the shape of leadership

Soul Care for Servant Leaders

A Q&A with Robert Crosby

Influence Magazine on December 18, 2019

Robert Crosby is the new president/CEO of Emerge Counseling Ministries in Akron, Ohio. For over four decades, Emerge has been a go-to source of counseling and soul support to AG ministers and their families. In 1996, the Assemblies of God contracted with Emerge to staff an AG HelpLine with professionally licensed clinicians to provide anonymous counseling support to AG ministers. Crosby and Emerge are involved with the AG mental health committee assembled by General Secretary Donna Barrett.

Crosby has pastored churches in New York and Boston, served as vice president and professor of practical theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and written several books, including The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration and The One Jesus Loves.

INFLUENCE: How can church leaders erase the stigma surrounding their personal use of counseling?
CROSBY: For one, by normalizing the word “counseling,” and the work of it. At its core, counseling is assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, spiritual or psychological challenges, especially by a professional. Thankfully, the view of counseling in society is changing. Yet while pastors offer counseling to parishioners, they often fail to seek it themselves for fear of people’s view of them as leaders diminishing. In many cases, a pastor’s personal use of counseling can serve as a liberating example. Ultimately, when you get help for yourself as a pastor, you help your congregation.

Pastors and their spouses need reassurance that going to counseling is not a disqualifying action or a risk to their credentials. Counseling is not some option for the weak, but a strong resource for the wise.

What is the goal of Christian counseling?
In a word, wholeness. This is what sets Christian counseling apart from all other forms of it. Christian counseling is all about becoming more whole, full and free in your heart, mind and soul, after the manner of Jesus and His example. He came not just to bring us life, but life “to the full” (John 10:10), and not just to set us free, but that we might be “free indeed” (John 8:36). Wholeness is a word that should fill our sermons, teachings, small groups and conversations. In fact, I believe wholeness is the true essence of holiness. Holiness is not simply about walking a straight line morally, but about living with Christ’s joy, freedom, peace and love. It is about wholeness and fullness.

Both secular and Christian counseling may claim to be concerned with bringing wholeness, but the definitions of what wholeness means differ. Secular psychology may call this experience self-actualization. Christian counseling may call it sanctification.

“Counseling is not some option for the weak, but a strong resource for the wise.”
— Robert Crosby

In the process of bringing wholeness, secular counseling is primarily concerned with connecting people more completely to themselves and possibly to others. Christian counseling’s goal, however, is connecting people more completely to God, themselves and others.

Which behavioral pattern among church leaders most concerns you?

While leading others pastorally, it is easy to become isolated and even insulated yourself. While this pattern of living may at first seem simply safe or careful, it actually feeds a sense of insecurity, uncertainty, loneliness and even depression. Pastors don’t just lead people; pastors need people. We are all created for community, and it takes intentional effort to experience it. 

What are some essential healthy soul practices for ministers?
Five vital disciplines come to mind: intimacy with God; intentional community; emotional honesty; financial planning; and expectation adjustment. Neglect of any one of these can contribute to a failure or crisis.

I will focus here on expectation adjustment. The current image-saturated environment of picture-perfect churches, pastors, celebrities and products creates a vast gap between our expectations and realities. The gap is a sure measure of much of our stress.

Expectation awareness is required to guard your heart as a minister. The monitoring and adjustment of expectations represents an essential soul skill for life in today’s world of ministry. This is often especially true for pastors’ spouses, who are immediately connected to the expectations, but often a step or two away from the power to change them.

Is there a correlation between physical health and mental health?
Yes. Poor mental health increases the risk for chronic physical issues. Conversely, people with chronic physical issues are at a greater risk of developing poor mental health.

Healthy pastors need to pray, but they also need to play — to exercise and engage life physically. When you do, your body and brain will reward you with God-designed neurological lifts of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Physical exercise provides a soul boost that is spiritual and physiological.

What is the AG Mental Health Committee hoping to accomplish?
To provide better support, helps and resources to pastors as needed in order to help heal the healers and strengthen the souls of our pastors. I’m convinced the best way to ensure healthier churches is by developing healthier pastors. This committee is doing an important and much-needed work.

What advice can you offer church leaders considering counseling?
If you find yourself dealing with a recurring emotional, mental or soul struggle, give yourself permission to find a wise counselor to listen and offer you support — today. Don’t put it off. Avoid the ministerial temptation of merely self-evaluating or self-treating.

More and more churches and church boards are providing a periodic regimen of counseling sessions for their pastors. At Emerge, we offer what we call marriage check-ups and soul check-ups. In light of the stresses on church leaders, I believe pastors and boards are wise to provide this kind of regular spiritual, emotional and mental support to the people who watch over their souls. Remember, the toughest thing about blind spots in our lives is that we are the last ones to see them. Soul care for servant leaders is vital. That’s why Emerge exists.

The AG Helpline, 1-800-867-4011, is listed on the back of every AG credential holder’s identification card. We are here to help.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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