An Oklahoma pastor and leader of a Christ-centered recovery group exclusively for pastors and their spouses is shocked at the lack of pastoral response to the apparent suicide death of a church leader in Texas less than two weeks ago.
After recently hearing about the death of Pastor Kim Hall, who served at Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano for 20 years, Pastor Hess Hester of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Tulsa said he felt led to address the problem some pastors may have in sharing personal issues.
Hall was found dead in a hotel room in the early morning of Oct. 22. Plano police, who discovered the body, said they believe he died of a self-inflicted gunshot, according to news reports.
“Frankly, I’ve been a bit astonished at the lack of any kind of conversation or expressions of sympathy that I’ve seen,” Hester stated in his blog post at Pastors.com. “Surely there are communities of pastoral leadership out there where there have been. I just haven’t seen it.”
“Regardless of whatever the circumstances were which led to Pastor Hall taking his life, a comrade has fallen, a fellow warrior has gone down, and it has been too quiet,” Hester continued. “We should be talking about it. I don’t mean talk of speculation about why he may have pulled the trigger, but why life had to arrive at such a painful place that the desire to end his private pain was greater than his desire to continue living and ministering.”
Hester told The Christian Post that he started Celebrate Pastors in Recovery, a program based on Saddleback Church’s general Celebrate Recovery ministry, six years ago in order for church leaders to feel comfortable sharing just such pain. CR is based on biblical principles combined with a version of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“For years and years we continued to ignore the reality of the silent pain that so many pastors go through and it is a silence sometimes of their own choosing. They find it very difficult to find a safe place in which to share whatever their pain may be,” Hester said.
“Six years ago I started Celebrate Pastors in Recovery under the umbrella of Celebrate Recovery. It’s a tool for pastors to find a safe place to share their pain, hang-ups, and habits,” he said. “When something like this happens it’s a very stark, painful reminder of the great need for it.”
Even though he implemented the CR program at his own church nearly 10 years ago, it wasn’t until Hester realized he had his own issues that he launched the program for pastors.
“About four years into the process I entered into what I like to refer to as my own perfect storm, [involving] personal, church staff, and congregational issues,” Hester explained. “I just realized I need this myself to deal with my own hurts, hang-ups, and habits. So I invited local pastors to join with me in doing a 12-step group just for pastors.”
The idea of having recovery groups exclusively for pastors and their wives wasn’t met approvingly by some CR leaders, he said.
“Long-time CR people might ask, ‘Why can’t they be like the rest of us and join a group and just open up?’ And my response is always [to ask] ‘have you ever been a pastor?’”
“The reason pastors need groups is that it is still rare to find a church in which a pastor can feel completely safe in terms of his confidentiality and his struggles and issues that he would want to open up about,” Hester said. “If the church is doing Celebrate Recovery then they are a leg up on the potential for that taking place.”
Hester said he does not know how many CPR programs there are in the United States, but he is continuing to develop the website, cprpastors.com, as a place where pastors can connect and start groups of their own.
“It’s an enormous need and for pastors and spouses of pastors,” he said. “We are slowly seeing groups spring up and we are trying to provide a central place where people can make contact and develop groups in their area or unique nature of what we do.”
Celebrate Recovery was founded in 1991 by Pastor John Baker of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with the approval of lead pastor Rick Warren. The program has been adopted by churches, prisons and ministries worldwide.