Church leaders need to be aware that even if they are intentionally pursuing rest, the challenges of ministry could still be taking a massive toll on their spiritual and physical health. In a recent Facebook post, pastor, author, and church planter Dan White, Jr., shared how God is renewing his family after his health started failing and he was diagnosed with Active Tremors attributed to CTSD (Cumulative Traumatic Stress Disorder).
“What became clear was that years of ministry (conflict, abandonment, betrayal, loss, scapegoating, etc) had taken a toll on my body,” said Dan White, Jr. “Additionally, an EKG had also shown heart damage from the stress disorder. My body had been keeping the score all along.”
Dan White, Jr.: I Broke Something Inside
Dan White, Jr., and his wife, Tonya, have served in a variety of churches for the past 25 years. Their most recent ministry has been at a church in Syracuse, New York, where for 11 years they fought for “community, renewal, justice, and ultimately for the good news of Jesus.” Said White, “We’ve experienced beautiful high’s and bone-rattling low’s. All of it has been holy and shaped us for becoming more like perfect love.”
Yet even though they “had been following a solid rhythm of unplugging, sabbath, and refreshment,” three years ago White’s health began to fail suddenly and they had the “kind of year that you wish could be erased from the memory banks.” The pastor started having uncontrollable tremors in his hands. He said, “I broke something inside but I didn’t know what it was.” It took a neurologist, psychologist, and a therapist to diagnose the source of the tremors, which turned out to be the trauma White had experienced during his years of ministry. Even though he and Tonya had been pursuing rest, White said, “I did not fully understand…how I was absorbing all the pain.”
Then on top of all of that, White fell down a flight of stairs and broke his back. “Suddenly,” he said, “I found myself staring at the ceiling, lying in bed for 3 months, unable to go to the bathroom on my own, asking God all kinds of questions.” The Holy Spirit showed him and Tonya they needed to step from down leadership at their church and “seek inner and physical healing.” Said White, “We realized that the garden of our souls needed to be overturned in order to cultivate new spring life.”
As the Whites sought the Lord, he showed them that their next season would be born out of their existing passions and the darkness of that difficult year. The couple has experience working with church planters, as well as with marriage coaching. So for their next step, White said, “We are following an invitation to start KINEO Renewal & Retreat Center in Puerto Rico – a space for ministry leaders and marriages to be discipled, developed, and deeply healed.”
“Leadership burnout, compassion fatigue, depression, and stress disorders are pandemic in clergy. Few spaces exist to unravel these issues,” said White. “Our hope is that an equipping and rejuvenating place, in a beautiful setting between the mountains and the sea, can be created for leaders to dwell for a week or so, inexpensively, in order to be sent back out for the sake of God’s mission.”
With the recent suicides of pastors Andrew Stoecklein and Jarrid Wilson, and with countless more in ministry dealing with depression and anxiety, the church must grow more aware of the mental, emotional and physical toll that ministry takes on church leaders. After his original post announcing his family’s move, White posted an update, saying he had heard from many ministry leaders who had reached out sharing similar struggles: “Last week I shared publicly about my Active Tremors from CTSD (Cumulative Traumatic Stress Disorder) and received over 100 emails and messages from Ministry Leaders that are struggling privately. We’ve got a hidden problem!”
White said that while he and his family grieve leaving their community in Syracuse, they are looking forward to this next step and know that God will be with them: “Through all we’ve learned in the unexpected transitions of life, we know God’s spirit abides with us and that is enough to keep us pressing forward in faith, hope, and love.”
If you would like to support the Whites in their transition to Puerto Rico, you can do so here.