Sagemont Church of Houston, Texas reaches out beyond its walls in its efforts to help pastors and their wives deal with stress. Sagemont is a Southern Baptist Convention church with approximately 14,000 members, which, according to their web site, provides a large variety of ministries and opportunities for those who attend (www.sagemontchurch.org).
The Counseling Ministry of Sagemont Church reaches out to pastors and their families through its “Stress in the Ministry” conferences, which are “designed to equip ministers to deal with distress in their personal or ministry life and to restore those who have fallen or feel like (or already have left) leaving the ministry.” The conferences are open to ministers, “immediate family of a ministerial staff member,” and full-time evangelists or church workers.
The material sent to prospective conference attendees includes the following:
Have you experienced any of the following?
A deterioration of preaching, teaching, leadership skills
Loss of excitement about the ministry/worship
Desire to escape present situation
Serious consideration of leaving the ministry
Stress caused illness
If you answered yes to any of these, you could be on your way to ministerial burnout. Perhaps you are interested in avoiding “burnout.” In either case, consider participating in a Stress in the Ministry Conference.
A big incentive to participate is the fact that these conferences are free! Sagemont Church is so concerned about the well-being of pastors that they provide these conferences at no cost to those applicants who are accepted. Not only that. The whole trip, including air fare for pastors and their wives, hotel accommodations, and the full week-long conference are all free! How much suffering would a pastor have to be going through to accept a free vacation like this?
The director of the Counseling Ministry at Sagemont Church is E. Dixon Murrah, who is described in the brochure as a:
Baptist minister as well as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Family Therapy. He is approved by the state of Texas as a supervisor of licensed therapists.
The brochure also states that:
Lois Murrah organizes the conferences and serves as one of the therapists and presenters during the conferences. She studied Psychology at The University of Houston Clear Lake and is also a certified Pastoral Counselor. Her specialty is blended families and currently facilitates one of the few divorce recovery groups in the Houston area.
The woman who does the test interpretation for the conferences is Sheryl Rooks, who is “currently completing her studies in a counseling degree program.”
E. Dixon Murrah says that the conferences have hosted 600 pastors during the thirteen yeas of its existence. Consider the generosity of Sagemont Church and its confidence in these conferences having an impact on thousands of people. Add up the sizes of the congregations those pastors lead and the impact of these psychological conferences is vast.
The following are testimonials from pastors who attended the conferences:
“The teaching from you and time with other couples restored our souls and renewed our strength for ministry and marriage. We will never be the same.”
“The ‘Stress in the Ministry Conference’ that my wife and I attended last week was one of the most beneficial, if not the MOST beneficial weeks that I ever spent.”
“The ‘Stress in the Ministry Conference’ is a blessing beyond description. God has used your heart to perform a real miracle in my life.”
“We began marriage counseling in October and though that was helpful, it completely paled in comparison to how God worked at SITM [Stress in the Ministry].”
“That week was one of the most productive weeks I have spent in ministry.”
So with all these testimonials, what could be wrong with these conferences? The Bible, prayer and fellowship with other pastors should certainly be sufficient to encourage pastors in their work. However, these conferences blend in psychological gleanings from psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies. When this kind of psychology is integrated, Scripture is interpreted and applied according to those psychological theories and therapies. Joining the Bible to psychology (“science falsely so-called” and made up of human opinions and vain philosophies) results in deceptive subterfuge, especially when lots of Scripture is quoted while really teaching the wisdom of men.
These conferences are led by psychologically trained individuals who use psychological content and psychological methodology, including psychological testing and interpretation. The format is somewhat like the encounter movement of the Sixties, only in a disguised form with a euphemistic title. One of the many psychological distortions in these conferences is that one is not able to have a proper understanding of God without really knowing one’s earthly father.
One of the psychological tests used in the conferences is the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis (TJTA). One of the most important information sources about tests is the Mental Measurements Yearbook (MMY). The Tenth Mental Measurements Yearbook says, “This reviewer’s major reservation concerning the TJTA is the question of its validity [integrity].” The reviewer says that “the main objective evidence for validity presented in the [TJTA] manual” is “certainly not sufficient to demonstrate test validity.”
Christian ministries are embracing psychology without proof or justification for using psychological counseling theories or methods. While testimonies may abound, there is no substantive support for the efficacy of professional psychological counseling or psychologically tainted group sessions. The claims of psychologically trained and experienced experts as having greater understanding, insight, or interpersonal skills are not validated by research. Professional training and State licensing do not guarantee that the holder of these will do any better on the average than a nonprofessional people helper.
Dr. Robyn Dawes, a widely recognized researcher, discusses the results of research on the licensing of mental health professionals in his book House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth. Dawes says:
If professional mental health workers had techniques similar to X-rays and blood tests with which they could evaluate the condition of their clients, there would be a justification for licensing only those who could employ such techniques. But they don’t have such techniques. If there were evidence that people who have been through the licensing procedure are better therapists than those who have not been, then there would also be a justification. But the evidence indicates that they are not better.
Dawes additionally speaks of two other conditions:
If there were evidence that people who have been through the licensing procedure have a better understanding than do those who have not, then there would be justification. . . . If there were evidence that the experience gained along the way through the licensing procedure improved the use of valid techniques, then there would be a justification.
Dawes makes it clear that such evidence does not exist. In fact, Dawes explodes the myths surrounding state licensing of professional psychologists and other mental health workers in his chapter on “Licensing.”
Dr. Joseph Durlak evaluated research projects in which the psychotherapeutic effectiveness of paraprofessionals was compared with that of mental health professionals, such as experienced psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. The training of the paraprofessionals ranged from none to fifteen hours. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to think of those individuals as nonprofessionals or amateurs. Durlak says, “Overall, outcome results in comparative studies have favored paraprofessionals.” He reports that in 40 of the 42 studies the “paraprofessionals” were better than the professionals at treating patients.
Considering the huge number of persons seeing mental health specialists, researcher Dr. Jerome Frank reveals the shocking fact of “the inability of scientific research to demonstrate conclusively that professional psychotherapists produce results sufficiently better than those of nonprofessionals.”
Dr. Hans Strupp at Vanderbilt University conducted a study of trained and untrained therapists, in which he compared the mental-emotional improvement of two groups of male college students. Two groups of “therapists” were set up to provide two groups of students with “therapy.” The two student groups were equated on the basis of mental-emotional distress as much as possible. The first group of therapists consisted of five psychiatrists and psychologists. “The five professional therapists participating in the study were selected on the basis of their reputation in the professional and academic community for clinical expertise. Their average length of experience was 23 years.”
The second group of “therapists” consisted of seven college professors from a variety of fields, but without therapeutic training. Each untrained “therapist” used his own personal manner of care, and each trained therapist used his own brand of therapy. The students seen by the professors showed as much improvement as those seen by the highly experienced and specially trained therapists.
Dr. Allen Bergin and Dr. Michael Lambert report on a “nationwide interview survey conducted for the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health.” The survey shows that “of those persons who actively sought help for personal problems, the vast majority contacted persons other than mental-health professionals, and that generally they were more satisfied with the help received than were those who chose psychiatrists and psychologists.” It is sad that Christians would turn to mental-health professionals when the academic research would dictate a need to turn away from such pseudo experts.
By integrating psychology into Christian ministry many Christian pastors, leaders, and workers have compromised the Word of God, the power of the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Psychotherapy is the counterfeit currency of the world and a substitute for the healing balm of Gilead. How long shall Christians have one foot in the wilderness of the counterfeit cure of minds and one in the promised land of the biblical cure of souls?
We have found that the Southern Baptist Convention is filled with psychoheresy in their mission agency, seminaries, and churches. It is not surprising to us that Sagemont would promote what we call psychoheresy in a pastors’ conference on “Stress in the Ministry.”
PAL V10N3 (May-June 2002)