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When Pastors Pray, Part 1

God called me to minister to desperate ministers
When Pastors Pray

During the fall of 2013, the church witnessed a devastating travesty. A Georgia pastor, Teddy Parker, was one of 12 pastors to die by suicide. In a sermon that aired during the investigation around his death, Parker made the following statement: “I try to pray, but God is not hearing me.” I personally identified with his statement and was quite disturbed. After listening to more of that sermon and wrapping my mind around his suicide, an irreversible mark was imprinted on my heart and mind.

Within two weeks, another pastor near my home, Robert Hymon III, died by suicide and I was “gloriously ruined.” I felt great pain, hurt, and an incredible responsibility that I could not explain. I felt like I had to do something. I remember saying to God, “If pastors are committing suicide, then the people are going to feel it is okay.” For the next several weeks, I became restless and I felt God nudging me like Nehemiah with another “burden of the Lord.”

When the burden would not subside, I began to confide and counsel with my husband about how I was feeling. He told me to “pray it out and let God guide you.” I did just that. After much prayer, the Lord impressed upon my heart and spirit these words: “Protect the Pastors.”

All I could think was, “Who, me?” and wonder how in the world I was going to do this given my family, life, and the ministry I had already been called to. I found this assignment overwhelming because I already minister to pastors’ wives through By His Side Ministries. The issues that ministry wives deal with are intense, heartbreaking, and overwhelming. My husband and I also minister to pastors through social media and prayer every Wednesday morning; I just did not see how I could take on more than what I was already engaged in.

God provided some very specific instructions, much as he did for Nehemiah. My instructions were to contact a couple of specific pastors to help carry this mandate. God instructed me to build a resource network just for pastors in the area of mental health, depression, and suicide. He asked me to conduct a needs assessment and a survey to really delve into the mental health needs of these leaders and finally to establish a counseling program specifically for these leaders.

I contacted local pastors, and to my surprise God had already placed the same burden on their hearts. Along with these pastors, my husband and I began to pray to discern the direction God would have us go to protect the pastors. After much prayer, God revealed to us that we were to be proactive in our efforts rather than reactive. Most of the time, we do not address an issue until it is almost too late, but if we can identify precursors we have a better chance of changing the outcome. So we started with a conference call which involved my husband and other local pastors God had called to assist with this great assignment to determine the resources we could pull together to hold a citywide prayer meeting for pastors, their spouses, church staff, and seminary students.

We were successful in pulling together resources and set a date for the prayer meeting to occur on Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. Memphis, Tennessee, is the place where King was assassinated in 1968. Although it has been more than 40 years since his death, in a lot of ways Memphis is still struggling in some of the same areas that made Dr. King come here, such as poverty, racial reconciliation, and inequality. At times, racial reconciliation is really difficult here. It is even more difficult in the Christian community; Sunday is the most segregated day on earth but even more so in our city.

The premise of everything we did was centered on Joel 2:17. We believe it is God’s pastors and leaders who have the responsibility of leading us back to God. In the dates leading up to this sacred time, everyone involved fasted for 21 days because we expected God to do something mighty in his people, our city, our churches, families, and us.

The call to prayer drew pastors and parachurch ministry leaders from at least seven different denominations. Their ages ranged from 20’s to 60’s. It was incredible to see barriers broken because of the denominations represented. Both genders were represented equally, and the diversity was incredible for one purpose: to protect the pastors. We needed to build a hedge around all the men and women called to the pastorate and their families and make sure that the enemy could not assault them on our watch. We wanted to make sure no pastor in our city felt alone, and we wanted to provide a safe place.

On that night, we gave Satan a black eye and we put him on crutches. The presence and power of God was so real in that place. Pastors were praying for each other, holding hands, and weeping. I believe heaven was smiling on our city.

Our next proactive assignment was to create a forum where pastors could get clinical and practical knowledge about recognizing suicide and depression. We hosted a symposium for pastors, staff pastors, pastors’ spouses, and seminary students to provide this invaluable information. We had a Canadian pastor who got wind of our ministry and traveled to the United States to be a part of the symposium. He actually led the session on pastors’ marriages. We hosted the symposium at The Stephen Olford Center at Union University, where pastors and ministers from all over the world come to be trained. The center was filled to capacity with leaders thirsting for knowledge.

We took the time to study the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the fallen pastors. We found they had issues within their marriages, difficultly balancing ministry and life, burnout, or depression. If adequate attention is not given to depression it can lead to suicide. Our assessments told us that most of the pastors who committed suicide were struggling somewhere in their marriages. Therefore, we knew we needed to address how to effectively balance marriage and ministry.

We also knew we had to present difficult topics by utilizing a concept called “courageous communication.” We utilized Clergy Killers, a film about managing disgruntle congregants, vindictive situations, controlling parishioners, and pastor extinction. Then we moved into open-ended conversation. I believe this was the most beneficial part of the symposium. Pastors were sharing what they had gone through and were receiving support not just from the presenters, but from each other. Once again, we witnessed diversity in the types of issues the pastors experienced as well as diverse methods for addressing the issues. Then we closed with prayer.

When Pastors Pray Symposiums are designed to provide a safe place where pastors can get the help they need without being judged, compromised, or ridiculed for what they have had to endure. Amazingly, some of our pastoral teammates are licensed mental health professionals. God knew that we needed to have access to clinical information, and he knew that only a pastor would truly understand what other pastors go through. He knew these mental health professionals could present information in a way that pastors would get it.

At the conclusion of the When Pastors Pray symposium, and after viewing the video Clergy Killers, with tears in his eyes Pastor Ron said, “I just retired from ministry after 30 years. I wish I had something like this when I started ministry and during all the years of turmoil, depression, and discouragement. I am still very much in need of healing; please keep me posted when you do this again.” Truthfully, these attacks affect all of us called to the pastorate. We each have a responsibility to do something to protect our pastors.

Domeniek L. Harris is an author, speaker, educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, inter-denominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She and her husband have helped establish When Pastors Pray, a ministry to address the mental health and spiritual needs of those called to the pastorate. She is a co-laborer in pastoral and outreach ministry with her husband, Apostle Brian D. Harris, at Dominion Living Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee.

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