Pastor care line offers confidential help

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- Southern Baptist pastors struggling through personal or professional crisis now have a confidential place to turn, thanks to a new partnership between the North American Mission Board and Focus on the Family.

The care line -- dedicated exclusively to Southern Baptist pastors, chaplains and missionaries -- is toll-free at 1-844-PASTOR1. Calls are answered by Focus on the Family's Family Help Center and remain completely confidential. No information about the name of the pastor or the church will be provided to NAMB.

"The North American Mission Board cares for pastors," said Michael Lewis, NAMB's executive director of pastoral care and development, "and we want to be a part of the compassion of Christ for them and their families."

Lewis said the phone line is an additional way NAMB is attempting to aid pastors -- along with marital and family resources, pastor appreciation helps and initiating Pastors-in-Covenant groups, among other efforts.

NAMB partnered with Focus on the Family in part because the ministry has more than two decades of experience hosting a pastor crisis care line. Focus began the ministry in 1992 under the leadership of H.B. London.

"Focus on the Family recognizes the sacrifices and hard work of Southern Baptist pastors," said Jim Daly (@dalyfocus), president of Focus on the Family. "Many of them give up their own time to be there for their flock -- giving up holidays to visit with sick people at the hospital, counseling couples through the tough times in their marriages and helping their congregants pray through milestone decisions.

"This commitment not only takes time but it also takes its toll on pastors -- physically, emotionally and spiritually. Because they have always been there for others, it's our privilege to be there for them. Our licensed counselors are eager to provide an ear and biblically-based counsel that will help and give hope," Daly said.

Jared Pingleton, director of the counseling team for Focus on the Family, said pastors call the care line for a variety of personal and professional reasons such as family problems, emotional issues and leadership crises -- any issue for which a pastor needs safe, biblically-informed counsel.

The phone line, which opened Oct. 1, is available weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern time, with counseling available in English and Spanish. The worker answering the call will listen to and pray for the pastor. If there is a further need, the call will be referred to a counseling team. A chaplain or a counselor will return the pastor's call within 24 to 48 hours for an initial consultation. Because of the NAMB-sponsored prayer line, SBC pastors will get a priority in this process. Crisis calls -- if a pastor mentions imminent danger of harm to himself or others -- will immediately get routed to the counseling team.

Pingleton noted that pastors also have called the care line for counsel about how to deal with mental health problems that have arisen within their congregation that go beyond their training.

"Research shows that the average person goes to their pastor first -- even before a medical professional at times," Pingleton said. "They're the first line of defense, and they're not trained well for that typically. It can be overwhelming. We want to come alongside of them, support them, encourage them, educate and equip them -- anything we can do to consult with them, to give them tips, tools and techniques about how they can minister more effectively in their role.

"They don't have to feel like they are out on their own and over their head. We can give them clear and concise consultation that will be of immediate help."

Pingleton reiterated Focus on the Family's deeply held commitment to confidentiality. He said the only instances for which they would breach the confidentiality of a counseling session would be the two cases when counselors are legally mandated to do so -- if they receive information on the abuse or neglect of a child, disabled person or elderly person or if the caller presents an immediate danger to themselves or others.

Lewis, who spent more than two decades as a pastor before coming to NAMB in 2013, noted that pastors often spend much of their energy serving and supporting others through personal crises, but they often have little left to care for themselves.

"This care line will provide sound counsel for pastors," said Lewis (on Twitter, @pastor4pastors). "My encouragement to pastors is to allow this care line to be a source of God's grace and comfort to find support through major difficulties."

For a short video introduction to the pastoral care line, click here. For additional NAMB resources to help pastors, click pastors-for-pastors.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
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