#12: Mental Health in Pastoral Ministry

It is important to remember that our pastors are people. They are vulnerable to the same challenges and struggles as congregation members. Michael Crawford and Tally Wilgis recently discussed some of the challenges that pastors face regarding mental health and managing high-expectations.

Transcript

 

Michael Crawford:
Welcome to the Peculiar People podcast. I’m here with my friend Tally Wilgis. Welcome my friend.

Pastor Wilgis:
Thank you. Glad to be here.

Michael Crawford:
Hey, I’m glad you came in, but not everybody knows you and that’s unfortunate because you’re a cool dude, but tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Pastor Wilgis:
Tally Wilgis. I’m the pastor of Captivate Church here in Baltimore. And as of a few years ago, I also am the executive director for the Baltimore Baptist Association.

Michael Crawford:
Sweet. So we kind of went back and forth on email and I was like, Hey man, I want you to come in, and there’s a lot of reasons why I wanted you here, to just talk a little bit about mental health, but what made you decide to come in and talk about this?

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah, I think this is one of the most underserved areas I think in ministry, especially for people that serve in ministry and give their lives to it. I think we face, everybody’s, I tell our congregation all the time that I’m at the bottom rung of the ladder with all your bad stuff. So I’m always, by the time people get to me, I’m always receiving the worst of everybody else’s life. And I really do think that as ministers, our mental health gets affected by the care and concern of others and by being downhill from all the other problems that they’re dealing with, sin and strife and brokenness. And as a consequence, if we think that we’re too much of a superhero, we can carry a lot of brokenness that we’re not really designed by God to carry.

Michael Crawford:
You know, one of the things that stood out to me, man, about what you’re doing in your association, there are so many cool things you’re doing in your association. You kind of have a resilience and a kind of ferocity about caring for pastors.

Michael Crawford:
And one of those areas that came up like when we were talking was, you’re just like, Hey man, I want to make sure that if any pastor needs something, they need resources for just soul care type stuff. You’re just, could you talk about that a little bit? I just think it’s so encouraging.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah. As we think about the kind of structure and the opportunity that we have to be an asset, we don’t need to duplicate a lot of what’s out there and at a national level, there’s a lot of resources and things that are available. At the state level, you guys do a fantastic job here to care, from Columbia. But we’re upfront, we’re face to face with the pastors and we can provide that one-to-one direct care and support to be sure that they stay in the fight, they stay in the game.

Pastor Wilgis:
And when talk to the pastors directly, there’s a lot of opportunity there for us to be able to make sure that they have resources available, that they can get away, they can have time away, they can check-in and talk with somebody.

Pastor Wilgis:
And so really we have a huge focus, a high emphasis on brotherhood, relational connectivity and yeah, mental health as a huge part of that. So we wanted to be sure that there was really no excuse that you fall or fail if you’re a pastor in our association. We want to put every tool available to you, we want to be the toolbox for you and we want to take away resource as an option. We want to make sure that resources and financial resources especially is not one of the reasons that you don’t get the help that you need.

Michael Crawford:
One of the things I love about what you said, there’s so many great things, but I love how you’re not trying to duplicate what’s already happening, but you see others as partners and as parts of the toolbox to expose, and we’ve worked together on this where we’ve, like I’ve called you and said, Hey, can we do this? And you’ve called me and said, Hey, we have this pastor, can we do this? And that’s really our heart. And we want pastors to know that we really are here for them and we want to try to provide whatever we can. It may not even be resources. It might be connections. People. You know what I mean?

Michael Crawford:
I had a guy recently come to me and he was dealing with mental health issues and I just knew another brother in the association that was struggling with this stuff that was maybe a few steps down the road. I want to say ahead. So I hooked them up and the guy came to me, says, wow, it was the best thing ever.

Michael Crawford:
And that’s what it’s about. We’re a big family. We just want to help people. Why don’t you think pastors are struggling so much today with mental health?

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah, I think we live in a world where we’re constantly comparing ourselves. The highlight reels of other people’s lives are being compared to the cutting room floor of our own lives. We know where we have brokenness, but we live in a world where the exposure is everybody else’s greatness.

Pastor Wilgis:
When you were 50 years ago, you couldn’t pick up a device and know what was going on in 75 cities around the country. You couldn’t know exactly what happened that weekend. You would get a report months and months later. So if you found out that something was great, you were hearing a report second, third hand, and a long way wait. Nowadays, you’re able to literally get off of the platform and pick up a device and know that you failed compared to the next person. And as you know, comparison always leads to jealousy, envy or arrogance, and pride.

Pastor Wilgis:
And these things aren’t healthy. They’re not good for our souls. Instead of being faithful, we’ve replaced it with the idea that we have to be Superman. We have to be better. We have to be stronger. And the reality is is that we’re not. We’re fallen people like the rest and we have a calling that puts in a place where a lot of other fallen people are expecting us to carry the load, but it’s Christ that’s supposed to carry the load.

Pastor Wilgis:
And so I think we’re in a place where we’ve bought into some lies from the enemy, that we’re supposed to be better than we are. We’re supposed to be faithful. That’s what we’re supposed to be. And our brokenness, our confess sin one at another, that’s just as important for us as it is for any of our people.

Pastor Wilgis:
And so I think we’re just in a place in our culture today where the anxiety and the depression is creeping in because we’ve bought into some lies about who we are.

Michael Crawford:
You know, what do you wish churches knew about the pastor and mental health?

Pastor Wilgis:
That they’re human. I really do, more than anything else. I wish that congregations, deacons, elders realize that their pastor is not some paranormal fall from heaven. Their pastor is at best a faithful servant of the Lord who is in many way suffering beyond what they understand, carrying burdens that are not there’s, still trying to be everything they’re supposed to be at home, be a leader, respected in community, read Timothy and Titus, and then turn around and ask how many of our members live up to that pressure. And then factor in carrying the load for another 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 people. That’s a huge burden.

Pastor Wilgis:
And so in churches themselves need to understand that if you’re in a position to bless and love your pastor, do that. If you’re in a position to be gracious, to look out for their interests, take care of their family, their children, be a blessing, not a burden because pastors, they will suffer in silence far more than you’ll ever realize. And so if you have the opportunity to speak up, to change some things, to give honor where honor is due, the scripture talks about a double portion of honor. Then do that. Trust me.

Pastor Wilgis:
Most of the big stories we hear are of some guys failing in incredible ways because of pride or arrogance, but the average pastor, they’re failing because they’re broken. They’re failing because the burdens are too heavy. So don’t put yourself in a place of judgment, put yourself in a place of grace.

Michael Crawford:
That’s a good word. You know, practically speaking, we’ve again, we’ve had a lot of talks and you’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of pastors. You know, what are some practical things you’ve seen pastors do to just kind of navigate through the challenges of mental health, just some real practical things you’ve seen like, wow, look what that guy’s doing or that guy’s doing this, or he’s doing this. What are some things you’ve seen them do?

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah. I think one, be open to counseling. That is first and foremost. I’ve become an enormous advocate for counseling. I started a church. My first church plan, sponsored by NAM was when I was 25 years old. And I got in just a few months and I realized that all the 40 some year old women hated me. And I said, well, man, what is going on? I ended up reaching out to a counselor as a kind of guardrail. And she explained to me that at the time she said the statistics were 25% of all women had been abused and a young fiery pastor leader could really come across in a way that was not going to be received by someone who had been hurt.

Pastor Wilgis:
So me seeking out counseling, in that case, was a great opportunity to learn something I wasn’t going to learn in seminary. You know, my seminary professors, Lord love them, they weren’t going to give me the insight that a 56-year-old counselor gave.

Pastor Wilgis:
So that would be one, is seek out counseling. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t let the world tell you that that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a biblical thing, is to seek out good counsel.

Pastor Wilgis:
And then, I get a hobby. Get a hobby. I think pastors think of themselves a little too much and I think you need time to create margin, whatever it might be. Don’t be ashamed to take time away. Again, we are not God. We are servants and you need to decompress. The scripture tells us don’t think too highly of yourself and it could be boastful or it could be taken on too much work. And I think you do need a hobby. You need time to break away, get away alone, a getaway with your spouse. You don’t need to be in the pulpit 52 times a year.

Pastor Wilgis:
I really believe you’ve got to find one, biblically, you should be raising up other people to do it. But two, that’s a mental health check as well, to just sit and soak and be a part. And then it goes along, thirdly, with get under great teaching, find somebody who can be your Paul to a Timothy and get yourself under somebody. And you’re going to be able to learn the ways of the master, learn the ways of the Jedi and when you do that, you’ll be blessed. So those are the things I would tell pastors to do. Get counseling, getaway, and get a mentor.

Michael Crawford:
That’s amazing. I’ve said this before to church planters and the cohorts. You’ve probably heard me say this too. Like this morning I swam and I know it almost sounds like I’m not even a Christian, but I swim to live and I bike because it’s exactly that.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
And I just think that physical exertion doesn’t have to be like you’re running a marathon, but I think physical exertion, I think departing from the places where you hold the stress, which is one of the reasons why like if you’re in your office and you know what I mean? Like don’t go to your office. I mean, you got to go to your office, but like don’t go to your office to relax. You’re going to look at your books and the phones and you know what I mean?

Pastor Wilgis:
Absolutely.

Michael Crawford:
It’s just, I think there’s something to be said about, you know, when the Bible says pretty much it was Jesus has custom to slip away to a deserted place.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
It’s like I was reading this verse. I went to this meeting in the city on trauma and the spirit just directed me to second Corinthians 4:10. We always are caring about in our bodies the death of the Lord Jesus, so that his life may be manifest in our body. And I was just thinking about, we carry this stuff. It’s crazy. But like you said, when you’re doing like a hobby or you’re exercising, it’s hard to, you know, if you’re in mile number three, trying to get to your 12-minute mile, it’s kind of hard to be worried about what Joe wrote in the email. You know what I mean?

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah. I’m usually Worrying about staying alive.

Michael Crawford:
Yeah. Exactly. And people can hear us, Tally, and go and it’s just so carnal. It’s not.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
Like you said, I think we’re just human beings. We’re not God. We’re not super. Yeah. I like that.

Michael Crawford:
Brother, somebody could be listening to this podcast. Pastor, they’re struggling. And this is why I did this, to be honest with you.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
I just thought, you know what? I made a vow to God that I’m always going to talk about the hard stuff because I was in that place at one point. I’ve been in those places and they’re struggling. What do you want to say to them?

Pastor Wilgis:
You’re not alone. You’re loved. And whether you’ve heard it said from people you admire and respect, they’ve been exactly where you are at one point or another. You do not get through a faithful fruitful ministry without going to the desert, outside of your own volition. The desert place, it’s a lonely place, a dark place. The enemy tells you everything you’re not and you’re the person that’s lived within the confines of the space between your ears. And you understand what you’re not, but you’re not alone. You are in the army of God’s people that have come before you, that are your contemporaries, that truthfully speaking, when I’ve been around some of the greatest men of our generation, the people that we would all know, they have all confided in me that they’ve gone through those dark places. I’ve prayed over champions of our faith today, who in recent years or my friends and they’re going through these dark, dark places. Knowing that doesn’t take today’s pain away, but I pray that it provides you hope for tomorrow.

Pastor Wilgis:
I’m not alone. I’m not broken. I’m not cast out. I’m not forgotten. And I’m not unworthy of either God’s love or of serving in God’s kingdom. And reach out, get help, find a fantastic counselor, confide in a trusted friend and trust that he who promised is faithful. And the one that began a good work in you will finish till the day of completion in Christ.

Michael Crawford:
I was thinking this morning, as I was driving over here, it is an irony of our faith and of our God that we find sometimes the greatest hope when we’re hopeless. And it is true that light is at its best when it’s dark.

Pastor Wilgis:
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Michael Crawford:
And God shows up. It’s like we cry out. Where are you? Where are you? And you read the Psalms and the prophets and even Jesus, like his grace is sufficient in our time. He’s a refuge for us in a time of trouble.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
He’s there. He’s most present. And I love that verse that says the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. In other words, he’s most present when we are at our worst. It’s so contrary to our thinking.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
Right? We think no, I’m succeeding. I’m planting. I’m preaching. People were getting saved, raising up, doing us. God’s with me. But I know 30 years in, I felt his presence the most when I’m like, I got nothing, I got nothing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I got nothing.

Pastor Wilgis:
I don’t know a great man of God that I respect who has not walked through darkness. They have not been broken. All of the great men that I respect have told me exactly that I’ve been through brokenness and I’ve come out the other side. You come out better. You come out more alive. You come out more filled with God’s grace and goodness. And you come out a better shepherd for other people.

Michael Crawford:
Yeah.

Pastor Wilgis:
Nobody wants a porcelain pastor.

Michael Crawford:
You know, I told our church two weeks ago, regarding emotions, that we need to remind ourselves of the impending reality of the age to come. And I know sometimes we can throw that out there. It’s not always going to be like this, but actually it’s not always going to be like this. It’s going to be a day when we won’t deal with this. God’s going to fix this.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
And the message is now is his grace is sufficient for us.

Pastor Wilgis:
Yeah.

Michael Crawford:
Amen.

Pastor Wilgis:
Amen.

Michael Crawford:
Thanks for coming in, man.

Pastor Wilgis:
Hey, thanks for having me.

Michael Crawford:
Appreciate it.

Pastor Wilgis:
It’s an honor.

Michael Crawford:
Grace and peace.