Panel to take up ‘health initiatives’ for S.C. pastors

Over the past seven years, seven South Carolina Baptist pastors have taken their own lives. That stark statistic cast a shadow over the fall meeting of the SCBC Executive Board Oct. 9 at White Oak Conference Center.

In response to troubling statistics among the ranks of South Carolina Baptist pastors – including forced resignations and suicide – the SCBC Executive Board has formed a committee to study the root causes.

In light of that and other alarming trends – including the fact that South Carolina is the leader among Southern Baptist Convention states in forced pastoral terminations – a committee was appointed by Executive Board chairman Keith Davis to research causes contributing to negative health among pastors, research ministries to aid them, and bring back recommendations to the board in six months.

In his report to the board, SCBC executive director-treasurer Jim Austin took time to address the issues of forced pastoral resignations, lack of healthcare, and other issues and behaviors that might negatively – or tragically – affect pastors.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with Obamacare, but we do know that some of our pastors have no healthcare insurance,” Austin said. “We’re asking some non-traditional insurance providers to have exhibits at the annual meeting [Nov. 13-14 in Greenville] to help our people.”

“Forced terminations are a reality in our state,” Austin said. “How can we help identify behavior in churches and in pastors that might lead someone to take their own life?”

Austin said the SCBC staff is beginning an initiative for pastoral health. “Our [Intentional Church Multiplication Process] will include training that helps church leaders understand how to better treat their pastors,” he said. “Churches need to understand that they must be encouraging.”

During the board’s planning and ministries committee report, Monty Hale, director of the pastoral ministries and bivocational office, said pastors “are under satanic attack in South Carolina. There’s no other state that’s experienced seven pastoral suicides in seven years – and there are other pastors who have considered it.”

“Among our churches, there’s a lot of discontent,” Hale said. “[Pastoral] termination statistics indicate this discontent is at an all-time high. Many pastors are literally homeless when being terminated and forced to leave the parsonage in 30 days. It’s also common for pastors to have a parsonage and then a salary that’s impossible to live on.”

Hale said the Intentional Church Multiplication Process should help, but he also is pleased with the close partnership his office has with associational directors of missions, who are at “ground zero” of the problem. He also suggested using White Oak Conference Center as a place for pastoral respite, indicating a suite is being created at the center for pastors to use for personal retreat. “We’re also looking at other places we can send pastors who need time away,” Hale said.

Executive Board chairman Davis said that “when we have 79 forced resignations in one year, it concerns all of us – board, associations, and staff. We just can’t stand for this, and something has got to change.”

Jimmy Epting, president of North Greenville University, made mention of the problem during his report to the board, recalling childhood memories of his pastor father “being the agenda” during church conferences.

“I can tell you, as the son of a pastor, it was invaluable to have the love and support of other pastors and their families nearby,” he said. “Those friends of my dad were very special.”

Davis appointed the following Executive Board members to serve on the Pastor’s Health Initiative Committee: Kent Smith, chairman; Gene Smith; Scott Stancil; Duane Greene; and Howard Allen.

An advisory panel to the committee was also appointed and will include Jim Goodroe, director of missions, Spartanburg County Baptist Network; Cathy Sparks, a pastor’s wife and director of counseling, Middle Tyger River Community Center, Lyman; Pickens Polatty, a church deacon; and Vickie Heath, a pastor’s wife and a volunteer with Pastor’s Health Initiative in the Lowcountry. – SCBC