April 20, 2020
Resilient Church Leadership Initiative to Help Pastors in Crisis
For the past four weeks, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center (WCBGC) has led the conversation for churches dealing with the largest global crisis many of us will face in our lifetimes.
Recognizing that church leaders are facing challenges on many fronts, the WCBGC has launched the Resilient Church Leadership initiative (resilientchurchleadership.com) to resource, inspire, and connect pastors dealing with both internal pressures like burnout and mental stability and external pressures such as moving their church online, caring for their congregations, and ministering well in a time of crisis.
The initiative—a partnership of the WCBGC, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Christian Foundation-South Florida, and the Church United initiative—continues the conversation begun in December 2019 with the GC2 Summit on Facing Hard Truths & Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Lifeway Research revealed that 23 percent of pastors acknowledge they have personally struggled with a mental illness and 49 percent say they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness. Another Lifeway Research study of pastors concluded that 84 percent say they’re on call 24 hours a day and 54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming. Add the current crisis and the massive logistical, relational, and financial pressures our churches are facing, and there is a significant problem.
“I don’t think we can understate how important it is for church leaders to take care of themselves during this crisis,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “We cannot assume we are well or that all will be well. We need to be diligent to understand how we are and to get the care we need.”
Both national and global agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are taking seriously the impact of COVID-19 fears and anxieties on the mental health of entire populations. Our churches are key to providing hope for those without hope, and the necessity of having healthy pastors is more critical than ever.
“The adrenaline will wear off as church leaders rise to the challenge of doing ministry in a ‘new normal’—whatever that will even be,” said Jimmy Dodd, CEO and Founder of PastorServe, a partner in the project. “Leader burnout and even depression and other mental issues are on the table.”
Mindy Caliguire, an executive at Gloo and President and Co-founder of SoulCare.com, encourages pastors to not neglect their own spiritual health even though workloads grow. “We need to make sure we embrace experiential spiritual practices like meditating on Scripture. Even well-known passages, like Psalm 23, can minister to us in new ways as verses take on new meaning for this time of crisis.”
The Resilient Church Leadership initiative provides both counseling options and multi-media resources for church leaders to understand their own mental health and to find ways to cope with the anxiety and stress that accompany times of crisis. In the days to come, the initiative will also include cohorts for pastors in crisis and an assessment tool to gauge the health of leaders.
“All of our church leaders want to be healthy for their congregations,” Stetzer said. “But we simply can’t fake it, especially now. Church leaders often don’t know where to turn when they are overwhelmed and facing burnout and mental health concerns. We need to help them to take those first steps that will lead to long-term, healthy ministry.”
The initiative comes on the heels of two significant resources the WCBGC launched in the past few weeks. Since its launch, tens of thousands of people have visited Coronavirus And The Church (Coronavirusandthechurch.com), a clearinghouse of free resources for churches and church leaders to help them navigate the COVID-19 crisis. The site, a partnership of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, Rick Warren, and Saddleback’s The Peace Plan, includes sermons, articles, planning manuals, and pertinent CDC information.
Additionally, the WCBGC launched a new podcast to help leaders navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Stetzer Leadership Podcast features more than two dozen interviews with global and national leaders talking about issues related to culture, faith, and mission.
“Our church leaders and our churches are working very hard to navigate this difficult season,” Stetzer said. “We need to be ministering and equipping them as well.”
The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center is a world hub of mission and evangelism training and inspiration. Founded 40 years ago by the Rev. Billy Graham, the Center is committed to convening global leaders for greater gospel impact and creating resources to equip churches and leaders to show and share the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world. Learn more at billygrahamcenter.com. –Laurie Nichols