Who Ministers to the Minister?

How can we effectively encourage hurting people when our own tanks are empty? The truth is that we can’t — and we don’t have to.

You're pooped after a long day at work.

After dinner, you settle three arguments between your kids, drag a two-minute conversation from your teenage son, and then read your four-year-old her favorite book for the fourth time (sound effects and all). Once you've sent the older kids off to bed and poured a second glass of water for your toddler who's trying to escape bedtime, you drag yourself to your room for the day's grand finale: sleep. After a short conversation with your mate, you flop into bed without undressing and begin snoring within minutes.

Around the start of a great dream, the phone rings.

"I'm sorry to bother you, pastor," a voice says. Peering at the clock, you realize it's 2 a.m. and that the voice belongs to one of your church members. You wave your mate back to sleep and prop yourself up on a pillow for what could be a long session.

"I'm feeling depressed and need someone to talk to," the member continues. "Can you help me?"

We Have Pressures, Too

Sound familiar? As an associate minister, I've learned that those middle-of-the-night phone calls go with the territory. I know what it's like to have my personal time interrupted and to feel as if others' concerns are more important than minor needs such as, say ... sleep.

But after our midnight call, something occurred to me: Couples in ministry have burdens, pressures and emotional needs like anyone else. When those pressures remain unaddressed, we start to feel burned out. How can we effectively encourage hurting people when our own tanks are empty? The truth is that we can't — and we don't have to.

In Our Hands

When I became an associate minister at South Coast Fellowship in Ventura, Calif., it was my job to establish support groups to meet the needs of all our attendees. Ironically, one area I overlooked was our ministerial staff. I believed the lie that we ministers have it together enough to simply take any problems directly to God, grab a few pertinent Scriptures and press on with our duties.

But now I know better. Using the principles I've learned about setting up support groups, I mapped out a plan to help ministers and their spouses gather the encouragement they need:

  • Enlist one or two ministry couples as your core group. Select people who will be receptive to the ideal of a support group and then commit among yourselves to recruit new members individually (five couples is a nice size). To avoid having two couples dominate the group with their church's specific concerns, select ministers from various churches.
  • Remember to K.I.S.S. Keep It Super Simple. The last thing busy ministry couples need is another lengthy meeting every week. Why not commit to praying for the other group members daily and calling an assigned prayer partner each week for a quick update? Then later, if the group members decide they want to meet regularly, organize an informal fellowship time either monthly or bimonthly.
  • Commit to confidentiality. In every support group I've led, I start by saying, "What we say here stays here!" That's because the only successful support group is one in which everyone feels safe to discuss his or her thoughts without the fear of seeing them in the next week's church bulletin. This guideline must be firmly established with each new member and adhered to without exception.

This wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (4:12). Those words apply to us in vocational ministry as much as to anyone in our congregations. When we turn to others who can build us up — and whom we can support — then we can serve others and the kingdom of God with more effectiveness and joy.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, Dec 1996/Jan 1997.
Article copyright © 1996, Kathi Mills.
All right reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Kathi Mills and her husband, Larry, live in Ventura, Calif. They are the parents of four grown sons and nine grandchildren.