CPR for pastors: 12-Step Program Helps Ministers
BY BILL SHERMAN
World Religion Writer
Saturday, March 03, 2012
3/3/2012 5:22:39 AM
Ten years ago, the Rev. Hess Hester was thrilled with the impact a new 12-step program was having at Southern Hills Baptist Church.
Then he realized that he himself needed to go through the program.
“After Celebrate Recovery got started in our church, it was a joy to watch,” Hester said.
“But something happened as I began to hear the testimonies of so many who were experiencing God’s healing of their hurts, habits and hang-ups. … I began to yearn for the same.”
Hester found himself in a situation familiar to many pastors: struggling with personal and congregational issues, but unable to address those issues openly in churches where, as the spiritual leaders, they are expected to be paragons of virtue.
And so about six years ago, Hester started a Celebrate Recovery chapter specifically for pastors and church leaders, where they could be honest about their problems and work through them in the privacy and safety of a small group of colleagues.
“I was personally going through what I call my own perfect storm – one of the most difficult ministry periods in my life. It was a series of both personal and ministry situations that were sucking the life out of me mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically,” he said.
“My pastors’ 12-step group became a lifeline for me.”
That first group – five United Methodist pastors, four Baptist pastors and a Bible Church pastor – took 14 months to go through the 12-step program, identifying and owning their personal issues, surrendering them to God and making amends as needed.
Since then, 125 pastors in 14 groups have gone through the program in Oklahoma.
Among them was the Rev. Brent Kellogg, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Sand Springs.
“I grew up in a great family, with a mom and dad that loved me, but we didn’t talk about our issues,” Kellogg said.
“Here I was pastoring a church, and I had these issues running in the background … a failed marriage, Internet porn. I had never unpacked all that.”
He joined a Celebrate Recovery pastors’ group that met almost weekly for a year.
“When I was finished, I felt like 1,000 pounds had been lifted off my back,” he said.
Tulsa’s pastors program has become a model for the rest of the nation and has been given a formal name: Celebrate Pastors Recovery, or CPR.
Hester was invited to speak about his pastors recovery program at the annual Celebrate Recovery conference at Saddleback Church in California. Celebrate Recovery has chapters in 19,000 churches reaching 1 million people in 20 languages.
Why a separate 12-step recovery group for pastors?
Pastors deal with the same range of issues as everyone else, but their position in the church often makes it more difficult for them to be transparent enough to get the help they need, Hester said.
“Pastors are put on a pedestal. They’re not supposed to have any problems.”
They can be carrying baggage from their family of origin, from sexual abuse as a child, from a sense of perfectionism from an overly strict father.
They can suffer from anger, depression, drug, alcohol or pornography addiction, marital infidelity.
In many churches, it can be unsafe for a pastor to be honest about his own struggles, Hester said.
“Vulnerability in a dysfunctional church can be very dangerous. It could definitely cost him his job,” he said.
Pastors can be left feeling friendless, isolated and alienated, with no place to turn, he said.
“So, a CPR group serves as a safe, 100 percent confidential context for a pastor to deal with and experience healing … to deal not only with current struggles, but with any anger, pain, or lingering bitterness from the past as well as the fears or anxieties about the future.”
Hester said CPR can help remedy issues that lead to pastor burnout and to pastors dropping out of the ministry altogether.
The Rev. Bob Pierson, retired pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Tulsa, who is now a church leadership consultant nationwide, said burnout is a major problem among pastors.
“When you’re asked to be God’s representative, which is what ordination is, that in itself creates a unique kind of isolation,” he said.
He said his Tulsa-based Leadership Nexus Foundation is planning training events to equip clergy to handle conflict in congregations, a major cause of frustration and burnout.
The Rev. Randy Kanipe, executive director of the Stressed Clergy Association in Georgia, called clergy dropout a huge problem.
He cited Barna Group research that 80 percent of seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years of serving the church.
“Seminarians are not prepared for reality. The reality is, it’s a war zone,” Kanipe said.
“Our society is highly anxious, and that anxiety finds its way into churches.”
He said three decades ago, insurance companies rated the ministry as a healthy profession. Now it outpaces law enforcement for stress-related health problems such as depression, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.
He said the top three reasons are unrealistic expectations placed on pastors; toxic conflicts aimed at pastors, usually by a small group in the church; and lack of denominational support.
- 50 percent of pastors reported being so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could. (June 2000)
- 70 percent of pastors report constantly fighting depression.
- 80 percent of seminary graduates who enter the ministry will leave in five years.
- 80 percent of pastors’ wives wish their spouses would choose another profession.
Source: Various studies assembled by Michael Hurdman, The Ministry Application Project, Southwestern Christian University
Original Print Headline: CPR For Pastors
Copyright © 2012, World Publishing Co. All rights reserved . Used by permission.