The reality of both internal and external struggles for church leaders served as the impetus for a committee-generated resolution affirming and seeking to improve the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional well-being of pastors and other ministry leaders.
“Our church pastors…they get the joy of serving us, but a lot of times they bear all of the collective hurts of their congregations, whether it’s marriages that are falling apart, people have lost loved ones,” said Dani Bryson, a resolutions committee member. “I mean, they’ve walked through all of our traumas with us, and that’s a wonderful gift to their congregation(s), but it can also really take a toll on a pastor.”
Bryson, a member of First Baptist Church in Dickson, Tn., threw out an initial idea that later evolved into “On Needed Care and Support for Pastors and Ministry Leaders,” one of nine resolutions passed by messengers at the 2023 SBC annual meeting.
The groundwork for the resolution was laid by Bryson, Kristen Ferguson and Tony Dockery, remotely, before the full committee met in New Orleans to flesh out the idea.
“This was a burden on many people’s hearts in the committee,” said Ferguson, a member of 11th Street Baptist Church in Upland, Ca., where her husband serves as pastor. “We’re all very aware of the reality that COVID put our churches and our ministry staff and our pastors through significant trials and burdens … coming out of that, we felt that our pastors and our ministry leaders need more support.”
Dockery, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in La Puente, Ca., said the resolution is “critically important,” aiming “to help pastors come out of the shadows and just get the concern and the care that they need, and also to encourage churches to support and help their pastors to know it’s okay to seek out resources to help (them) negotiate those challenges.”
“On Needed Care and Support of Pastors and Ministry Leaders” draws on current research detailing critical struggles faced by spiritual leaders:
– a majority of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively impacted their families,
– 42% are considering leaving the ministry in the next year,
– and seven in 10 pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend.
Ministry leaders also feel the weight of political, social and spiritual issues around them, Dockery noted.
“You couple all those together and, as a pastor, you’re trying to carry the weight and disseminate the weight of all those things,” Dockery said. “But we’re not always as effective at…sharing the weight and the concerns.”
In passing the resolution, messengers acknowledged that the holistic well-being of pastors and other ministry leaders “helps them lead God’s people faithfully” and affirmed “the importance of godly relationships, counseling, rest, and recreation that contributes to the overall wellness” of those in church leadership.
Resolving to encourage pastors and ministry leaders to seek help, and exhorting churches and ministries to “neither ignore nor stigmatize the internal and external struggles of ministry leaders,” messengers committed to “promote a culture of holistic flourishing” throughout local SBC churches, associations, state conventions and denominational entities.
While resolutions are not binding on convention churches, Ferguson said they can be a “launchpad.”
“I … hope, and we ask God, that God would use this resolution in particular to encourage churches to be more aware of the burdens of ministry, and to find ways that they can support their pastors and ministry leaders better,” she said.
“My biggest hope for this resolution is that if there is one pastor who is struggling and about at the end of his rope, that he sees this and he feels seen and loved by his brothers and sisters in Christ, and it helps him keep going,” Bryson said.
Tessa Redmond writes for Baptist Press.