Why every pastor needs a therapist
I recently posted a blog where I talked about the need for pastors to gain an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstance. I mentioned that in order to get an accurate understanding of yourself, it’s helpful to have a therapist. I’ll expand on that thought a bit and give two reasons why every pastor needs a therapist.
Pastors are no different than anyone
One thing I’ve learned about pastors - once you look past their exterior, they’re human. Pastors deal with the same emotions, fears, and insecurities as anyone. The Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”(Jeremiah 17:9). We all need help in figuring out our heart’s motivation, navigating the storms of life, and maintaining basic mental health, even if you’re a pastor.
For example, I know of a church that holds an annual, county-wide Mental Health Summit. Every fall, over 500 mental health professionals and concerned community leaders from county agencies, local police departments, educators, and the faith community all come together to discuss mental health issues and the stigma that is often associated with them. From the turnout, it’s clear that many in our communities, including Christians and Christian leaders, can benefit from intentionally pursuing mental health.
Pastors are very different from everyone
Even though in some ways, pastors are just like everyone else, they are very different in many, many ways. The role of pastor is extremely unique and has many distinctive characteristics that make the job unlike any other. There’s a unique spiritual element that brings spiritual attack from the enemy. And there’s also the perceived need to be a great preacher, compassionate counselor, strong leader, wise mentor, dynamic vision caster, eloquent communicator, biblical theologian, and frugal financial manager. That’s a lot of pressure and even though pastors are typically very gifted, no one can do it all.
Yet many in your congregation don’t believe that. They think pastors should be all things to all people. After all, doesn’t it say something about that in the Bible? So, many pastors try, but none succeed at meeting unrealistic, unattainable expectations.
It’s a good idea
This are two reasons why it’s good for pastors to have a therapist. A therapist can provide a truly safe environment for a pastor to be honest with what’s going on in their ministry, marriage, church and life. Pastors need to seek out and find that person they can really trust. And that person is probably not in their church, is probably not a fellow pastor, and probably doesn’t lead their denomination. Those people can provide other types of support, but they should not take on the role of therapist.
But here’s an important warning. A pastor must be very wise in choosing a confidant. My therapist once told me it’s not wise to be totally open and honest with everyone. He said, only trust people who are trustworthy.
Yes, I have a therapist. I don’t mind saying that. In fact as I spoke with mentors on my Ministry Advisory Board, and other pastors and Christian leaders I respect, I was surprised how many said they dealt with issues such as burn out, depression and stress. Many have sought medical help as well.
Personally, I echo their findings. Getting medical advice from a doctor is absolutely critical. But I’ve found that pairing that with Christ-centered therapy has done wonders for me. It’s given me the support I’ve needed in crisis, the tools I’ve required to maintain a reasonable sense of sanity in ministry, and wise advice from someone who cares, yet is outside the immediate situation. King David once wrote, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). It’s wise to heed his advice.
So seek help. Get a therapist. Even if you think you don’t need one. God has called pastors to a high position of leadership in his kingdom, and it’s wise to take advantage of all the resources available as you seek to be the best pastor and leader he wants you to be.
Mark J. Lenz is a pastor with a masters degree in Organizational Leadership. He is the CEO of Interactive Church Resources which seeks to empower ministry through interactive technology. He also leads Interactive Church Consulting where he helps churches create organizational health, and brings clarity and focus to ministry and mission.
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