It's amazing how quickly time goes by in September. Even though I'm on sabbatical, time hasn't slowed down. This is usually the busiest time of the year with the church's ministries starting up again, making sure our safe church policies are reviewed and carried out, our corn roast by the cadets and Bible studies and small group studies all beginning to meet again. It's wonderful to have a good leadership team in place as I haven't worried once about how the start is going.
So far, the first two weeks of the sabbatical have been filled with reading, study, some writing, and a whole lot of thinking and reflecting. It's wonderful to have the time to simply think. There's a lot to think about: my relationship with God, my family, with the church among other things. But my thoughts keep going back to how the past 10 years have gone here in First Montreal; where I've messed up and failed and where, thanks to God and His working in and through me, I've been able to do well and help various people and the church move forward. I've realized that it's much easier to list what I consider failures as I've been reminded often by different people when I have not lived up to their expectations, or I have simply and truly messed up. I went into ministry to help people find healing in God, and the hardest part of failing as a pastor is that often it involves people getting hurt, kind of the opposite of what I prayed God would do through me.
However, thanks to a wise counselor and friend, I'm coming to see that what I may consider a failure can often be a part of God's plan and a part of the journey of healing or growth that God has been taking us on. Sometimes we need to experience deep hurt before we allow God to work in us. Some time we need to suffer so we can understand how great our need is for healing; healing that only God can do. The very words I've so often used to encourage others during difficult times, I needed to hear myself. I thank God for the wisdom and faith of this counselor!
This has raised up a concern at the same time. Who do pastors go to when they experience a crisis; either as a pastor called into a situation, or in our own life situations. As my counselor mentioned, those who work in the mental health field undergo debriefings regularly to help them maintain their own mental health and deal with the stress and trauma they go through. As pastors we may have peer learning groups, regional pastors, and ministerial associations where we can find support and encouragement, but my own experience has shown my the value of trained professional counseling. I began my first session trying to stay in control, but through the counselor's skills and persistence, she worked past my control to the hurt and pain I often tuck away. Often pastors have no choice to just tuck this stuff away as there is always something else needing our attention, another person needing someone to help them see that God is near, so it's easy to not deal with it until it's too late.
I wonder if pastors and their elders need to sit down more often and talk openly about the pastor's emotional and spiritual needs, asking if there are things the pastor should be talking about and isn't? I wonder if we as pastors need to be pushed to find a trusted Christian counselor and be strongly encouraged to meet with them a couple times each year to hear those words, "God is here and He is working in you and through you, often through those painful moments you don't want to deal with." Just a thought.