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Whitman: Pastor Connection offers Hillsborough ministers peer support and encouragement

About 75 percent of pastors report feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted, according to a 2017 study.
Len Harper, pastor at Overflow Church, is the founder of Pastor Connection, a group that offers peer support for ministers in eastern Hillsborough County.
Len Harper, pastor at Overflow Church, is the founder of Pastor Connection, a group that offers peer support for ministers in eastern Hillsborough County.
Published Jan. 16, 2019

Eight pastors gather monthly at Twin Creeks Assisted Living Facility in Brandon.

The church leaders don't meet to visit residents or counsel families. They come to encourage each other, sit around a table and talk about life.

Pastor Connection offers peer support for ministers in eastern Hillsborough County, said founder Len Harper, pastor at Overflow Church.

Twenty-two years ago, Harper arrived in Florida ready to lead South Brandon Worship Center, which is now Overflow. From the late 1990s to 2010, he maintained fellowship with a few area pastors. The men shared struggles, ideas and prayer.

Over time, they drifted apart, Harper said.

In 2018, during a sabbatical from Overflow, Harper visited area churches and met with pastors. He asked each a question: "What can I do for you?"

"They all said the same things," Harper said. "They wanted a safe place for lead pastors to encourage, support and pray for each other."

David Speicher, pastor at South Bay Church and Brent Simpson, Arise Assembly of God pastor, joined Harper to form a support group.

"There is a very unique set of challenges pastors face," said Speicher, a licensed mental health counselor. "Pastors assume they need to do things alone or that they can't be transparent. They need to be able to share what's going on in their lives, to be cared for as men and individuals apart from the church."

About 75 percent of pastors report feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted, according to a 2017 Barna Group study. And 57 percent feel inadequate in regard to work.

"They need someone to say, 'Hang in there. Don't give up,'" Harper said. "The passion will come back again."

For Harper, connecting about shared experiences makes the day job easier.

He created Pastor Connection to give leaders of all ages and denominations an outlet.

At meetings, the men talk about everything from marriage and family to what's not working at their individual churches.

They can also unload emotions, Harper said.

"No one understands the weight of being a lead pastor except a lead pastor," Harper said. "Every family and person will go through struggles in life. We experience these events vicariously and continuously. It is hard."

Everyone needs someone to talk to, even the pastor, Speicher said.

"These men need to know they are not alone, that they can share and not worry about being judged," he said. "They just need to be cared for."

Pastor Connection remains open to area ministers. For more information, email len@southbrandon.org.

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Calendar

St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 1239 Del Webb Blvd., Sun City Center, will present Daniel Rodriguez, the singing cop from New York, in concert at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20. Tickets can be purchased at the church office through Jan. 19. For more information, call (813) 534-1252.

Seasons in the Sun, a free Christian music festival in honor of Brooke Marie Brown, will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Feb. 2. The event will feature performances by Phil Wickham and hip-hop artist Urban D, as well as other acts. The event will include food trucks, activities and fireworks. Brown passed away in October 2017, at age 18. For more information, visit seasonsinthesun.org.