PastorCare West Michigan provides listening ear, confidential coaching to wounded ministers

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

smith225John W. Smith is the executive director of PastorCare West Michigan.It’s rare to meet the leader of a ministry who wishes his services weren’t needed. John W. Smith is one of them.

“I wish my ministry wasn’t needed,” said Smith, executive director of PastorCare West Michigan (PCWM). “But I know it is.”

PCWM is intended for pastors, their spouses, and full-time ministry leaders such as youth and Christian education directors who need someone like Smith to come alongside them to help them through their ministerial rough patches. Smith accomplishes this through what he calls “confidential coaching.”

Filbert Moore founded the nondenominational ministry in 1995 on the campus of Peace College in Raleigh, N.C. Today, PastorCare Networks Inc. has a network of affiliates in the Northwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, Carolinas and South Atlantic, Mid-South, Mid-West, Southwest, Great Plains and Western Plains regions of the nation.

Some of the more common challenges ministers face include burn out — packing too many hours in a work-week that cuts into personal time with their spouses and family. Others have experienced some sort of moral failing, while still others are dealing with marital problems. For a variety of reasons, some pastors have fallen out of favor with their congregation and face being ousted by them, often with painful consequences.

Coaching is off-the-chart important

The ministry uses the term “coaching” instead of counseling, since Smith is not a licensed therapist.

Smith is an approachable man with can-do personality who backs off from loading pastors with a herd of well-intended advice.

“I’ll ask questions,” said Smith, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, a masters of divinity from Western Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry from California Graduate School of Theology. “I don’t mentor. Mentoring presupposes I know more than the other person. Coaching is coming alongside as a friend, a confidante, and for pastors, that’s off-the-chart important.”

Smith said he often finds it necessary to be the one who initially reaches out to a pastor since many are reluctant to do so on their own.

“I initiate a lot of contact,” said Smith. “When pastors are hurting they don’t reach out, look for help. They often have no idea where to go to someone where it’s safe, who is confidential, who will listen long enough.”

Gives them time

“People who are hurting just need somebody to listen without a time clock,” said Smith. “I’ll listen to a person five to seven hours if needed. I make the choice to give people more time when they need it.”

It’s important, Smith added, to not be pushy with his counsel.

“I almost always ask permission,” said Smith. “I’ll ask, ‘May I share something with you?’ Unsolicited advice is rarely followed or taken.”

Smith is well acquainted with the adage that Christians shoot their wounded and in the case of some ministers, that saying proves to be true. But he has other reasons why churches, which are supposed to exude love and compassion, sometimes miss the mark.

Intentionally targeted

“Pastors are intentionally targeted by the Evil One,” said Smith. “Every pastor has a target, not just on his back but on his chest. Then there are people who intentionally shoot arrows and those are the deepest wounds in the pastor’s heart. If you can take out the leader, you can scatter the sheep.”

Smith has walked in the shoes of a wounded pastor himself. While pasturing a church in Sayville, Long Island, New York he encountered a series of criticisms from some members of his congregation after marking his 20th anniversary with the church. The accusations were unflinchingly hurdled at him but he remained with the church another three years and is glad he did for the lessons he learned.

“I had to forgive every single person who wounded me and deliberately ask the Holy Spirit to help me do so,” said Smith.

When it comes for forgiving people, Smith adds this piece of advice: “Do not hinge your forgiving on their response. When I forgave them all, that was when I was set free.”

For more information, call (616) 304-8543; email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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