Helping the Helpers

In 2016, two tornados touched down in New Orleans East, carving a path of destruction three miles long. To help plan a disaster relief response for local congregations, BCM’s Congregational Wellness team organized a group of pastors, led by Reverend Torin Sanders, Ph.D., LCSW-BACS.

The common theme heard amongst pastors was that they were struggling with feeling overwhelmed. The constant flow of funerals, sickness, and pain would be intense for anyone, and the inherent role of a pastor seemingly discourages “a day off.”

The group of pastors asked themselves, “Who is helping the helpers?”

Pastor Sanders in his church 2

Reverend Torin Sanders, BCM’s partner in developing the BHIP Program

“We are the tools that we use,” Dr. Sanders said of pastoral duties. “A carpenter uses a hammer, but we use ourselves. If a pastor is depleted, then the ministry won’t be as effective.”

Thus, the Behavioral Health Initiative for Pastors (BHIP) was born. Recently retired BCM President & CEO, Charles Beasley, was integral in greenlighting this initiative, which involved employees from all three pillars of BCM – Congregational Wellness, Chaplaincy, and Grantmaking – working together to build a healthier community. The program is free for pastors to enroll with no or low cost for providers.

The program has grown from supporting 10 pastors to 60 pastors, including services for pastors’ families. Participants are given a “Self-Care Toolbox” to identify and self-treat issues like burnout, stress, and compassion fatigue. Workshops and retreats give pastors the opportunity to pair up with a partner, review the unique demands of the job, talk about why they feel overwhelmed, and assess which needs are being met and which could use more attention. Dr. Sanders utilizes cognitive behavioral techniques from his therapeutic experience as a social worker to offer pastors a different way to confront and deal with stress.

“We are the tools that we use. A carpenter uses a hammer, but we use ourselves.”

When the pandemic hit, everything shifted. The workshops, retreats, and meetings immediately went virtual. BHIP performed check-ins with pastors and offered information on how to transition churches to a virtual model of services. A new workshop was developed on how pastors can help congregants who now faced increasing mental and physical health issues.

Pastor Sanders Closeup

Moving forward, BHIP plans to create additional workshops focusing on how to assist congregants dealing with psychological stress. BHIP will create and train mental health teams from each participating congregation, and meet monthly to provide continual support. This will allow familiar faces to provide direct mental health assistance and referrals to their own congregational communities.

BCM is grateful to partner with Pastor Sanders. With his leadership, we believe this program will continue to grow, adapting and innovating to support pastors serving congregations in times of great need. By helping these helpers, we provide a light on the path to healing.

To donate to BCM’s Congregational Wellness program, click here.