The Rev. James Dill said he was called to the ministry when he was 18 years old.
It was half-century ago when he finished school and accepted the pastorship of a small Church of God congregation in California.
“Six months later, I quit. I was out. I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said.
Like many young pastors, Dill had dreams of starting with a small congregation, building on it and “bringing hundreds of people to Christ.”
That did not happen, he said.
“Reality sets in. It hit me right between the eyes,” he said.
After leaving the ministry, he and his wife Linda moved to another part of California where she went to work, and he took a job as a grocery clerk. He said he quickly climbed the corporate ladder. He did not attend church, although he did continue to tithe, he said.
More than three years after leaving the ministry, the pastor who brought Dill to Christ showed up in the grocery store.
“He had traveled about 160 miles to see me, so I was pretty surprised to see him. He asked me how I was, and I thought I had a chance to brag. I had a new house. I had a new car. I had been promoted several times and my future was looking good. To put it bluntly, I was proud of myself,” he said.
The pastor listened to Dill patiently. “Then he said, ‘No, how are you doing spiritually?’ That was a question I didn’t want to answer. I had to admit I was really bad off.”
Dill doubted his calling to the ministry, but his pastor did not.
“He said he was going to be my mentor, and he was,” Dill said.
The careful and skillful mentoring of this pastor eventually led Dill back into the ministry and Dill accepted the pastorship of another small church.
“The first Sunday there were 13 people in the pews,” he said. “Within three years, we were the third largest congregation within our denomination, and all because there was a pastor who cared and was willing to take the time and do the work to help me find my way back to my calling.”
Since then, Dill served as senior pastor for 26 years at Rose Heights Church in Tyler and has started more than a dozen churches including one that evolved into the New Heights Church in Longview.
Because he knows first- hand what it is to be a minister in crisis, Dill started the Shepherd’s Heart Ministry in Tyler and has recently partnered with LeTourneau University for a Longview site.
“The whole reason we exist is to minister to the people in the ministry. Where do people go when they are in crisis? To their pastor. Where does the pastor go? They usually don’t go to anyone, and the crisis festers. Some of them will leave the ministry. The call to the ministry is truly a wonderful, awesome call. It is also one laden with burdens. Our whole purpose is to help them learn to deal with the burdens of others they are asked to bear which are piled on to the burdens they themselves have, just like everyone has. It gets to be a heavy load,” Dill said.
The Rev. Tim Watson knows personally just how heavy that load can be. After nearly a quarter of a century in the ministry, the pastor experienced a devastating upheaval in his family life, and announced his resignation as senior pastor at First Baptist Church Longview.
Now, the director for the Center of Faith and Work and also the assistant to the president for Outreach at LeTourneau University, Watson said many people in the pews have a problem accepting the “humanity” of the pastor.
“It’s an occupational hazard,” he said. “Pastors are human, just like everyone else. Pastors are going to have weaknesses. Pastors are going to have problems. There are people who don’t accept that,” he said.
Pastors are “instinctively aware” some people in the community of faith won’t accept human weakness in a pastor, and therefore many pastors put a lot of effort into hiding their weakness.
“The Scripture talks about bearing one another’s burdens,” he said. “It talks about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. That is not just for the flock. That is for the pastor,” he said.
The Shepherd’s Heart Ministry is not confined to ministers who are already feeling the burdens of the pulpit, but to prepare them for burdens to come.
Watson said the seminar he will be teaching to pastors is about depression.
“I am not a health professional, but in my ministry I’ve dealt with the depression of many other people as well as my own depression. We can not just pray with these individuals and tell them everything is going to be all right then send them home. Certainly, we are going to stand with them in prayer, but we have to recognize this is a medical condition and refer them to medical help,” Watson said.
Partnering with Shepherd’s Heart is one of the several outreaches LeTourneau has made to make a difference in the community.
“We’ve really turned up the heat on getting LeTourneau off campus and into churches — into the community. We want to have a positive impact on the community at large,” he said.
“A healthy pastor can better work with his church.”
Watson will be teaching the next seminar in March. Ida MacDonald is slated to teach the April seminar on crisis intervention. Topics for May include building a great worship team and dealing with grief.
“LeTourneau is delighted to partner with Pastor Dill on this. It’s an honor,” Watson said.
For information, visit www.theshepherdsheart.org or call Dill at (903) 241-2816.