Over the years, leaders of PCA Retirement & Benefits Inc. (RBI), recognized that pastors and their wives sometimes need counseling.

Because RBI deals with the personal finances of pastors and their families, it also deals with their crises — divorce, physical trauma, pastoral burn out.

“It’s the pressure of the pedestal,” explains Gary Campbell, RBI president. “You’re standing in front of people saying, ‘This is the Word of God,’ but you’re struggling in your own life, your own marriage.

“Problems begin to happen, and there is no avenue for you to deal with them early in the crisis. Families suffer in silence because of the barriers.”

For instance, the cost of counseling is often prohibitive, as are the busy schedules that pastors keep. Perhaps most significantly, the RBI team has found that pastors often don’t feel safe sharing the most intimate details of their lives with a local counselor. The counselor might be a member of the pastor’s church, or a congregant might be waiting in the same reception area.

During the past year, RBI launched ServantCare to provide affordable, convenient, confidential, and biblically-based care for all PCA teaching elders. Currently in use in two presbyteries — Northern California and Metro Atlanta — ServantCare formed a partnership with Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) to provide individualized counseling sessions to teaching elders and their wives via the Internet.

“You can close the door to your office and Skype with a counselor in Philadelphia,” Campbell explains.

At the cost of $5 per month per individual, a pastor can opt for counseling at any time for an average cost of $27 per session for a total of seven sessions. The cost is kept low by working exclusively with CCEF and requiring presbyteries to handle a portion of the administration (enrollment, collection of fees, etc.).

Campbell emphasizes that this ministry is just as important for teaching-elder wives. “They are really the chief encouragers in making sure this service is used.”

At General Assembly this past June, ServantCare hosted a seminar on “Who Pastors the Pastor’s Wife?” for teaching-elder wives. More than 100 women attended.

RBI sees this ministry as crucial to the health of individual presbyteries and the denomination as a whole. Campbell uses the analogy of a car driving on a mountain’s edge to describe what typically happens when a pastor’s struggles become hard to control: “One of the ways we deal with these issues in the PCA is by picking up the pieces at the bottom of the mountain, instead of erecting barriers at the top of the mountain to prevent the destruction.”

ServantCare is that barrier.

The issue should be addressed at the presbytery level, explains Bob Clarke, RBI’s relief director. “The perception of some is that a presbytery may find it easier to replace a man than redeem him.” ServantCare, Clarke explains, “is designed to be a shepherding resource for presbyteries to provide a deeper level of care to their members.”

“There are people suffering in silence, not able to get help and feeling that nobody cares,” Campbell adds. “We need to help our presbyteries address that.”

ServantCare will be rolled out over time to presbyteries to assure CCEF’s counseling capacity is not overwhelmed.

For more information, questions may be directed to Bob Clarke at bclarke@pcanet.org.