Reaching Out! Knowing When to and Seeking Help

“You need to call, or I will.”

My wife’s desperate plea out of our shared brokenness was less of an ultimatum than it was a signal that either we were going to get help, or we were going to be done with ministry, maybe forever.

What led to this point was a combination of wounds from many sources. Some were self-inflicted wounds, but many wounds had come from outside of us. Some of these will be familiar to any church replanter, church planter or church pastor even if the specifics are different.  

We were exhausted by the sprint of launching a replant that never slowed down into the long haul marathon pace that replanting and pastoring need to be. My wife suffered an ill timed major depressive episode, made all the worse by a lapse in medical coverage and a change in medication when we moved. We were feeling isolated, having come from the suburbs of Denver to a small town on the eastern plains in the middle of nowhere. I was experiencing frustration and pain from the enemy-wrought, systematic dismantling of our first push at a pre-Elder and Deacon leadership training. We started with four of our new church’s most solid and committed men, each seeming solid in faith, family and life. One never attended our meetings despite us having chosen our meeting time based on his schedule; another’s wife told him he could have her or church but not both; one’s wife left him for another man three weeks after her baptism in our sanctuary; and the last of the group was killed in a car accident. 

My wife and I had a realistic plan to simply escape from it all, get away from ministry entirely.

A few months after that, another of our dearest friends died unexpectedly. He was my biggest encourager and faithful friend outside of any direct ministry relationships, someone with whom I could always be one hundred percent transparent and honest. My wife and I were frustrated and fearful after our congregation had ballooned in the first year, while in year two we dropped significant numbers along with a massive rise in criticism and personal attack. I was burdened by the feeling that everything was resting on me, and if I broke or failed, everything else would fail as well. On top of all that was the simple reality that rural ministry is often characterized by hidden fruit and very slow growth.  There was even more, but that was the worst of it. 

Looking back, things really were as bad as we remember them being. My wife and I had a realistic plan to simply escape from it all, get away from ministry entirely, and start over far from everything and everyone we knew and who knew us. We were probably less than a month from cutting and running, and the only thing that stopped us was knowing we would leave a beloved core group adrift if we left. 

The phone call my wife was forcing me to make was to the elders of our sending church, one of whom was also one of my long term mentors and friends.  While there are many reasons I did not want to make that call and had not yet made the call, I know the primary reason was my reluctance to admit that I could not handle what I had been sent to do. I desperately did not want to disappoint!  It was my fear and pride that kept me from reaching out for help. 

That phone call changed everything and nothing at the same time. Very little in our actual situation changed immediately, but because of that phone call, everything got better. Reaching out for help made us realize that we had never been expected to struggle on our own, but to bring our concerns to our leadership and ask for help. Rather than quitting and leaving everything behind, we were able to stay another five healthy years and eventually pass the church off to one of our elders as we answered the call to another small town replant last year. 

All of this has led me to see four needs for pastors and leaders to be able to reach out! 

Reaching out for help made us realize that we had never been expected to struggle on our own, but to bring our concerns to our leadership and ask for help.

First Need: A Culture of Support and Encouragement

The first need for a pastor to be able to reach out is the building of a culture where every pastor has friends, mentors, pastor/elders and teams that can be trusted to respond and help in redemptive and grace-filled ways. Looking back on that necessary phone call, three things made all the difference to me that day.  First, I was given permission to fail. My phone call was not met with disappointment or frustration or anger; rather, our elders listened and encouraged.  Now this is a part of our Calvary Family culture, so I should have expected it. But, it is one thing to talk of being a family that loves each other even when things are not going well and it is another thing to actually experience it and live it out. Second, they took the weight off. They reminded me that the church was not all on me and that even if I needed to be done, even if I could not handle it, the replant and ministry in that place was not done.  This was exceptionally freeing to me.  Not only did I not need to bear the weight of the church, ministry, and burden alone, but I was gently and powerfully reminded that it was never mine to bear anyway.  Third, they promised and delivered help.  This first came in regular phone calls and check-ins, then in sending someone to preach once a month to give me a regular breather. Finally, this landed in the sending of a faithful couple to partner in ministry, from whom we would eventually raise up a second elder.  It took several months for all of this to settle in place, but it did not take that long for improvement to start. Things were already better the moment I got off the phone!

Second Need: Time with Jesus and the Holy Spirit!

It is in time with Jesus that we often first put words to our needs, struggles, and problems. This takes time, and often we need to sit with Jesus a while before our mind and heart reveal the pain below the surface.  I often use the words at the end of Psalm 139 as an invitation and welcome to the Lord to examine my life and heart and reveal what I need to know, but often don’t want to know. Verses 23 and 24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  This begins in daily quiet time, reading scripture and sitting in prayer, continuing to linger in quiet with the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus. For me, a long hike by myself will often get me to a place to hear and listen to what I may not otherwise want to acknowledge. As my physical tiredness increases, so does my spiritual honesty. If you are too busy, frustrated, sad, or angry to spend time with Jesus then you already know things are not right.

Third Need: A Friend to Share With

Sharing a struggle with a friend is a lot easier than sharing moral failure, burnout, and a resignation with your mentor or church body. The key here is sharing before the problem manifests into sin, despair, failure, and quitting – in other words, before it is too late.   Looking over the too-long list of pastors who have fallen morally or who had to leave the ministry for personal health reasons, we know that many of those situations could have been prevented if at the beginning they had been honest with themselves and someone else. 

Fourth Need: Honesty and Openness

Restoration or recovery is a lot easier when we initiate the process rather than waiting to get caught in sin, or waiting until we have crashed and burned!  This is where our pride, our fear, and our worry all get in the way.  The enemy would have us continue to hide, thinking we can figure it out on our own.  But the Word tells us in Ephesians 5:11-14, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”  If we believe these words, we believe that everything will eventually come out.  The sooner it does, the better, because once it is visible we can receive the help, hope, and care we need! 

Final Thoughts

Looking back, when my wife led me to reach out, I am thankful that I knew who I needed to reach out to, even if I did not want to do so. This is one of the strengths of having a close network, family of churches, or association to be a part of.  As I have heard it said, “As Baptists, autonomy is one of our biggest strengths and most terrible weaknesses.”  We need to work hard to stay connected and have the support and connections we need to thrive.  It should burden us that not all of us have someone they can reach out to, someone to connect with before there is a catastrophic problem, and someone to go to when the problem has gotten us to a point of desperation.

So if you are in this place, and you are in need, reach out.  And if you’re not yet in this place, connect preemptively, because maybe it isn’t you that needs support but rather the guy down the street! Reach out to the pastor in the next town or neighborhood.  Reach out to a pastor in your association. Reach out to your Association Director.  Planters and replanters, reach out to your sending church, or to the NAMB planting care team.  Do not attempt to do this alone. We need each other! 

Matt is the the Re-Planting Pastor/Elder of Calvary Monte Vista and one of our state’s Send Network Care Champions. He is passionate about seeing pastor’s and planters thrive in whatever situation they minister and serve the Lord for the long haul having seen too many pastors and leaders fail and fall because they did not know when to reach out, or who to reach out to when they were struggling. Ministry is hard! Ministry is all the harder when we suffer in silence!  We all need each other!

Darrin Crow has been the lead pastor of HEART of Junction Church since it was planted in 1998. He has used his M.A. in Counseling Psychology throughout his ministerial career, and continues to counsel with individuals and couples as a key part of his pastoral duties. Darrin recently authored his second book, Understanding Biblical Mental and Emotional Health 101: A starting place for finding peace by thinking biblically, available online through multiple book sellers.



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