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Personal health crises renew leader’s sensitivity to pain

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Brooks Faulkner has learned the hard way that personal suffering can make people more sensitive to others’ pain.
Trim and youthful for his 62 years, Faulkner is known by his colleagues at the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention as the leader of a personal development program for church staff people, LeaderCare, which includes crisis help. He is athletic, a longtime patron of the Downtown Nashville YMCA who often plays basketball as a part of his health regime. Typically he has worked almost a full business day by the time he goes to the Y during lunch.
But less than a year ago, the tables turned when, ironically, he was forced to be the receiver instead of the giver of help.
In his hotel room in Dallas during the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Faulkner became convinced he had food poisoning. But as the hours passed, the illness did not subside and he became weaker. Sure, he had noticed subtle changes in his energy level in previous weeks. But he had maintained his usual work schedule, never suspecting that he was in dangerously poor health. Now it was obvious something was seriously wrong.
Weak and unable to attend sessions of the convention, he agreed, at the urging of colleagues, to return to Nashville. A co-worker was to take him to the airport, so he attempted to pack his suitcase.
“I was so weak it took me two hours to pack my socks,” he recalled. By the time his daughter met him at the airport in Nashville, he had to be placed in a wheelchair to get to her car.
At a local hospital, his doctor sent him immediately to critical care. Bleeding ulcers had left him so depleted that nine pints of blood were required to replace and maintain the eight pints his body normally contained.
If that were not enough, he developed an irregular heartbeat. Not only did he have two ulcers cauterized, but heart surgery was in his immediate future. A delay of eight days to build his strength preceded quadruple bypass surgery.
After recovering at home, he returned to work but did not regain his stamina.
“For two to three months, I felt like a zombie,” he said.
Back in the hospital, he had a faulty gall bladder removed. And, all the while, he was being treated for kidney stones.
In the midst of his own discomfort, Faulkner’s wife had both legs run over by her own automobile in a freak accident. With help from their daughter and son, their physical needs were met, but clearly Faulkner was in no position to help deal with the 120 to 150 people who call the LeaderCare hotline each month for assistance.
The LeaderCare team, however, Faulkner said with obvious pride, took on extra work and, in the process, really became a team.
Today, he is returning to normal physical stamina, but the man whose work is ministering to ministers said the experience has heightened his sensitivity to others’ needs.
“Before I became so ill, I had heard the same stories over and over … ‘the church doesn’t like me, the deacons are after me.’ I was getting numb to the concerns of others. Now, every person’s pain is very, very real. You may have heard it a number of times,” he said of the crises church staff experience, “but for those who call us, it is the first time for them.
“Being critically ill made a human being out of me,” he declared. “Now I hear with compassion and love. Paramount in my thinking since last June is the providence of God. He can make us more aware of what is going on around us.”
In addition to the people who call the crisis hotline, 130 people each year are involved in a personal and career development program through LeaderCare. Another 150 career assessments are conducted with ministers and their spouses. Wellness strategies are under way, and vocational guidance has been given new life. Work with women in professional ministry positions has expanded in cooperation with the SBC North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
LeaderCare provides a network of personal development help for pastors and staff as well as resources and a network for help in personal crisis prevention, intervention and restoration.
Resources and services are provided in partnership with state conventions, associations and other minister support groups, taking advantage of established, quality sources for help, rather than duplicating efforts.
The Sunday School Board’s pastor-staff leadership department has developed conferences and materials for prevention and identification of potential life crises and life transitions concerns. Guidance and support for the minister’s spouse and family are available through marriage, parenting and family enrichment materials and events.
Crisis intervention includes an emergency telephone number, 1-888-789-1911, answered from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Central time, Mondays through Fridays. Mediation services, assistance toward renewal in ministry and help in restoration to ministry or career transition are offered.
“LeaderCare provides pastors the opportunity to develop a personal enrichment and development plan, a listening ministry and encouraging advice,” Faulkner said. “Its objectives are for pastors and staff leaders to discern and follow the call of God, grow in Christlike character, discern and use their God-given competencies and to lead lives that are balanced physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally.”
The Sunday School Board has dedicated a staff, whose backgrounds include a wide range of experience and educational skills, to LeaderCare issues, Faulkner said. Among those are formal training in ministry, preaching, a variety of Christian education specialties, personal counseling and health and wellness. Expertise, academic writing and extensive counseling experience in burnout, stress, forced termination, career assessment and organizational and leadership skills are among abilities shared among the LeaderCare staff. Consultation and direction for people using these services is provided by people who have gained personal experience in church staff careers before assuming national consultative positions.
In addition to the crisis line, people interested career assessment, personal development resources, wellness information or other non-emergency LeaderCare services may call (615) 251-2265.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis