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Minister-wife couples thank LifeWay for LeaderCare help

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two couples, both ministers and wives, dealing with different stresses, asked LeaderCare for help. They got it.

Speaking in chapel April 28 at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Cathy and Wayne Watkins from Rome, Ga., and Bill and Jackie Jagger from Norcross, Ga., told how the struggles they had been dealing with were taking a toll on their lives — spiritually, emotionally and even physically.

Both couples publicly shared their stories as a way of thanking LifeWay for the help they received through LeaderCare’s Wounded Ministers retreats. The retreats are therapeutic retreats that provide a safe place for the minister and spouse to address deep-seeded hurts and struggles. Licensed counselors lead in beginning a healing process through large and small group interaction as well as individual counseling sessions.

Wayne Watkins, minister of education at Fellowship Baptist Church, Rome Ga., felt God was calling him to take a position as a senior pastor, something he wanted to do.

“A church from another state had contacted me and was very interested in me as their senior pastor. The process was going very well. We were just days away from hearing from the pastor search committee if they wanted to move ahead to the last few steps of the process. We even had an offer out of the blue from someone who wanted to buy our home. God was working it all out, or so I thought.”

Cathy Watkins didn’t feel the same excitement, however. In fact, she felt “like my world was crumbling in around me. After 15 years in the ministry, I was tired of living in a glass house and being in the ministry. I wanted to be everything that everyone in my family and church needed me to be and I was losing who God had created me to be.”

In 1994, Cathy Watkins had been diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. “Even through my surgery, chemotherapy and recovery I felt like I always had to look my best, be upbeat and tell everyone that everything was fine.”

Last year, facing her five-year tests to see if she was still cancer free, “all this came up,” she said. “I felt like I just couldn’t take another change in my life.”

Watkins said he finally saw that something was not right and didn’t understand what was going on with his wife. But he knew he needed to find out what was wrong and get help.

“I’ve never been one to put off taking care of a problem,” he said. “So the next day, I found the phone number for LeaderCare and made the call. [Consultant] Norris Smith talked to me and helped me realize the walls that give a wife a sense of comfort and security were falling in around Cathy. That evening I told Cathy that I was withdrawing my name from the church and that for the next six months we weren’t even going to consider going anywhere. I also suggested we see a counselor.

“Overnight,” he said, “I saw the change in her color and expressions on her face. It was as if the weight that was too heavy to bear had been lifted.”

Cathy Watkins said when her husband told her they would stay where they were, even though she was relieved and happy, she had mixed feelings. “Wayne was making a sacrifice, putting the girls and me in front of his desire to be a senior pastor. But God showed me the decision Wayne had made was one made with faith and honor to God.”

Watkins said, however, the decision, though somewhat disappointing, was not that hard. “My family has always come before the job. This was what they needed.”

Three years ago when Jagger was called as pastor to North Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, he, his wife Jackie and their family moved from a small Mississippi county seat church. The move was stress producing itself. But, during their first week at the church, they discovered the church was dealing with several highly emotional morality issues.

Then, in addition to all the professional turmoil going on in the church, the Jaggers experienced several significant personal losses, which added to their stress. Jagger’s father-in-law died. His nephew was murdered. Luther Dyer, former director of missions in South Florida Baptist Association and Jagger’s spiritual mentor, died. Then a supportive secretary, who was like a second mother to Jagger, died.

These personal losses made dealing with the church stresses harder.

“I had this seven-alarm fire drill going off in my head. ‘I’ve got to save this church. I’ve got to save this church. I’ve got to save this church,'” Jagger said. “But finally, I realized that I couldn’t save this church. That was God’s job. My job was just to stay faithful and obedient to him.”

Jackie Jagger said she was dealing with a lot of stresses of her own. Also, “it was so hard watching everything the church was going through and how Bill was struggling. I was just trying to be the ‘perfect pastor’s wife’ and smile and say everything was great when I knew it wasn’t. I was even ready for my husband to get out of the ministry.”

Both couples attended a LeaderCare-sponsored Wounded Ministers retreat at Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center, in North Carolina.

Speaking to the LifeWay audience, Jackie Jagger said, “The retreat was a blessing you may never understand. But, let me just thank you, because you will never know how desperately our family needed this and how much it helped us. I’m not sure where we’d be now if we hadn’t had that week.”

She added, at the retreat “I could open up and share without people saying, ‘She’s so weak or stupid.’ Even though I couldn’t share my heart at church, I could at Wounded Ministers. Right then I didn’t need to minister. I needed to be ministered to.”

Watkins said, “Our experience at the Wounded Ministers retreat helped me understand some of the struggles we face each day as ministers. It helped me see the burdens and added stress I was causing Cathy. We gained hope and developed a plan to deal with stress. We also were able to see other issues that were impacting our daily lives. I knew the fight with cancer had been bad, but I never realized the lifelong emotional battles we were fighting and often losing. The Wounded Ministers retreat and the ministries of LeaderCare have put Cathy and me on the path to spiritual and emotional victories.”

Cathy Watkins said the seminars at the Wounded Ministers retreat were wonderful, but very emotional. “We all used lots of Kleenex that week.”

She said, “We were all open and able to share. There was love and acceptance. Everyone heard, ‘You are not alone. It’s OK.'”

Watkins said when he saw the truly desperate situations some of the couples at the retreat were dealing with, such as immorality, impending divorce or forced terminations, “We sort of felt like we didn’t belong. Our situation wasn’t that desperate. But Norris [Smith] reminded me that our pain was as real as anyone else’s.”

LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said, “Everything we do at LeaderCare is confidential. That’s one of the key points. We give our lives at LifeWay to do what we can to have healthy churches. But we can’t have healthy churches without healthy pastors.”

“I think we are at a pivotal point in history,” said Watkins. “Even though for some people, reaching out and getting help for problems still carries a stigma, more and more people are beginning to realize it’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to need help.”

For more information about Wounded Ministers’ retreats, call (615) 251-2173 or send an e-mail message to [email protected].

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