COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — More than 200 church leaders gathered for the first Men’s Breakfast at the Southern Baptist Convention to hear prominent pastors share personal stories of vulnerability and victory.
Co-sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board, the sold-out, men-only event featured a panel with J.D. Greear, Matt Carter and Michael Catt. The June 17 event was held during the SBC’s annual meeting in Columbus.
“We wanted to create an event for pastors focused more on growing them personally than on growing their church,” co-moderator Mark Dance, LifeWay’s associate vice president of pastoral leadership, said.
The church’s health is intrinsically tied to the pastor’s health, said Dance, who moderated the panel with Michael Lewis, NAMB’s executive director of pastoral care and development. “It all starts with loving God and then our ministry flows out of that.”
Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., said healthy pastors minister “in the power of the Holy Spirit,” not in their own strength.
“If we are going to do ministry in a healthy way and not take our baggage out on other people, then we have to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit, because we don’t know at the beginning of a day what we are going to face, what phone call we might get,” Catt said.
“If we have a fear of man, we are not healthy,” Catt noted. “If we have a fear of being fired, we are not healthy. The most unhealthy thing I see is that pastors are afraid of a deacon, afraid of a lady in the church, afraid of the anonymous letters, afraid of the big donor.”
Carter, pastor of preaching and vision at The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, said healthy pastors understand the connection between their two callings. “Our secondary calling is what we do for Jesus, and our primary calling is that we belong to Jesus. We have bad habits as pastors of putting our secondary calling above our primary calling. When we do that, burnout is a matter of time.”
“The Gospel changes us,” said Greear, lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., tying the Great Commission to the Great Commandment. “[The Gospel] changes the loves and passions of our heart so that the Great Commission becomes the natural expression of who we are. When the Great Commission is divorced from the Great Commandment, [ministry] becomes wearisome for us and wearisome for our people. That’s not joyous ministry.”
Carter shared a life-altering conversation he had with his wife after a few years of marriage. He realized the local “church had become his mistress.”
“It crushed me to know I had lost the heart of my wife,” he said. “What good is it to grow a church if you lose the heart of your wife? I wept and went back to God and said, ‘Lord, I need you to change my heart.'”
Greear spoke about a similar situation in his marriage.
“While I knew how to preach the Gospel, I didn’t know how to live the Gospel out in the relationship with my wife,” he said. “And that was a turning point in my life.
“If you put the same amount of planning, energy and intentionality in your job as you do in your marriage, you’d be fired within a month. The greatest leadership I exert in the world is in my home and in my family,” Greear said.
The discussion turned to pastors who have children “living in open rebellion.” The panel discussed setting up safeguards against pornography and establishing downtime for rest.
“I’m so weary of seeing men I love [fall into temptation]. The guy that led me to Jesus had an affair this year. It broke my heart,” Carter said.
“If you are in a place where you are on the roof like David and looking over the edge but you haven’t yet, my encouragement to you is that you do whatever you have to do to go back in the house. Go find someone to talk to today.”
At Austin Stone, Carter set up a policy that it’s “okay to not be okay, but that it’s not okay to not walk in the light.”
Dance said, “Pastors need pastors. We need to encourage those around us. We want to walk with you through that.”
Through a partnership with LifeWay and Focus on the Family, NAMB set up an anonymous pastoral care line. At 1-844-PASTOR1, a pastor, wife or family member can call the number from 8 a.m.–10 p.m. to speak with trained pastors who are also psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors.
“There are highs and lows in ministry,” Lewis said. “There are downstream problems of discouragement, doubt and even dropouts that happen in pastoral ministry. The confidential pastoral care line is an upstream solution.
“Most pastors struggle often with these matters of how to maintain spiritual vitality, marital fulfillment and encouraging children in matters of the faith,” Lewis said.
Dance said pastors often have a hard time talking about weaknesses. “This is exactly what I hoped would happen today — that we would create a ‘no-strut zone’ for pastors to get real because we have to be ‘on’ outside this room and outside this convention hall,” he said. “We all have struggles.”