CHR and Gary Oliver Work to Support Pastors

CHR and Gary Oliver Work to Support Pastors

By Rachael Oatman
11/15/2021 6:00:00 PM

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In 1998, a donation made to JBU created and endowed the Center for Healthy Relationships (CHR). The center’s mission was, and still is, to encourage, educate and equip individuals, families and leaders with resources needed to have healthy and flourishing relationships. 

Early on, the CHR identified a need to help individuals in ministry through workshops, classes and coaching. Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., executive director for CHR, developed the ChurchStrong intensives — four-day retreats at Subiaco Abbey for groups of eight to 10 people designed to help participants grow emotionally, relationally and spiritually. With a background in theology and psychology, Oliver is well-versed in the holistic needs of ministry leaders.

“Most people who go to seminary don’t have much training on how to communicate, how to manage conflict,” Oliver said. “They have virtually no training on their emotions, what emotions are or where they come from — how to manage anxiety and fear, depression and grief, and loss and insecurity.”

The intensives, rooted in Romans 8:29, “help men and women become conformed to the image of [God’s] son … and all of who he made us to be — our thinking, our feeling and our doing,” said Oliver. 

To date, ChurchStrong intensives have served over 300 leaders, including Bob Ryan, who now helps facilitate follow-up groups. Ryan mentors pastors and business leaders, using the knowledge and skills gained in the intensives. 

“They are learning to identify the emotions, transfer and release them to God,” Ryan said. “They are moving forward with what God has called them to do.”

Sue Addington serves as a lay pastor in women’s Bible studies, Sunday school and small groups and is using what she learned to minister to nearly 450 women. 

“I have taught women for years, but in the last 10 months I have started teaching women to use the Lectio Divina model of listening to God speak,” Addington said. “I have been drawn to simplicity, introspection and listening in my journey with Jesus.”

JBU alumnus Mark Gumm ’94 participated in several of CHR’s intensives and training opportunities, which he says transformed his approach to ministry and his personal relationship with God.

“The intensives helped open my eyes to the fact that in ministry, we often are too busy as a human doing ministry and things for God instead of a human being with God in relationship,” Gumm said. 

Gumm said the intensive is one of the best things he did for his Christian walk, ministry and marriage. It helped him evaluate his personal, spiritual and relational life and gave him tools and practical steps to make improvements.

“The range and scope of the leaders impacted by this unique ministry continues to surprise even us,” Oliver said. “Numerous leaders have told us that they are still in ministry due in large part to what God did in their lives through the intensive experience.”

For more information about ChurchStrong, visit

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