After a difficult day or season of ministry, those of us who serve congregations have probably asked that question more than once. Globally, who cares for pastors? Responsible answers to these questions are what can help leaders be faithful, fruitful and finish well. Ultimately, we must care for ourselves, respond to God's invitation of divine pastoral care and allow others to be burden bearers with us. Little did I know that God's spirit would speak through brokenness and invite me to be a very small part of the answer to these questions for myself and others.
In 1999, a terrible event led me down the painful journey towards burnout. We had just launched Saikyo Nozomi Chapel two years previously and were seeing spiritual breakthroughs in the community. Then I got the call. Our storefront neighbor had committed suicide. Our part-time pastor called to give me the news and I did not handle it well. Accusations by a not-yet Christian that I failed to lead this man to Christ did not help, causing me to stumble into the dark night of the soul. Soon changes in staff and a key family moving to Singapore left my wife and me as the sole leaders of the church plant.
Then in 2002, due a combination of circumstances, I became the Japan field leader for our mission and realized that I was now travelling down two train tracks that were rapidly splitting into two different directions: church planting and field leadership. I would come to church on Sunday morning feeling guilty that I had not ministered to these precious souls sitting in front me during the week, and now they were waiting to hear from the Word of God. I was not worthy to step into the pulpit. I had full-on burnout.
Soon I made some major adjustments in my life. I took the Sonship course, began to preach the gospel to myself, found accountability, established my identity through boundaries, developed hobbies and over time through counseling, spiritual direction and mentoring, processed my pain. I found a network of churches who agreed to adopt our church and within two years, we had a Japanese pastor and I could focus on field leadership and my recovery.
Late in the summer of 2005, I took a three-day bicycle ride to northeast Japan from Tokyo and preached in a local church on the following Sunday. I had dinner with the pastor and later we went to a hot spring together. He shared about some challenges that he was facing. I found out a year later that he had left the church due to Internet pornography and embezzlement of church funds. I was totally shocked. God used this to open my eyes to the great need for clergy care. I continued to work in field leadership and led six tours for pastors to visit U.S. churches.
Three Stream Ministries (TSM) was to launch in April of 2011 to assist clergy and congregations to be whole, holy and missional. Three weeks before start up, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, changing the trajectory of the ministry. Over the next three years TSM would serve over 100 pastors through retreats, getaways, resources, preaching, training and active listening.
As 2014 comes to a close, God has led TSM to launch two new initiatives: Yasuragi Caf' and Pastors' Seminars. Yasuragi means serenity, and the plan is to take pastors and their wives in the disaster area out for a meal and the gift of friendship. We have a special project for this with a goal of $1500 to initially provide 20 meals.
On March 9-10 2015, we will launch the first overnight Pastor's Seminar in Sendai to aid leaders in developing their own self-care practices and strengthening their spiritual formation habits. We hope to conduct them in other cities as well. Our desire is to make this available to many pastors by subsidizing the event. Our goal for the project is to raise $800 for this first seminar. I will co-lead this with our ministry partner Shigeru Suzuki, pastor of the Sendai Bible Baptist church who translated the book, the Emotionally Healthy Church.
If you would like to help with these projects, here is the information on how to give:
- Send gifts to: SIM Donor Care / PO BOX 7900, Charlotte, NC 28241
Make checks out to: SIMUSA - Houlette TSM acct. #041675.
- Or simple online giving www.sim.org/giveusa click "support a missionary," on the left side of the screen and use our staff number: #041675