By Maina Mwaura
“Have you heard” has become a common phrase I hear in the body of Christ lately. It’s often accompanied by news of a pastor or minister who has had a moral failing. Lately the stories of “have you heard” have been numerous.
Pastoring in today’s culture is difficult; many would say it’s harder than ever. It’s become all too common to hear of a pastor’s infidelity, addiction, abuse of power, or other moral failings. Others suffer from sheer burn out.
Twenty-five years ago, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, began City of Refuge—a place where church leaders could come for rest and restoration.
Hunt was burdened by the phone calls he was receiving from pastors around the country who were hurting or had fallen morally and had no place to turn. He began the ministry to offer pastors in crisis a second chance.
City of Refuge is a long-term residential restoration ministry that brings hurting pastors and their families into First Baptist Woodstock for potentially multiple years.
While families are in the program, City of Refuge provides housing, childcare, counseling, and small group support at no cost to the family. For more than two decades, City of Refuge has provided a safe place for ministers to find hope and healing.
Here are five ways City of Refuge walks ministers through the restoration process.
1. Help ministers in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When a pastor comes to the City of Refuge, one of the main goals is to help the minister spiritually.
Although most of the ministers who come to City of Refuge have fallen morally, the City of Refuge also ministers to those who are burned out.
Keith Boggs, founder of Real Momentum Men’s ministry, came to the City of Refuge five years ago burned out with nothing to give spiritually. “I found myself in a place where I had nothing left to give my wife as her husband, my children as their father, much less the church as its pastor.”
Boggs knew he needed healing. When a minister comes to the City of Refugee, there’s no time frame for healing and restoration. The staff focuses on soul care.
2. Help with the family. City of Refuge not only helps individual ministers, but exists to help the minister’s family.
When Boggs decided to resign from his church and take part in the program his wife, Nichole, was five months pregnant with their eighth child. “I talked with Nichole and we both believed I should resign immediately because we felt this was a matter of obedience,” Boggs says.
“There was no place to go, no job, no home,” he recalls, “but we had Jesus, and He was all we needed.”
Later that week the couple was invited to interview with the staff of City of Refuge. “At the time of our interview, there was no home available,” says Boggs. “The team at FBC Woodstock found a home, rented it for our family, and extended a call for us to come and be restored through the program.”
3. Lift their head up. Hunt credits Psalm 3 in being a guide to help pastors walk without shame once they have been restored. “We want to get them where they can walk into the church again without shame and with their head up.”
4. Return to Service. The City of Refuge also wants ministers to get back in serving the local church. During their stay, ministers serve in various parts of church life at First Baptist Woodstock. City of Refuge provides jobs at the church and helps ministers take care of their financial obligations during their stay within the program.
5. Re-examine Calling to Full-Time Ministry. Hunt believes its God’s business to re-instate a minister back into ministry. For many of the ministers that take part in the City of Refuge, that’s exactly what happens. City of Refuge helps ministers consider the next step God is asking them to take. It’s different for every individual. Calling to ministry is sacred, according to Hunt. “I didn’t call them—God did.”
The phrase “have you heard” when referring to a minister who has fallen is nothing new. It’s one God has heard from His children since they left the garden of Eden. Thankfully, God has given us a road map to restore those who have fallen so they can, as Hunt says, “hold their head up!”
For more information about City of Refuge, please call their counseling office at 770-591-4770.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.