According to the recent book Resilient Ministry (2013, IVP) based on a survey of PCA pastors, churches that last are ones in which, among other things, pastors are cared for by each other and their sessions.

Sadly, in reality, the last thing some pastors are feeling is cared for. According to Stephen Estock, new coordinator for Christian Education and Publications (CEP), a number of pastors, particularly of small churches, are struggling in their calling, feeling run down and lacking encouragement. Often, they feel that they have nowhere to go to receive education and guidance, beyond their original seminary training. And instead of receiving support from the other elders on the session, they experience criticism, benign neglect, or even active opposition.

“Paul says being an overseer is a noble task. Sometimes we feel like we’re just doing our duty, which is not the way God intends it to be,” says Estock.

Under Estock’s leadership, CEP in partnership with other committees and agencies as well as Metro Atlanta Presbytery, has begun exploring an initiative to provide training, mentoring, and gospel encouragement to teaching elders through an annual retreat.

Estock explains, “Men who are struggling with ministry need somebody they can go to—someone they can ask, ‘How do I do this? How do I handle this? How do I avoid these minefields?’ ”

Meanwhile, CEP would develop tools to help all elders better understand the relational and emotional aspects of their calling.

“So much of officer training in the PCA is cognitively based. There’s nothing wrong with that, but training is really incomplete if that’s all you do,” Estock explains.

The goal would be to renew sessions to be unified, collegial groups who see their collective calling as caring shepherds of the church. The hope is that there would be less burnout, greater joy in one’s calling as an elder, and healthier churches.

“A healthy session will lead to a healthy congregation, and a real sense of community.”