Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center to host conference addressing church leadership crises

The sign on the campus of Wheaton College display's the Illinois evangelical institution's motto.
The sign on the campus of Wheaton College display's the Illinois evangelical institution's motto. | (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Christoffer Lukas Müller)

Partly inspired by the recent suicide of pastor Jarrid Wilson, a mental health advocate, Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center is set to host a one-day evangelical summit to address issues of leadership, burnout, and mental health.

The college, located in Wheaton, Illinois, will include a discussion billed as “Facing Hard Truths & Challenges in Pastoral Ministry,” under the banner of its GC2 (Great Commission/Great Commandment) Summit on Dec. 6, in partnership with the Wheaton College School of Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy.

Wilson, 30, was a pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and founder of Anthem of Hope, a faith-centered organization dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide, when he took his life on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day last month.

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“Jarrid was a friend and helped so many in their darkest hours,” said Derwin Gray, founding pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, and one of the featured speakers at the summit, noted in a release from Wheaton. “We need to have this vital conversation that Jarrid started and his wife Juli continues in his honor.”

Jarrid Wilson.
Jarrid Wilson. | Photo: Facebook

Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, whose son, Matthew, died by suicide at the age of 27, after a long and private struggle with mental illness, is also expected to speak at the summit.

“This is a global problem, also impacting pastors and leaders inside the church," Warren stressed in a statement. "We must face it head on as the body of Christ. The biggest thing we can do is to remove the stigma behind mental illness and let pastors and leaders get help. We have to assure our leaders that it’s not a sin to be sick. Your chemistry is not your character, and your illness is not your identity.”

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, added, “Too many pastors and church leaders are struggling in multiple ways, and it seems that the demands today continue to outpace the self-care and resources we have available to lead from a place of health and wholeness. Many are balancing on the edge of burnout and this is not okay.”

Other conference speakers will include: Margaret Diddams, organizational psychologist and provost at Wheaton College; Phil Ryken, president of Wheaton College; Eric Brown, director of Wheaton's Clinical Mental Health Counseling M.A. program; Ruth Haley Barton, author and founder of The Transforming Center; and Drew Hyun, pastor of Hope Church Midtown, as well as the Founding Pastor of Hope Church NYC.

“Leaders today are faced with an overabundance of tasks — from administrative to relational to strategic. If the church is to be who she is called to be, we must have healthy leaders and teams who can carry the joy and burden of so many responsibilities in such a way that allows them to not just survive, but thrive and flourish as leaders in the household of God,” Diddams said.

The summit will also look at tools for accountability, prayer, and personal discipleship. Participants will learn from top counselors on how to take care of the whole body, the dangers of mental illness and burnout, and developing boundaries to care for oneself and others well.

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