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    Pastor, Heal Thyself?

    Supporting ministry leaders to face the mental health challenges of their difficult and lonely calling.

    Amy Simpson

    In addition, the school's faculty strives to provide students with "a place for personal assessment, to help students understand their strengths, weak nesses, potential trouble spots. This can be as simple as a quick personality test." Such inventories can help point out "anything that might make them have trouble with the job description."

    Coffield also requires his students to evaluate their family history and difficult life circumstances, writing about them in formal assignments. "Many pastors have been shaped to pursue ministry because of very difficult things in their history. It's important to look at those things so they're not ministering out of personal deficit or trying to self-help themselves."

    Western Seminary also formalizes self-reflection. Thiesen says the seminary offers a class that "helps students gain greater understanding of how God created them, what they need to work on." The school also offers courses to help students "tune in to" their spiritual lives. In pastoral counseling courses, Thiesen tries to help future pastors understand not only who they are, but also some of the challenges of the people they'll be asked to counsel. "I try to teach that we're not immune to emotional, psychological, spiritual issues in ministry."

    "One of the main ministry tools is ourselves," Thiesen says. "It's hard to take people where we're not." Pastors need a sense of how God made them and what issues they bring to ministry. They also need to develop "prac tices, habits to help us in ministry."

    Bethel Seminary's approach places heavy emphasis on the importance of spiritual health and habits of self-care. The school conducted a 10-year longitudinal study that found a high correlation between spiritual relationship to God and emotional maturity and relationship to others. "A person can't be spiritual in a deep sense if they're emotionally stunted," says Clark.

    Bethel has developed a "spiritual formation arc," a growth plan for students based in "a model of spirituality that is highly relational and demands a high commitment to emotional strength and maturity." The model asks students to consider what it means to be spiritually whole, including the psychological and relational elements of wholeness. The program provides psychological assessment and discussion of families of origin. The goal is "giving people the cognitive tools and developing relational habits that will allow them to experience emotional and relational healing so they become healthy and relational during their seminary experience," says Clark.

    Asbury Theological Seminary takes a similar approach. About 10 years ago, the school initiated a major emphasis on Christian spiritual formation. New students are assigned to "faculty formation guides" with whom they check in three times during the course of their academic career. "We try to encourage students to think broadly about Christian formation in terms of loving community, loving their own transformation, and loving mission—service to others," says Holeman. This is a Christian formation process intended to keep such formation in the front of a student's mind, both during and after the seminary experience.

    Asbury emphasizes self-care in a few of its ministry courses, one of which is required for all students. The school also offers a holistic approach to supporting students' health through its Community Formation office. The office engages students in physical service to the community, "getting people out of their own heads and reaching out to others." It provides opportunities for spiritual direction and referrals to local mental health professionals.

    Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, takes a scientific approach from the beginning of a student's seminary career. New master of divinity students complete an assessment called Counselaid, a blend of tests designed to measure students' psychological, relational, and emotional health. Based on the results, students receive feedback on issues they should work on, possible recommendations to receive counseling, and other guidance as they begin preparing for a ministry career.

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