Research shows that nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) acknowledges having struggled with mental illness. A significant number also experience burnout. A Mental Health Task Force established by the Disability Concerns offices of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America has been concerned about how these situations are addressed and handled by pastors and councils or consistories. This is a sensitive issue. Sometimes a pastor may need a leave of absence.
The Task Force has developed a document called Guide for a Clergy Leave of Absence for Mental Health Reasons that provides guidelines and suggestions for pastors and for church councils. Christian Reformed (CRC) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) Disability Concerns ministries collaborated to produce this guide and supporting materials. Our team — composed of people from Canada and the U.S. and from both denominations — included pastors, chaplains, therapists, members of CRC Pastor Church Resources, mental health service providers, and individuals who have experienced mental illness themselves.
The Guide recommends things like:
- (for the pastor) Seek professional help in processing and reflecting on your situation so that you can gain insight and make healing and healthy changes. Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time.
- (for the council or consistory) Pastoral care is important. Let the pastor and the pastor's loved ones guide you as to what they need. The need for emotional space varies and must be respected. It may be tempting to prescribe what should be done and when, but the details for an arrangement need to be worked out with the pastor and the pastor’s health care providers.
In order to introduce this document, we have designed 15-, 45-, and 90-minute presentations that include slide presentations, discussion questions, and sample case studies. If you decide to present this to your group (which we hope you do), the presentation could be made by a mental health professional or a church leader.
Find all the documents below:
- Guide for a Clergy Leave of Absence for Mental Health Reasons (CRC and RCA versions)
- Case Studies for Discussion
- Leader’s Guide for Case Studies
- Slide Presentation Options
- Facilitator’s Guide for the Group Presentation (CRC and RCA versions)
The attached materials were created for CRC and RCA churches, and the documents have been tailored to the polity and practices of each denomination. For this reason, some of the documents are labeled "CRC" and some "RCA." Churches with different polity and practices are welcome to use these materials as a guide for creating your own. If you do this, we ask that you acknowledge your source.