I still remember the look I got from a fellow church member when I mentioned in conversation that I had been seeing a pastoral counselor. The expression was a strange mixture of disbelief and pity. I don’t regret saying it, though. Being transparent about the fact that I had both acknowledged my need for a counselor and sought the help of one has been very liberating for me. A stressful job and the loss of a young grandson had taken me places I had never been before. I was blessed not only by the fact that I recognized my need but that I readily found help.
There are many pastors and clergy leaders who seem unable or unwilling to ask for help. One reason is that Christians have perpetrated the myth that the man or woman of God who has been called to ministry doesn’t have the same struggles, stresses, and temptations that the person in the pew experiences. Those of us who have been in ministry any length of time know how wrong that is! Another reason is the personal fear that we will be seen as inadequate and not up to the challenges of our ministry. Time to face the truth: there are days that none of us can face what’s been handed to us.
In the event that you are in the ministry and are unable to perceive when you need help, here are a few warning signs.
- You are experiencing on-going conflict with other staff members in the church. Certainly, gifted and committed people will differ on any number of topics, but when the battle lines are drawn and you start counting votes to see who is going to win, you need to seek help.
- Differences of opinion with lay leadership have gotten out of hand. You are afraid to miss any meeting—deacons, personnel, or budget—because of what might happen if you are not present to control the situation or interpret your stand on an issue. When this happens, you need help.
- When you hate getting out of bed in the morning, find reasons not to go the office, don’t sleep well, or have lost your appetite, you may well be entering into depression. Whether it is clinical or not, you have come to a point where you must reach out to someone.
- If you are experiencing a stressful family situation—lack of communication with spouse, insolent and rebellious children, extended sickness or care giving related to a family member, or substance abuse by a loved one or yourself—it is time to accept the responsibility to be proactive in addressing the concern rather than hoping it will just go away.
- If your finances are out of control and you don’t see any way out of the pit you have dug, you need to stop digging and get help from someone who has the objectivity you lack.
The good news is that help is available if you are willing to acknowledge your need and reach out to others. There are people in the helping professions—physicians, psychologists, therapists, financial advisors, coaches, consultants and colleagues—who will take you by the hand and walk with you through the times of crisis. This will only happen, however, when you are willing to acknowledge your need and take the first step.