News Articles

7/31/97 Counseling service for ministers now spans 25 years of experience

DALLAS (BP)–In a quarter-century of counseling ministers, some things haven’t changed.
Marriages suffer when spouses don’t communicate. Wives feel neglected when their husbands spend all their time and energy on church-related duties. And ministers feel pulled apart by conflicting demands.
Those are conclusions shared by the two men who have served as coordinators of the Ministers Counseling Service, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas launched 25 years ago this summer.
The Ministers Counseling Service provides crisis intervention ministries such as individual, marriage or family counseling, preventive ministries such as marriage enrichment retreats and conferences to help ministers manage conflict, stress and time, and consultation services for ministers who are involved in counseling. Through Texas Baptists’ Cooperative Program giving, these services are made available to all ministers and their families in churches affiliated with the BGCT.
James Cooper, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Cliff, Dallas, became coordinator of the service in 1972. When Cooper retired in 1988, Glenn Booth, then associate pastor for counseling and family enrichment at Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler, was named as his successor.
“Probably 75 percent of my counseling sessions are spent trying to help ministers have more fulfilling and intimate relationships with their own families,” Booth said.
Cooper agreed at least half his time was spent dealing with problems related to families.
“Usually, the basic problem was a lack of communication,” he said. “That’s what most counselors would find anywhere.”
Closely related to marital problems are the job-related pressures of ministry that come from “being pulled in so many different directions and having to wear so many hats,” Cooper added.
Booth underscored that same point, adding, “It’s not the work of ministry that gets a man down. It’s the pressure he feels put on him, either by the congregation or by himself, to do the work.”
Too often, ministers place extremely unrealistic expectations on themselves out of a sense of “oughtness” and “shouldness,” he noted.
“Sometimes, I feel their expectations even exceed what God himself would demand of a man in the ministry.”
Booth’s approach is to “help the minister buy back the margins of his life, those slots of time where he can plug in personal enrichment experiences, marriage enrichment experiences and family enrichment experiences.”
Time invested in personal and family growth does not take away from ministry — it strengthens ministry, Booth maintained.
“If a minister provides both quantity and quality time for his family, it enhances the effectiveness of his ministry,” he said.
While issues related to family have remained fairly constant throughout the Ministers Counseling Service’s 25 years, forced termination of church staff has seemed to increase significantly. Booth notes about 300 Texas Baptist church staff members are fired in a given year.
“I try to help them through the pain, hurt, anger and bitterness that sometimes results,” Booth said.
The service also offers limited financial assistance during the transitional period and career assessment to help the out-of-work minister discover his strengths, ministry profile, spiritual gifts, natural abilities and goals for self-fulfillment. All of the work is done with the goal of helping facilitate the minister’s reentry into ministry.
“I would say that 99 and 44/100 percent of those who go through the process of career assessment revalidate their calling,” Booth said.
In the last six years, Booth also has launched a “restoration” program for ministers whose lives have been shattered by immoral or unethical behavior.
The two-year program begins with six months of career assessment and intense personal counseling, at least half of which is marital counseling involving both husband and wife. During that six months, in which the minister works through a book on ministerial ethics, he is not to have any ministry involvement.
During the second six months, the minister can begin limited ministry involvement as a volunteer. He continues counseling sessions once per month and is assigned to write his personal code of ethics.
In the next six months, the minister receives counseling only as needed and is allowed to do vocational Christian work as an associate or assistant minister in the church that his family is attending.
The final six months is spent preparing for reentry into full-time vocational ministry. As the minister meets with search committees, he presents the code of ethics he has written and commits to following it. He continues to keep in touch with Booth after he joins a church staff and throughout the remainder of his ministry.
“The two years offers an opportunity for the fallen minister to learn humility, to better evaluate where he has been and to determine where he is going,” Booth said. “Most have to get a secular job simply to feed their family, and that can be a humbling learning experience. And I really believe their marriage needs that much time to heal.”
Eight ministers have completed the Ministers Counseling Service’s restoration program. Only one has not successfully reentered ministry.
Looking back at the last 25 years, the counseling services’ first coordinator believes the agency’s greatest contribution may be in helping ministers, their families and the churches they serve recognize their own common humanity.
“I think there’s a greater recognition that they are human beings, and all human beings make mistakes,” Cooper said.
“The Ministers Counseling Service has given them permission to admit that and to seek help when necessary.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Camp