As far as Kristina Gutierrez is concerned, being the leader of a church is one of the hardest jobs there is.

That's why, Gutierrez said, she derives great satisfaction from serving as pastoral counselor at the Columbus office of Midwest Ministry Development, with offices on Old Henderson Road in northwest Columbus.

"I think ministers should get hazard pay," said Gutierrez, a former missionary in Latin America.

"Congregants don't realize how much of a burden pastors are carrying for their congregants and how much time and energy they put into the myriad problems and issues congregants bring to them," said Vickie McCreary, former associate executive director with the nonprofit organization, and now its administrator, clinical supervisor and psychological consultant.

Gutierrez and McCreary said the purpose of Midwest Ministry Development is to help ministers develop their skills, as the name implies, but also to help them avoid some of the potential pitfalls of following their calling.

Although the headquarters for Midwest Ministry Development is now in Chicago, the organization initially was launched in Columbus almost half a century ago, according to the nonprofit organization's website.

In the mid-1960s, a group of denomination leaders from throughout the Midwest began to plan for a ministry development center to serve people in pastoral leadership, according to the website.

In 1968 the Midwest Career Development Service was legally incorporated and its first service center opened in Columbus soon thereafter, the website said.

The center became involved not only in direct service to pastors seeking career guidance and counseling but also with judicatory and denominational staff in providing consultation and training to pastors in areas of personal and professional growth and development, according to the site.

The operation has evolved to work with not only current ministers from a variety of denominations but also candidates for the ministry, according to McCreary.

The goal, she said is to help them identify "their gifts and their strengths."

They also receive help in knowing their "areas of vulnerability," Gutierrez said.

"You could describe this process in some ways as an effort for prevention of problems," McCreary said. "It's a proactive way to address issues before they become major issues in a church, in a congregation."

"It's highly stressful," Gutierrez said of being a minister, pastor, priest or other designation for a church leader.

"You have to be highly trained in a variety of areas, not just theology."

"One of the casualties of ministry often is the minister's family," McCreary said. "They don't set good boundaries and they don't do good self-care.

"Part of what we do is help them recognize how important safe care and boundaries are," she said. "Sometimes we have to help them take off the rose-colored glasses."

"Sometimes congregations tend to use us as the 'bad cop,' " Gutierrez said.

Now based in Chicago, Midwest Ministry Development has satellite offices in Columbus, Kansas City, Missouri and Austin, Texas.

The Columbus office works with about 150 ministers a year, down from closer to 250 a decade or so ago, McCreary said.

"We're open to everybody," Gutierrez said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1