Thick Skin, Tender Hearts, and Great Counselors – CMN Women


Thick Skin, Tender Hearts, and Great Counselors

by Rebecca Burtram

Last night, I sent a bullet point email out to our church members to remind everyone of the upcoming events for the next two weeks. I received a reply within an hour. This is a brief highlight for your reading pleasure (it’s an exact quote, so please ignore - or enjoy - the grammar):

“I will say I am so glad as a church your doing more than just Sunday morning, still not a Life Group fan. Jon you know normally I love your sermons was not a fan last Sunday, wasn’t you for some reason, no passion I guess, to many man ideas not biblical ideas if you know what I mean.”

The suicide of Andrew Stoecklein, Lead Pastor of Inland Hills, has people all across the country talking. To many outside of ministry, Stoecklein’s decision came as a shock. They had never considered that a pastor could struggle with their emotions. I know this because an email which contained nothing but dates and brief details for upcoming events was, to one of our members, an obvious opportunity to criticize a sermon and express dislike for one of our main ministries.

I know the woman who sent the email fairly well, and I know she loves and supports us. If she thought her email might be hurtful, she wouldn’t have sent it. Honestly, she wouldn’t have. She sends birthday cards to everyone in our family, she offers to feed us any chance she gets, and she even sent us an encouraging card in the mail just a week ago. People just sometimes forget that we are also people.

Some of the best advice we were given prior to launching our church, and occasionally some of the hardest to follow, was “have thick skin and a tender heart.” I have passed that advice on to others as it has served me well to remember to let negativity roll off my back and to find ways to remain tender to those who are prickly. Today I would say, “You need to have thick skin, a tender heart, a trusted ministry friend, a healthy outlet, and a great therapist.” I know it isn’t nearly as catchy, but it’s more accurate.

We can’t pretend we have no emotions as we see people come in and people go out, as budgets fluctuate between highs and lows, or as applause and criticisms are handed out equally. We need help keeping our skin thick and our hearts tender. Yesterday, I went to the YMCA with a friend, did counseling over Skype, and had lunch with another woman in ministry. It was a fluke that I did all three in one day, but when the critical email came right before bed, I was able to shake my head, laugh a little, and sleep undisturbed.

As we grieve and pray for the family, friends, and church members who have lost a loved one, I hope one man’s lost battle with mental health will do more than cause people to talk. I hope it will cause pastors to take action. Get a counselor, make time for things you enjoy, and reach out to others in ministry so you can laugh at crazy emails together.

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Rebecca Burtram and her husband, Jonathan, planted Redemption Church Charlottesville on Easter of 2016. Rebecca is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs and blogs about grace and imperfection at She is passionate about helping others know that they are not alone in their struggles or their triumphs. If you have a church planting story to share with other CMN women, contact her at