Providing rest and support through Counseling Services

by Bonnie Shaw on July 27, 2021 in Ministerial Health

As part of the Center for Ministerial Health, the Counseling Services team offers resources to ministers and their families to keep them healthy as they do ministry. Counseling Services connects ministers and their families with counseling and referrals, marriage retreats and other mental health resources.

“Healthy pastors make for healthier churches. When we are supporting pastors in their relationships, particularly in their marriages, ultimately that reflects in the way that they are able to minister in their congregations,” Katie Swafford, director of Counseling Services, said.

Seeking rest and renewal

It had been two years since Cedric White and his wife planted Heart Fellowship in Prosper. As a bivocational pastor, White was working long hours, and he and his wife could both feel the strain. So, when Swafford coordinated a marriage retreat for the couple to attend, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

“It was literally a God-send,” White said. “We were only a couple of years in, and we already burned the candle at both ends. It was at a time that my wife and I both really needed a break.”

As a Board Certified Belief Therapist himself, White understood the mental and emotional importance of taking a break and recharging. In addition to the time away, the retreat also provided counselors for the couples.

White encouraged other pastors and church leaders to seek out retreats and counseling. He emphasized that it was healthy for those in ministry, as well as people of color like himself, to seek help. Everyone needs it at one point or another, he said.

“Everybody needs to take time away. Sometimes getting away to a safe haven, an area for rest and confidentiality is so important,” he said.

Finding support and wise counsel

In North Dallas, Thomas Penn, lead pastor of a local church, and his wife sought out Swafford to help connect them with a marriage counselor. The Penns, who have been married for 15 years, have a healthy and happy marriage. However, Penn’s wife suffers from a chronic medical condition that caused the couple to struggle in some aspects of their relationship.

The couple had tried physical health treatments and a few marriage intensives. They wanted to look into counseling, but it was costly. So, Penn reached out to Swafford. She connected them to a therapist who specialized in his wife’s condition and, through a grant, was also able to provide them with the funding to make the therapy possible.

“The funding provided by Texas Baptists allowed us to take that first step and allowed us to pursue help we may not have pursued otherwise,” Penn said.

Penn explained that for many pastors, there is a taboo around receiving counseling.

“Oftentimes, I think ministers are the most self-conscious and the most in need of counseling of anyone out there. We do so much pastoral counseling, and people expect us to be high and holy and to have perfect marriages, and sometimes that pushes people to a place that is unhealthy,” he explained.

Penn referenced Proverbs 15:22, which says that with wise counsel, plans succeed. He explained that counseling is not about repairing something that is broken or wrong; it is about seeking out advice and striving to better oneself.

“Therapy is you being intentional in pursuing an expert in your area to give you feedback on how you can do better,” he said. “The difference between a wise man and a fool in Proverbs is a wise man listens to advice, the fool ignores it. And so by definition, if we’re going to be wise as pastors, then we need to seek people to give us counsel and speak into our lives.”

For more information about Counseling Services, go to txb.org/counseling.

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