When pastor Paul Anderson* stood before his Southern Baptist church more than a decade ago and confessed a moral failure before resigning, he figured it would be his last time behind a pulpit. Full of regret and shame, Anderson and his family planned to head back to his hometown and out of ministry forever.
But God wasn’t finished with Anderson yet. Through participation in City of Refuge at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. — a restorative ministry for pastors in crisis — Anderson and his family found healing and new opportunity for ministry. Four years after his resignation, he began pastoring again. Today, Anderson is making plans for a new ministry to help pastors and their families in the hopes of preventing others from making the same mistakes.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Anderson said. “City of Refuge absolutely rescued us. At the time we had no idea where we were going to go and what we were going to do. We would have been left out on our own to figure it out.”
But with more than 200 applications and 10 or fewer open slots a year through City of Refuge, the vast majority of hurting pastors have nowhere to turn during a crisis. To help provide more opportunities for restoration, the North American Mission Board is partnering with First Baptist Woodstock to expand the ministry to other churches. Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Woodstock and a former SBC president, started the ministry after becoming burdened to help wounded and fallen pastors.
“Pastors spend their lives helping others with their issues,” said Hunt (@johnnymhunt). “But who helps the pastor? That’s what City is Refuge is all about.”
The long-term residential restoration ministry brings hurting pastors and their families into First Baptist Woodstock for potentially multiple years. While families are in the program, the City of Refuge provides housing, childcare, counseling and small group support at no cost to the family. Throughout the program, the City of Refuge focuses on helping pastors develop healthy relationships with God, themselves, their families, those they’ve hurt and with ministry itself.
In an effort to help more hurting church leaders, First Baptist Woodstock will host a Sept. 27-28 conference called Restore, which aims to help church leaders develop a culture of restoration in their churches. Special breakout sessions at the conference will focus on sexual brokenness, substance addictions, church ministries and the life of a leader.
“The biggest reason we’re doing this conference is the consistent opportunity we have to deal with issues like pornography addiction and pastoral burnout and pastoral failure,” said Troy Haas, director of restoration ministries at First Baptist Woodstock. “After seeing that play out in the life of our church and in the lives of churches and men all across the country, we decided it was time we pulled together churches and leaders and encourage and help them to address these issues.”
The conference comes more than a year after NAMB and First Baptist Woodstock developed a partnership to help replicate the ministry in Southern Baptist churches throughout North America. NAMB is helping First Baptist Woodstock document how it does the ministry and find potential ministry sites.
Haas believes he’ll soon have commitments from a few other churches to host City of Refuge ministries in other regions of North America.
Michael Lewis, who serves as NAMB’s pastor for pastors, said the entity believes expanding the ministry of City of Refuge will play a crucial role in NAMB’s efforts to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 churches over the next decade through Send North America.
“It takes healthy churches to plant healthy churches,” Lewis said. “Healthy churches are led by pastors with healthy relationships. City of Refuge is a place where pastors can come and become healthy so they can play a part in penetrating lostness in North America.”
NAMB’s partnership with First Baptist Woodstock represents one part of its overall effort to strengthen pastoral leaders and their families, including an upcoming effort to encourage churches to honor pastors during Pastor Appreciation Month in October. NAMB’s efforts also include marriage retreats for pastors and peer-to-peer small groups.
“We can have all of our programs right, and we can have all of our ‘i’s’ dotted and our ‘t’s’ crossed,” Haas said. “But if our church leaders are not vibrant and healthy spiritually and not connected and healthy relationally, all of those programs will not impact lostness like we’d desire them to.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy. Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about City of Refuge, visit restorelife.us/our-ministries/city-of-refuge/. To learn more about NAMB’s ministry to pastors, visit namb.net/pastorforpastors.