First off, I have to tell you that never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would become so involved in Law Enforcement, especially while a full-time Sr. Pastor! Not only that, but I also currently serve on our regional SWAT team as the Chief drone pilot and as a Negotiator. God certainly has a sense of humor considering my disdain of authority and Law Enforcement in my youthful days.
So, how did I become involved in law enforcement enabling me to learn on the other side of the “blue” line AND about Emotional Trauma? The short story begins while teaching at our local county jail. I taught a personal responsibility, faith-based class on a list I had put together, “Pastor John’s 10 Undeniable Rules of Life.” I will gladly send it to you free upon request. The inmates apparently received something positive from it indicated by the necessity of eventually having to split the class into two groups due to the large attendance.
The Sheriff at the time, Terry Lyons, a wonderful Christian man, approached me with his desire for me to adjust my Volunteer work at the Sheriff’s Office to focus more on the employees. He said he wanted to make me the official agency Chaplain. So, as someone who teaches the importance of servant leadership, I basically saluted and said, “Yes Sir!” At that time, I really had no clue what I was agreeing to! I didn’t know anything about law enforcement chaplaincy or what it entailed. One of the jail captains arranged a meeting with a chaplain from a neighboring agency. That meeting proved very helpful and pointed me in the right direction. He encouraged me to join the International Conference of Police Chaplains, which is an educational and fellowship group of law enforcement chaplains across the nation.
This excellent organization has regional training seminars and seemed to be a great first step in training and information gathering. I signed up for and attended my first 3-day training session. I learned many excellent pointers from officer-related shootings to death notifications and conduct with officers while riding in their “office” which is their police cruiser.
Furiously taking notes, during one of the sessions, the class instructor mentioned a book entitled, “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” authored by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, as a must-have reference for any law enforcement chaplain. The instructor also mentioned that many chaplains use it as a textbook for their agencies and gifts for new recruits. As a lover of books with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I ordered the book before leaving the conference.
It all began to make sense
Arriving back at my office, the book was waiting for me to devour. It was not a large book by any stretch, at only 140 pages, but it opened my eyes to a different world of what our officers go through and why there is such a high divorce rate among those in the profession. I took my new-found knowledge and passion to help these officers to my Sheriff and offered to teach this material to our staff. He agreed that it would be valuable training and made it available to all the agency’s staff. The positive comments coming in after the class from those in the trenches and in command indicated that indeed, we had scratched an itch.
Working with one of the local Police Chiefs, whom I also had the honor to marry, I learned he had been awarded a slot to attend the prestigious FBI National Academy. I promised to partner with him in prayer throughout the 10-week course. I had also shared with him what I had found in this book as well. Interestingly, after he had been there a few weeks, as I texted him encouragement, he told me that “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” was on the required reading list at the Academy. That further solidified my belief that this material was invaluable to our men and women in “blue.”
Since that time, I have had the privilege to teach this material to almost every officer in the agencies I serve and also at the local police academy as well. Some local agencies have even made it mandatory training for their entire roster. An added academic treat I devoured a couple of years ago was attending training at a local FBI field office in from the author, Dr. Gilmartin himself. That room, filled with chiefs, sheriffs and many in command oozed with multiple decades of experience and yet it seemed like every one of them could identify with his material. After all, Dr. Gilmartin did serve his agency faithfully for 30 years knowing how to communicate with the men and women in blue and what they deal with. Talking with him after class I thanked him explaining my use of his material, its impact on those I come in contact with, and received his blessing to continue using his book to help those who put their lives on the line every day plus being shameless enough to ask for his signature on my copy of his book!
Pastor’s Stress Similar to LEO’s
Here is where the parallel between pastors and cops comes in. Teaching this material, I became very familiar with the term Dr. Gilmartin uses in his book, “Hypervigilance.” Hypervigilance is the condition of an officer’s awareness level. Officers are trained to understand that there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop or call. Especially of late, with the proliferation of violence against police officers. They cannot afford to let their guard down for a moment, for the moment they do, could cost them their lives! That is the reason when you are stopped, an officer may seem cold or not take time for a friendly chat as he or she is on “hyper-alert” to their surroundings and current situation. Pastor, I well understand that the things we do and the places we go don’t normally require us to live in a “hypervigilant” state…that is unless we are preparing for a Board meeting or preside over a church-wide business meeting!
So, the short story of this material’s genesis is that I saw the glaring similarities of the stress and trauma that LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) go through and what pastors go through. Even if it’s on different levels, many pastors state that the pressures and stress that come from the ministry, can make it unbearable for them and their families. Numerous pastors have told me that many times this is why they begin to look to change churches. Hang in there! There is so much more to come as we examine pastoral stress and how to not let it cause us to fold up like a cheap seat!
There is much more to come so read away, my dear pastor. For more, tune in to the Emotional Survival for Pastors podcast at PastorJohn.net.