his father, and his heart is bleeding. Your spouse is emotionally suffering. What do you do? 

In a broken world that only seems to be breaking more with each passing day, the question is important. How do you minister to a suffering spouse who is riddled with heartache, hopelessness, anxiety, angst, disappointment, doubt, or despair? A spouse who is overwhelmed, overworked, or overstressed? A spouse who is battling fear, guilt, shame, exhaustion, grief, or a plethora of other soul-testing emotions? 

What do you do when your spouse is suffering on the inside?

What not to do

First, let me share three things not to do:

1. Fix. Don’t put on your relational tool belt and offer quick fixes. It makes your spouse feel like a problem to be solved, not a person to be loved. It’s dehumanizing. It certainly doesn’t mirror the way that God treats us in our emotional distress. He rarely gives us quick fixes. He meets us in our pain, links arms with us, and walks with us through our suffering. Do the same for your spouse. 

2. Make it about you. It’s easy to make your spouse’s emotional pain about you. How does the pain make you feel? What impact is the pain having on your life? How did you possibly contribute to the pain? STOP. Stop making your spouse’s suffering about you. It’s impossible to love your spouse well when your eyes are fixated on yourself. Adjust your lenses, and focus on your spouse. Not on you. 

3. Make it not about you. It’s also easy to check out when your spouse is hurting inside. Why do we check out? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to help. So we walk away. Don’t. Stay connected. You are one flesh with your spouse (Gen. 2:24). Just like shedding a hurting body part is not an option, abandoning your hurting spouse is not an option.

What you should do: BLESS  

So what should you do when your spouse is in emotional distress? Allow me to provide a step-by-step framework. I call it BLESS. It stands for Be, Listen, Empathize, Speak, Solve. Before I explain, I want to share three disclaimers:

First, this is a framework—a rule of thumb. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Every spouse is different. Every situation is different. People are complex. Life is complex. It won’t work for everybody—just most people in most situations.

Second, order is important. If you go out of order, you may frustrate your spouse at best or cause additional emotional damage at worst. 

Finally, you might only do the first one, two, three, or four steps. That’s okay. Not every situation calls for all five steps. Be prepared to stop at any point in the process.

Be: Sometimes all your spouse needs is your presence. Not your listening ear. Not your words. Not your actions. Your spouse only needs to know that you are there. You are not going anywhere. Your shoulder is there to cry on. Your hand is there to hold. You are there to hug and be hugged if necessary. You. Are. There. 

I suspect this might be tough—to simply be present without saying or doing anything. It is. It requires self-control. It requires patience. It requires you to relinquish control and know that God is God (Ps. 46:10); that his love and sovereignty are ruling and reigning over your spouse in that moment. It requires you to surrender your spouse into Christ’s hands, which are far more capable hands than yours.  

Listen: If your spouse speaks, close your mouth and listen (James 1:19). Concentrate on what is being said; not only the words but also the body language. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Don’t think about how your spouse should feel. Don’t think about how to make the pain go away. Don’t think about anything except what your spouse is saying. Just. Listen.

Empathize: If, and only if, you’ve thoroughly listened to your spouse, you may now open your mouth. What should you say? Precisely what your spouse said—in your own words. In other words, empathize with your spouse. Speak what you heard back in a way that makes your spouse say, “Yes, you get me.” If you aren’t sure what your spouse just said, ask questions to gain clarity. 

Why is empathy important? It makes your spouse feel known—the first half of the core human desire to be fully known and fully loved. It lets your spouse know that you are tracking, that you care, and that you are, once again, 100% present. It’s healing. It’s restorative. It says, “I know you, and you are worthy to be known.”

Speak: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, and empathized with your spouse, it may be time to speak words of life into your spouse’s heart (Prov. 18:21). You might share a passage of Scripture. You might offer a nugget of theological truth. You might give a word of encouragement. You might even (and tread lightly here) tell a joke! The point is that your words should be specifically calculated to build up your spouse (Eph. 4:29). They should infuse life. They should revive, refresh, and restore. They should heal your spouse’s heart.

Solve: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, empathized, and spoken life-giving words, it may be time to offer advice. Perhaps you suggest a list of action items that will assuage your spouse’s pain. Perhaps you point out ways that your spouse is unknowingly and unintentionally exacerbating the pain. Perhaps you offer a gentle admonishment if you see sin in your spouse’s life. Again, be careful. You don’t want to unintentionally wound your spouse with an ill-timed solution. One helpful tip is to ask if your spouse wants a solution. If the answer is yes, then proceed. If not, put your tool belt back in the closet. 

Conclusion

Be. Listen. Empathize. Speak. Solve. In that order. It’s hard. It’s unnatural. It takes discipline. You might not see immediate results. But that’s okay. It isn’t about results. It’s about love. It’s about incarnating the love of Christ and about being a blessing to your suffering spouse. 

Questions for reflection

  1. Why is it so hard to enter your spouse’s emotional pain without offering solutions? Why is it so hard for you to listen without speaking? What in your heart prevents you from following the sequential steps of BLESS?
  2. Have you ever been in a state of emotional turmoil, and somebody offered you a trite platitude or a quick fix? How did that make you feel? 
  3. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fully known and fully loved by God. He sees and understands us and still loves us. Why is this so healing? What can you do to make your suffering spouse feel this way?
By / Jun 27

Many ministry leaders live at a pace that is impossible to keep. Unrelenting busyness might feel necessary, but it can lead to chronic stress and burnout that hinders our love for God and others. Instead of adding more to our long to-do list, counselors Eliza Huie and Esther Smith seek to guide readers in how to think biblically about every aspect of life in their new book, The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care. Huie and Smith hope to give Christians a framework for biblical self-care to help them live for Christ by stewarding well the spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical areas of life. Below, they discuss and right understanding of self-care and why it can enable us to minister more faithfully. 

Jill Waggoner: How is the term “self-care” so often misunderstood in the Christian community? In reality, why is it a biblical concept? 

Eliza Huie and Esther Smith: The term “self-care” has been broadly used in secular circles and wellness platforms in various ways. From expressing healthy priorities to using it as means to justify a self-centered and indulgent lifestyle, people’s understanding of what self-care entails differs. More self-centered forms of self-care have likely contributed to concerns that Christians have when they hear the term. However, another contributing factor is likely a wrong understanding that a life of self-sacrifice means you should not care about your own needs. This is not what the Bible teaches nor is it what Jesus modeled. 

Self-care is a biblical concept when we consider it in light of three things that are reflected in our definition of biblical self-care. We define biblical self-care as “the practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God.” Biblical self-care is about stewarding everything God gives us. This includes resources such as our time, energy, health, relationships, skills, and abilities. These things enrich our lives so that we can do good to others and glorify God. 

JW: What have you seen in your counseling experience that confirmed the need for this book? 

EH & ES: Being in the helping field of work, we were both aware of the high levels of burnout experienced by counselors and caregivers. An article from The American Psychological Association states that 50% of mental health workers report high exhaustion and cynicism. Ministry workers don’t fair much better. One study completed by the Schaeffer Institute indicates that 1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month. These pastors state their primary reasons for leaving is due to experiences of depression, burnout, and overwork. Statistics like these underscore what we know: it is very easy to put the critical needs of others above our own need for rest and refreshment. 

We also saw the need for this book in our counseling practice. Whether it was the college student feeling unable to keep up, the homemaker experiencing exhaustion, or the professional burning the candle at both ends, we saw people who had little concept of how to wisely care for themselves. When they did take steps to care for themselves, they often felt guilty about it. In light of all this, we knew a book like The Whole Life was absolutely essential.

JW: Personally, how did you come to realize self-care was a necessity? What are a few of the things each of you do regularly to take care of yourselves?

EH: For me, it is easy to say yes and hard to say no. Much of this, I believe, comes from a good desire to help others as well as having a natural entrepreneurial personality. I love being a part of building something. Whether I’m investing my energies into a project or a person, I jump in with both feet. But this is not without a cost, and I was starting to feel that cost. I began to feel overwhelmed, and stress started to impact my body. In addition, I felt the negative impact of the emotional stress I was carrying in various ways including difficulty sleeping and other health challenges. I started feeling like the act of spinning many plates was normal. As much as I hate to admit it, I did not want to slow down, but I knew a frenetic pace was not healthy physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. 

A couple of things I do to care for myself so that I can serve others well are to get up early and read and listen to the Bible. Reading while I listen allows me to really focus on God’s Word. My mind can easily wander, so this is one thing I do to ensure that my time in the Word is not distracted. Undistracted time with God seems to set a tone for the day for me. I also try to spend time in nature as often as I can. I find breathing in the fresh air and noticing the beauty of whatever I happen to encounter on my daily walk revitalizes me. Sometimes my husband joins me on these walks, and we both have found it beneficial to our personal and relational health as it affords us time to slow down together. 

ES: Over 10 years ago, my life was interrupted by chronic pain and autoimmune illness. It soon became apparent that I would need to make major life adjustments to manage my symptoms. After years of searching for answers, I was diagnosed with lupus, and since then, I have found it necessary to slow down.

One area of self-care that is especially important for me to regularly practice is a balance between exercise and rest. Most days I find time for gentle exercise. Every day, I make sure I find time to rest my body. This combination of movement and slowing down is essential for my body and mind to function at their best. Another important self-care practice for me is reading. From slowly reading through a devotional to spending the afternoon with a good novel, I find that various types of reading are beneficial for my well-being.

JW: How was The Whole Life written to be used?

EH & ES: The book is divided into 52 short chapters. The chapters cover six essential areas of our lives including faith, health, purpose, community, work, and rest. Taking the time to go deep into each of these areas over the course of a year allows the biblical application of self-care to become embedded into our rhythms and routines. We did not want this book to be read and set aside. We hope people will read it with intention and create space to apply what they learn. While the book is meant to be read and applied alone, it has great potential to be useful in group settings as well. 

JW: Stewardship is a word you use often in The Whole Life. Usually, we think of stewardship in reference to how we spend our money, but how does stewardship apply to every part of our lives?

EH & ES: The Bible does not limit stewardship to our finances. We are called to be good stewards of God’s varied graces (1 Pet. 4:10). This includes ourselves, holistically. God gave us bodies that need care. He gave us souls that need attention. He put us in relationships that require time and effort. He designed us to think and feel deeply about our life circumstances, and we must wisely manage our responses to those circumstances. Being good stewards means we are aware of how we are doing in all these areas of life, not only how we spend our money but how we spend our time and energy. Stewardship includes all the various parts of our lives that the Lord has given to us. 

JW: Why do some of us feel like we have to keep pushing ourselves, even when we become physically burned out? How have we confused biblical admonitions to justify this behavior?

EH & ES: Pushing through to the point of burnout happens for a variety of reasons. One common reason is that people find themselves stuck in busy schedules and simply aren’t sure how to change. Our culture makes it easy to fall into overwork. To a large degree, peoples’ ability to work and be productive is equated with their value. Working hard makes us feel competent and worthy. At times, we push through out of false guilt, legalistic tendencies, savior complexes, or because we feel uncomfortable at the mere thought of not being productive. When signs of burnout surface, many people push forward because they underestimate the consequences of this choice or because they have never seen a more balanced life modeled to know what it might look like. 

The question we need to consider is this. Do we really think working in that way is biblical? Or do we just use that idea as an excuse? The most common Scripture people use to support pushing through to the point of burnout is Jesus’ encouragement to take up our cross and deny ourselves. As Christians we are to live self-sacrificial lives, give to those in need, and not grow weary in doing good works. We use these commands to justify overwork. In reality, these commands can exist alongside our human need for spiritual rest and physical refreshment (1 Kings 19:4-8). 

JW: Why is emotional health so often neglected? Why is there such an embarrassment and stigma attached to getting professional help?

EH & ES: Many people neglect emotional health simply because they don’t realize how important it is. Some Christians circles view emotions as dangerous or deceitful experiences that only serve to lead us astray. This fear can prevent people from discovering how important emotions are to our ability to connect with others and navigate struggles. It can also lead people to shut down their emotions or become frightened when they struggle to manage them. 

Professional help is stigmatized for a variety of reasons. The inability to handle emotional or mental problems is often associated with feelings of weakness and failure. Many people believe that if someone only prays enough or recites the right Scripture, then problems will be bearable. In this context, needing professional help feels shameful. People feel defeated that their faith was not strong enough to get them through the struggle. However, God never designed us to walk through life alone. He designed us to live in community and to find help and support from others as well as from him and his Word.

JW: How important is community to living an overall healthy life?

EH & ES: It’s hard to overstate how important community is to living a healthy life. Most of us take community for granted and don’t realize its importance until it isn’t available to us. For many people, the importance of community was highlighted as they experienced isolation throughout the pandemic. People saw that the inability to worship in person affects us spiritually. The absence of regular human contact increases depression and anxiety. Loneliness impacts our physical health. Long periods of isolation highlight how much we need community to live a healthy life. 

We weren’t created to be alone. On the contrary, we need each other. Conversations, physical contact, and human presence are essential parts of self-care. We need people to mourn with us, rejoice with us, encourage us, and stick with us through the ups and downs of life. Other people are essential to our growth and sanctification. Being in community is not only essential to our relational health, it is also a necessary aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual flourishing.

A version of this interview previously appeared at New Growth Press.