Month: January 2022

5 Ways Pastors Can Manage Their Own Mental Health


Intentionally develop genuine friendships with other believers
God created us with a need to have him and others in our lives (Gen 2:18). It really is not good for us to be alone in our spiritual walk. In healthy relationships we find love, support, accountability, and examples. In these relationships we find fellow spiritual warriors who help us fight against the enemy’s arrows. To choose to be a loner, though, is to invite trouble. Our struggles almost always increase when we fight alone. 


Enlist an ongoing group of prayer partners—and daily give them prayer needs
Don’t wait until you have a significant need to request their prayer; instead, every day ask them to pray for you. Invite them to join you in praising God. Ask them to cover your day in prayer. Share your needs and burdens so they might pray for you with intentionality and insight. Something powerful happens within us when we know brothers and sisters are praying for us every day: we gain renewed hope because we know others have our back. 


Invest in 2-3 other believers and model good spiritual disciplines for them
I’ve learned by experience that focusing on others helps turn our attention away from burdens that can wear us down. Others watch our lives. They look to us as spiritual examples. They pray for us and challenge us even as we equip and guide them. When we practice good disciplines, we feed our own souls and show them how to do the same for themselves. The joy of a growing relationship with God and others results. 


Regularly take time off
Frankly, I confess my own struggle here, but I’m learning. In particular, I’m learning there’s nothing spiritual about ministry workaholism. At least one day each week, let the work go and relax. Take a walk. Get some exercise. Enjoy a hobby. Hang out with a friend. Then, be sure to plan your vacation—and take it. Make it long enough that you actually relax a bit. A rested pastor is almost always a healthier pastor. 


Don’t be afraid to talk with a Christian counselor
For some reason, many pastors aren’t willing to do what we recommend others do: talk with another believer trained in counseling. Our ego gets in the way. Fear of what others will think captures us. Sometimes it feels like leaning on someone else is an indication of faithlessness. And, we aren’t always sure how to find someone to help us. What we do, then, is remain silent—and we miss an opportunity for another Christian to help us manage our own mental health. 

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. For more from Lawless, visit

Church plant benefits from mother church’s ‘send out our best’ mindset

Looking to the Old Testament example of giving God the best of flocks and herds, Currey Creek Church in Boerne sent 200 of its best members to plant The Bridge Fellowship, a new congregation in a fast-growing community northwest of San Antonio.

“These sheep belong to the Kingdom. They’re not my sheep or our church’s sheep,” John Free, pastor of Currey Creek, said. “They’re the Lord’s sheep, and we’re stewards, under-shepherds, of these sheep.”

Beyond recognizing the people are God’s and not his, Free saw a practical aspect to sending faithful church members. 

“When you send spiritually mature people that are pursuing the Lord, that are active in serving in their local church, they’re going to do the same in a new environment where they’re going to be needed even more,” Free said.

Currey Creek learned how to send its best because First Baptist Church in Boerne, with pastor Bubba Stahl, sent members out to plant Currey Creek 20 years ago. Eight years ago, when Currey Creek had about 250 people, Jared Patrick was hired in part to oversee missions. 

“I asked John what our missions philosophy was, and he said, ‘We’re going to plant churches,’” Patrick recalled of Free. 

Currey Creek planned to plant once it reached 1,000 people. The church began to grow quickly, and Patrick said, “I didn’t really think about it too much until we kind of looked up and Currey Creek was 1,200 people, and John came in one day and said, ‘We need to plant churches.’”

Patrick knew in that moment he was supposed to plant the next church. When he mentioned it, Free told him, “I’ve been waiting for you to figure that part out.” 

The church gave Patrick “a long runway,” he said, including a sabbatical to pray and visit other church plants.

By meeting as a church plant in an elementary school, The Bridge Fellowship has been able to draw people who, for whatever reasons, may not feel comfortable attending an established church. 

“In February 2020, John gets up, and we announce the church together, and John says, ‘I want the very best of Currey Creek to get up and leave with Jared to go get this church started,’” Patrick said.

In March 2020, 180 people were at the first interest meeting for The Bridge Fellowship. After navigating COVID shutdowns, the plant launched in September 2020 with about 200 people. In the first year, they reached 300 additional people and baptized more than 50 believers.

What’s more, Currey Creek has backfilled everyone who left.

“They sent us out in a really healthy way with a bunch of people and a bunch of resources, and now they’re even seeing more people come, and we’re seeing our church over double in the first year,” Patrick said.

Free noted that Currey Creek has seen that they can’t out-give God. “Money is way down on our list, but we grew the numbers back, and we met our [annual] budget at the end of the third quarter.”

A principle promoted at Currey Creek is that when God’s followers are open-handed, he can place something in their hands, Free said. “When we’re tight-fisted, he can’t put anything in our hands. When we say, ‘Here, Lord, these are yours,’ then he gives more to steward.”

What happened with Currey Creek and The Bridge won’t necessarily be replicated anywhere that principle is practiced, Free said, because the phenomenal growth rate of Boerne makes for a unique situation. Free spent the majority of his ministry in slow-growing or non-growing environments, he said, so he knows it’s not always this easy.

The Bridge has been meeting in an elementary school which has a cafeteria with a stage and a wall that opens to a gym, and they’re exploring opportunities for purchasing land in the near future. On their first anniversary, 607 people attended, and their average attendance is just under 500 people.

The idea of a church plant and a new start intrigues some people, including those moving to the area from others states, Patrick said.

Jared Carter, pastor of community and discipleship, and Jared Patrick, lead pastor (right), are leading The Bridge Fellowship in reaching the fast-growing community of Boerne, northwest of San Antonio. 

“People who don’t necessarily feel ready to jump into an established church for whatever reason will come to an elementary school just because it feels different, and the Lord certainly does his work through it,” Patrick said.

An example is a former Marine who moved from California and showed up at The Bridge because his fiancée “kind of dragged him,” Patrick said. The man spoke casually with the pastor a few Sundays and then asked to meet for coffee, where he disclosed that God was working in his life. Three weeks later, he gave his life to Christ at church.

Lives are changing at The Bridge because Currey Creek gave them “a fighting chance,” Patrick said.

“There are established church pastors who have so many people in their churches who, if they were given the green light to do some work together,” Patrick said, “would see some really significant traction of people coming to know the Lord through the local church.”

Sagemont Counseling director: ‘We all walk with a limp’

Mike Schumacher, the counseling director at one of the most active church counseling centers in Texas, talks expectations, ‘radical honesty,’ and being vulnerable enough to let others pour into your life

JL: From a broad perspective, what would you say the state of mental health in the church is right now?

MS: In general, we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. There’s still a significant stigma about mental health and Christian counseling. We take very seriously that not everybody who calls themselves a Christian or a Christian counselor actually approaches counseling from a Christ-centered perspective. I do think we’re establishing more and more credibility in our church and in our community. 

Just to put some context to this, I’ve got 14 counselors here in our counseling center—all licensed professional counselors. We see about 500 appointments a month—that’s a huge number of people. I say that just to give you some perspective of the need and the growth of this ministry. The numbers are growing and our ministry is growing, which I think is a good sign that the community at-large and our church is recognizing the need for what we provide. It’s a constant battle educating people about the reality of mental health issues. Normalizing the struggle is a big part of what we like to try to do. 

JL: I know there’s no easy answer for this, but why do you think that stigma exists? 

MS: That’s a really good question. I did a message here a while back at Sagemont trying to communicate this very thing and illustrating various characters in the Bible.
I focused a lot on Elijah and his struggle with depression and, frankly, suicidal ideation. I also illustrated the struggles that Paul alludes to, that even Jesus alludes to—a kind of emotional distress that was not uncommon even for him in his humanity. There’s a few points I think I would emphasize about why there’s this stigma.

I think some of it, unfortunately, is a certain amount of bad theology, to tell you the truth. Most of us evangelicals are aware of and cautious of the prosperity gospel, in terms of financial prosperity. But I think we as Southern Baptists and evangelicals have fallen prey to an emotional prosperity gospel. In other words, if you get saved, if you pray, if you’re active in reading the Bible and you go to church regularly and you serve and you give, then you should be living a victorious Christian life that doesn’t include struggle. Obviously, those [spiritual discplines] are all relevant and important, but I contend that there is a kind of overpromising that I think pastors and teachers are a bit guilty of. I think even with the best of intentions, there’s a tendency to emphasize that if you walk seriously in the faith, your marriage will be great, your kids will be great, and you will be psychologically and emotionally healthy. That is not the reality for a lot of people.

What we’re saying is, that sinfulness of the fall—the depravity, the radical corruption—infiltrates every part of our life. It affects us relationally, psychologically, spiritually, neurologically, physically. So we’re trying to approach mental health much more comprehensively than a lot of the more simplistic thinking that exists out there about what it takes to be healthy. 

JL: In Western culture, the idea is often that we’re supposed to achieve, we’re supposed to climb, we’re supposed to rise to the top. But that kind of thinking seems to clash with the message of Christ, who says, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” 

MS: It’s a bit paradoxical. I think it gets back to even why there’s a stigma, because I agree with you—I deal with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds every day in my office and I think there is more and more recognition that, because of the radical corruption of sin and the fall, we all walk with a limp. I mean that figuratively, but it’s a very profound notion to get your head around as a Christian, as opposed to the message that if you’re a Christian you don’t have any limp at all and life should be great. I just don’t think that’s biblically true, theologically correct, and certainly it’s not practically evident. 

JL: Can you give me a general sense of what kinds of struggles you’re seeing among leaders right now?

MS: Church leaders are dealing with so many of the same kinds of normal things that everyone else is. We see a lot of depression. Discouragement among pastors and staff is high because sometimes the expectations are so high. They struggle with a lot of performance anxiety, which I think of as “encore anxiety”—you know, “What are you going to do next time to make it bigger and better?” 

We see a lot of addictions in church leaders and pastors. We’ve got a lot of pastors that are struggling with sexual addictions … social media can be quite addictive, in its own right. So many pastors are just struggling with the normal emotional issues that we all do, like fears of rejection and failure. Those kinds of things are so real in the lives of so many pastors who feel pressure to feed the monster—building the congregation and meeting the budget and attracting people. I do a lot of marital work and I see a lot of pastors and church leaders who look really good on the stage or behind the pulpit, but their marriages and their families are falling apart—for all kinds of reasons that yours or mine could, too, but with the additional stresses and strains, the expectations, the time and the energy—it’s really difficult.

JL: Among those pastors and church leaders who seem to be turning a corner and improving, what are some of the commonalities you’re seeing? 

MS: First, they’re reframing their expectations. That’s a good place to start. They’re coming to the realization that, “If I’m struggling, I’m not weird, I’m not messed up, I’m not crazy and, frankly, I’m more normal than the people who are not struggling.” Just getting your head around that can help validate the struggle.

I think another big part of what helps people get better is when they’re heard—whether it’s a good friend or a therapist or a mentor—somebody you trust enough to be open and authentic with, to share the real you. Get in the company of someone you trust that you can be radically honest with. I don’t know of many people or pastors who wouldn’t benefit from having a good friend or mentor or professional counselor. I’ve got my people that I have to talk to that give me perspective and let me vent and hurt and wrestle and be messy. I think those pastors and leaders who are making progress have that kind of open and honest relationship with someone else, too.

It takes a lot of guts for a pastor or a staff member to show up at a counseling center and admit that he or the family or the marriage is a mess. That takes a humility and a vulnerability, and I don’t think that’s easy. It may be hard to find that person, but that’s such a crucial part of good mental health and self-care—having someone who can speak into your life. If you don’t have that, you’re going to die on the vine. If you don’t have someone filling up your cup, you can give out of your cup for a while, but you’re eventually going to run dry.

Mike Schumacher is an ordained minister and associate pastor at Sagemont Church in Houston. He has been the director of the Sagemont Counseling Center since 2001. 

Pastors share progress, pathway to hope after opening up about personal struggles

Pastors share progress, pathway to hope after opening up about personal struggles

Near the beginning of the COVID quarantine in the U.S., the Texan spoke with pastors about mental health and their experience in addressing their own mental health needs. In the 18 months since, pastors and churches have faced increasing difficulty as new challenges rose while they sought to minister to members and communities.

Many pastors report added stress from learning new technology for remote worship services, seeking to comfort ailing and bereaved church members even as hospitals and nursing homes restricted visitation, member care, discipleship, and preaching—all the while sharing Wi-Fi with children at home attempting remote learning in the next room.

These common situations have piled on top of the challenges pastors faced prior to 2020. In a 2019 survey by Lifeway Research, 23 percent of pastors expressed a belief that they were struggling with mental illness (half of those pastors had been diagnosed by a doctor).

The Texan revisited two of the pastors we spoke with in spring 2020: Danny Forshee of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, and Byron McWilliams of First Baptist Church in Odessa. In the November 2019 meeting of the SBTC Executive Board, McWilliams (a former SBTC president) shared his testimony of having a mental health crisis and seeking help in dealing with it. Forshee, chairing that board meeting, mentioned briefly that he, too, had sought help to maintain his mental health.

Both men speak now of how they addressed the special ministry and personal challenges of the past 18 months. McWilliams has increased his delegation of some ministry duties and committed to take all his vacation in 2021.

“I did this in front of the church so that they would understand when their pastor is out of the pulpit that he’s taking much needed family time,” McWilliams said. “Making this commitment publicly has helped me be accountable to my family and my church. I am a better pastor when I am a better me!”

Forshee also mentioned some ministry challenges that have arisen at Great Hills as he “acclimates to the ‘new normal’” in church life. His church is examining matters of ecclesiology as some continue to participate online only. “More people are tuning into church online, which is good,” he added, “but how we reach them and help gather them is an opportunity for church leadership to really address.”

“Helping and serving others go a long way toward our own health and healing.”

Personally, Forshee cited transparency with his wife and a renewed joy in praise and worship as sources of strength for him.

He added, “Helping and serving others go a long way toward our own health and healing.”

The response the pastors received regarding their openness about their own struggles points to a need for greater understanding among our pastors and laypeople. One key to greater understanding is transparency.

“Just recognizing the reality of mental illness/health/depression/anxiety and that these issues exist in many churches and among pastoral staff … is helpful,” Forshee said.

McWilliams agrees, stressing “transparency, with no judgment attached.” He added, “Continue to inform that mental health is no different than physical health and both must be managed in order to be the best person one can be. If that means taking an ongoing medication long term, so be it.”

Although the article did prompt some helpful conversations with other pastors, McWilliams related a story about a pastor who was critical of his response to his own mental health needs, suggesting a greater commitment to personal devotion and prayer might be the problem.

“I experienced this [negative judgment] personally when a fellow pastor called me out for taking anxiety medication. His attitude expressed to me in an open forum was meant to shame me for taking the medication and not relying more on the Lord,” McWilliams said. “No responsible minister would ever tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin, or someone suffering from high blood pressure to get off their medication. This attitude must change before true progress can be made in the area of mental health.”

“Before I faced real anxiety myself, I could not fully understand what someone was experiencing and would wrongly take the attitude of some today wherein I just encouraged a stronger walk with Christ. That is always a part of the solution, and perhaps the main thrust, but seeking the assistance of a healthcare professional is not a weakness, but a strength.”

McWilliams also noted that his ministry with those who suffer from mental illness has become more effective since his own experience with anxiety.

“Before I faced real anxiety myself,” McWilliams said, “I could not fully understand what someone was experiencing and would wrongly take the attitude of some today wherein I just encouraged a stronger walk with Christ. That is always a part of the solution, and perhaps the main thrust, but seeking the assistance of a healthcare professional is not a weakness, but a strength.”

Forshee noted the same advantage in his own ministry.

Mental health discussions continue to be at the forefront of Forshee’s life and ministry, he said. “Having to continue to deal with anxiety makes me sensitive to others with the same struggles; God’s grace is sufficient.”

Lifeway Research discovered in its survey of pastors suffering from some serious mental health disorders that 69 percent of them believed that the primary way churches can help would be to know and share local resources available to help individuals address their mental health needs. Both pastors agreed that this is important, with McWilliams stressing that it is “naïve” for a minister to believe he should “impart mental health wisdom he does not have!”

Forshee additionally suggested that churches might provide subsidies for those who need professional or medical help to address their mental health. He also believes people can encourage their pastors in significant ways.

“Following the Holy Spirit’s lead is so important, he said. “An example is if you feel led to reach out to a pastor, then do so. A simple text or encouraging note goes a long way.”

New look Texan aims to tell stories of God’s work, provide practical ministry helps

GRAPEVINE—A new era for the Southern Baptist Texan has begun.

Beginning with this month’s issue, the Texan will be published in a 32-page, full-color magazine format. While the magazine will continue to cover news that is relevant to Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches, it will specifically focus on telling the stories of what God is doing in those churches. Additionally, more space will be given to articles that provide pastoral and ministry helps.

Texan Online will also post articles regularly throughout each week in addition to serving as the digital platform for magazine content.

“We are absolutely thrilled to bring this new look to such a storied publication,” said Lance Crowell, SBTC Digital Ministries & Communications senior strategist. “Besides the great beauty of the piece, I believe readers are going to be thrilled with the Texas-centric content. We are focused on telling the story of what God is doing in Texas through his churches. In addition, I am extremely excited about our online content on our new digital platform, which is adding new stories on a daily basis.”

The magazine will include several new features for 2022. Among those are “Faces of the Faithful,” which will not only feature pastors and other faithful church servants, but inform readers how they can pray for those servants and their churches. Another regular feature called “What’s your story?” will tell the stories of how God is moving in the lives of individuals and churches.

Another monthly feature, “The 5,” offers practical tips and ministry helps written exclusively for the Texan by Chuck Lawless—dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. His regular blogs and social media posts have provided practical and personal ministry helps for thousands.

“At the end of the day, our hope is that everyone in the church—from pastors and leaders to men and women who have just made the decision to follow Jesus—will find value, encouragement, and inspiration in what they read in the pages of this magazine,” Texan editor Jayson Larson said.

SBTC churches and church members can receive a free copy of the Texan each month by filling out an online subscription form. Readers can also opt to receive the Texan Digest, a weekly e-mail that keeps them informed of the top stories published on Texan Online.