Healing of the Soul: Pastors Ponder 2020’s Victim Within
By Carl Stagner
It may take years to survey fully the fallout from 2020. Events of the past ten months seem to have conspired to form the perfect storm, leaving behind a staggering sum of victims—lives, jobs, relationships, civil discourse, trust in government—to name a few. As widespread pressure has mounted, pastors have been caught in the middle of polarized punches thrown at one another, even in the church. In the midst of the mess, they’ve witnessed the tragic neglect of the soul, not only among parishioners, but also among themselves. Pondering preventative measures and treatment for the soul battered and wounded by 2020, four Church of God pastors recently revealed their insights for the edification of the Movement.
David Winslow is the pastor of Kirkwood Church of God in Kirkwood, Missouri. Josh Deeter is the lead pastor of First Church of God in Tallmadge, Ohio. Tom Pelt is the lead pastor of The Church at Bradenton in Bradenton, Florida, and convenes a ministry designed to encourage and equip ministers, called Peak Pastors. Pastor Randee Doe, of Desert City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, has served in various pastoral capacities in the Church of God. Her work today for Food for the Hungry relates directly to soul-care as she helps peers develop personal habits to ensure ministry flourishing. Each one brings to the table firsthand experience teaching and living out principles that promote healthy souls from the perspective of a spiritual shepherd.
In practical terms, each of these pastors recognizes there are steps everyone can take today to promote the health of the soul, especially in a year like 2020. Josh Deeter insists there first must be a recognition that the soul needs attention now—not just later. “I had a professor, Dr. Lyle Dorsett, at Beeson Divinity School, who would walk the halls, look students in the eyes, and ask, ‘How is your soul?’ To be honest, there were days when I didn’t want to answer this question, and avoided the
professor. It’s a deep question and more difficult to side-step than a simple, ‘How are you doing today?’ However, you should ask yourself this question and answer honestly. If your soul is in despair or disturbed, it needs to be redirected toward God (Psalm 42:5). If it is distracted, it needs to be refocused on him who is most important (Matthew 16:26).”
Randee Doe echoes this sentiment, but follows it up with the need to “give yourself permission for soul-care.” She argues that, especially among ministers, it can be easy to pour out energy, time, and other resources for other people, and begin to view soul-care as selfish. But soul-care must be a priority, she underscores. “Start small,” she explains. “What is one small thing you can do every day to nourish your soul?”
Tom Pelt says, “Unplug.” In a noisy world of media of a variety of forms, clamoring for attention and stealing peace and joy, we often just need to turn it all off. Tom also suggests creating space in our calendars for relationships, as well as learning (or re-learning) to laugh (Proverbs 31:25).
None of these things, of course, should override one’s personal devotional life. David Winslow places highest priority on prayer. But he also suggests keeping “space between work and home.” This can, of course, be complicated in a work-from-home world. But, when balanced with physical exercise on a regular basis and healthy eating habits, you’ll find yourself investing in the most important part of you.
Not only does it matter what you do to promote self-care, but it’s also important to note what you shouldn’t do. Numerous pitfalls can be avoided when believers know what to look for. Randee Doe observes that, when life gets difficult and the future is unknown, people tend to isolate—“and not in the social-distancing kind of way,” she clarifies. She reminds us that we were designed for others to walk alongside us in our Christian experience.
Like prey separated from its pack before a predator, it can be dangerous to be alone. It can also be dangerous to fill our calendars too full, simply because we don’t know what else to do. Tom Pelt puts it this way: “God is trying to shake his people out of their norms, sift through all that is unnecessary, and shift us to be more aligned with his priorities…. The busyness of getting back to church business as usual is not the answer.”
David Winslow would agree. He describes the pitfall like this: “We tend to panic and overcompensate, thinking we need to do more. This creates more hills and valleys in our lives.”
The topic of avoiding pitfalls reminds Josh Deeter of his role as a Middle School football coach. He watches the fundamentals begin to fail when his players get tired as the game wears on. Getting back to the basics of the Christian life is paramount to avoiding similar wear and tear on the soul; the pitfall is assuming the basics are solid when they need focused attention.
Each pastor offers some final recommendations for the Church of God to give the soul the attention it needs. Scripture passages that they’ve found helpful include John 3:9, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Matthew 11:28–30, and John 14:27. Extrabiblical books suggested include select writings of James Earl Massey, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (Ruth Haley Barton), Renovation of the Heart (Dallas Willard), Replenish (Lance Witt), The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (John Mark Comer), and Changes That Heal (Henry Cloud).
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.