When I started out in pastoral ministry in the 1970's, I served on the staff of a large church in a small town. I was enthusiastic and probably a little overcommitted. Eventually, I found myself burning out.
When I told the senior minister about my feelings of exhaustion and isolation, he told me that, if I were really intended for ministry, God alone would sustain me. He said that neither I nor my family would ever feel lonely or burdened by service to our Lord. I was stunned.
A few months later I was asked, without explanation, to leave the church. My service there had been ended by the senior minister, a man of God whose view of ministry did not include marks of humanity.
I was devastated and disillusioned — and I felt alone. I knew of no one with whom I could talk who would understand my dilemma and help heal my pain. Fortunately, I was young and resilient and had a supportive family, and God used this experience to prepare me for other kinds of ministry I never dreamed of.
Things are different today. Ministers and their families can turn to a growing number of retreat centers, counselors and other services aimed at the unique needs of those in vocational service. These "ministries to ministers" offer everything from a restful vacation spot to clinical therapy.
One of the more common types of caregiving ministries is the restoration and counseling retreat center. These ministries typically provide a tranquil setting in which guests can spend time in reflection, rest and therapeutic counseling. Almost a dozen such ministries are listed in the Online Pastoral Care Directory from Focus on the Family. We've highlighted four of them here.
Founded in 1974 by Louis and Melissa McBurney, Marble Retreat is often considered the granddaddy of pastoral care ministries. Many other care-givers to pastoral families have been trained through Marble Retreat.
Where: Up to four couples per session stay in private rooms in a custom-built Rocky Mountain lodge. A great room with fireplace and piano provides a warm environment; a recreation room, hot tub and laundry facilities add to the comforts of a stay. A host couple lives in the lodge to oversee meals and hospitality. The retreat is a 75-minute drive from Aspen airport, four hours from Denver International Airport and five hours from Colorado Springs.
What: Louis, an M.D., is a certified psychiatrist, and Melissa offers more than 20 years' experience as a co-therapist. Designed to help ministry couples in crisis, the staff at Marble frequently addresses severe marital conflict, depression, burnout and transitional issues caused by forced termination or resignation. The program incorporate "brief intensive psychotherapy based on a group method." A 12-day session is typical, which includes 30 hours of group therapy and four hours of individual attention. Guests have time to enjoy the beauty of the remote area along with hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, golf, tennis and year-round swimming in a hot springs pool.
How Much: The cost of a visit is $2,500 per person, although the counseling portion of $1,600 may be eligible for insurance coverage. Scholarships are available.
The Mountain Learning Center has been helping people rebuild relationships since 1982.
Where: Located in the mountains of northern California, the center is less than three hours from the Lake Tahoe, Nev., airport and close to Yosemite National Park. The area offers recreation opportunities year-round. Guests reside in private suites at local commercial lodges. Counseling sessions are held in the large home that houses the center.
What: Russ Veenker works with more than 20 years of formal ministry experience and 15 years of family counseling. He is a doctoral candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
The two-week program focuses on "revitalization." The center primarily serves those who have been in ministry for more than five year and seek healing form a ministry-relate crisis. Group sessions are conducted weekday mornings, with afternoons free for recreation or individual counseling.
How Much: The cost for counseling, accommodations and some meals is $2,200 per couple. Scholarships are available.
Founded by Bob and Sandy Sewell, SonScape Re-Creation Ministries began serving pastoral families 13 years ago.
Where: The mountain retreat is located on 17 acres of heavily wooded national forest near Pikes Peak. Just one hour from the Colorado Songs airport, facilities include a 4,700-square-foot ministry center and four private guest cottages equipped with kitchenettes.
What: Bob and Sandy offer 25 years of ministry experience at SonScape. Their work is primarily preventative, to help people in ministry maintain a healthy spiritual life and other relationships. Up to four couples or individuals at a time come for an eight-day program with strong emphasis on spiritual formation. SonScape uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis to assist evaluation before counseling begins.
Couples begin each day with guided devotional times, designed to help them recognize "red flags" of ministry. Two-hour group sessions are scheduled every other morning, with afternoons set aside for private counseling. Lots of free time allows guests to practice the disciplines that help them to balance work, worship, rest and play. SonScape follows up on all attendees for one year.
How Much: The cost is $995 per couple or $670 per person, which covers accommodations, meals, study materials and counseling. Scholarships are sometimes available.
If one "ministry to ministers" does not fit your exact need, it may refer you to a more suitable organization. Additional referrals can be obtained by calling the toll-free Pastoral Care Line of Focus on the Family at (877) 233-4455.
Numerous care-giving organizations for ministers are listed in Focus on the Family's Online Pastoral Care Directory. This index of books, tapes, videos, publications and ministries is designed for ministry families and is a great reference.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.