“For I am afflicted and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” (Psalm 109:22)
Baptists Take Over Program To Help "Wounded Heroes"
by Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News©
DALLAS - Dr. Freddie Gage labored for years on a dream that emerged from his own pain: that the Southern Baptist Convention would offer in-depth psychological counseling for troubled pastors and their families.
Last week, he and the convention announced that his dream has come true. Wounded Heroes, an intensive therapy program started last year in Dallas, has been taken over by LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly known as the Sunday School Board), a convention agency.
"It's become a reality," Gage said. "It's just a miracle of God."
According to research done by LifeWay, as many as a third of the denomination's 62,000 churches have staff members suffering from significant emotional problems every year. Two years ago, more than 6,000 Southern Baptist pastors left their ministries. An average of 225 were fired every month.
Wounded Heroes was created to deal with the most serious psychological problems associated with that kind of stress. And now the program will be able to help many more people, said Jimmy Draper, LifeWay's president.
"There's a lot of excitement about us doing this," he said.
Gage was a well known evangelist in the 1970s until he was beset by anxiety attacks and clinical depression. After being helped by psychiatric treatment, Gage said, he realized that his denomination had unfairly stigmatized other pastors who needed similar help.
Working from Dallas with Rapha, a national Christian psychological counseling company, he acted as a liaison between troubled Baptists and counselors. Over the past few years, he became increasingly outspoken about what he considered his denomination's lack of recognition of the problem.
"When a pastor stumbles, we put him in a coffin and bury him," he said. "Many times, they are walking wounded. The Christian army often not only shoots them, but we leave them to bleed to death in the field."
While several state conventions, including the Baptist General Convention of Texas, have offered a range of counseling services to pastors and staff, denomination officials acknowledged last year that the Southern Baptist Convention had never formally offered the kind of counseling that Gage was lobbying for.
Last year, he was able to get enough support from individual donors to create Wounded Heroes, a week-long round of group and individual therapy for pastors and their wives.
In groups of about 50 people, pastors and their wives on the verge of suicide, divorce or other major problems came together to open their hearts to one another - and to Christian psychologists who combined modern science with Scripture.
The fourth of those retreats is scheduled for next month in Ridgecrest, N.C.
Without a dedicated source of funding, Gage had to spend much of his time finding ways to pay for each retreat.
"This has probably extended my life about 10 years," Gage said of LifeWay's takeover of the program.
By becoming part of LifeWay, Wounded Heroes gets a $600,000 budget and a guarantee that the program will continue, Gage said.
"They're doing it, and they aren't changing a thing," he said.
By officially taking the program on, the denomination is making a larger statement - that Baptists with psychological problems should not fear seeking appropriate medical help, said Draper, who was an early champion of Wounded Heroes.
His department has already developed less intensive help for troubled pastors and staff, a program called LeaderCare. Wounded Heroes extends the kind of help that the denomination offers, he said. Callers to a LifeWay crisis hotline (1-888-789-1911) will be evaluated and offered a range of options. The most seriously troubled will be referred to Wounded Heroes.
LifeWay runs two conference centers, one in New Mexico and one in North Carolina. If the demand is great enough, Draper said, as many as nine Wounded Heroes conferences could be held in each center every year.
"I told Freddie, `I want something that will last 30 years or more, after you and me are both gone,' " Draper said. "This will accomplish that."
The Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., is a non-profit organization and is exempt from federal income tax under section 501 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors to the Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., may deduct contributions and gifts, with no consideration received. All donations and gifts to the Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., will be disbursed in accordance with the purpose statement of this ministry and all donors will receive proper credit for gifts received. All donations and gifts are greatly appreciated and may be sent to:
Heart Ministries, Inc.,