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Pastors and Mental Health

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  • Thom Rainer
By Thom S. Rainer, Christian Post Contributor
February 28, 2014|10:55 am

The issue of mental health and Christians is finally getting some attention. Among the Christians who have challenges, many pastors struggle with depression. We hear too frequently about a pastor committing suicide. And many wonder how such a tragedy could happen to someone whose life was committed to serving the Lord.

I love pastors. Indeed I converse with pastors via a variety of means every day. I know many of them are struggling. Many of them are depressed. And, sadly, many of them are reticent to say anything about their depression lest they be viewed as unfaithful to God and unable to help others.

Possible Issues

I noted in an earlier post some of the issues that may cause depression or at least exacerbate it among pastors. While not all of them are unique to pastors, they are certainly pervasive among these servants of God.

  • Spiritual warfare. The Enemy does not want God's servants to be effective in ministry. He will do whatever it takes to hurt ministers and their ministries.
  • Unrealistic expectations. The expectations and demands upon a pastor are enormous. They are unrealistic. But if one person's expectations are not met, that person can quickly let the pastor know that he is a failure.
  • Greater platforms for critics. In "the good old days," a critic was typically limited to telephone, mail, and in-person meetings to criticize a minister. Today the critics have the visible and pervasive platforms of email, blogs, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Failure to take time away from the church or place of ministry. Workaholism leads to burnout. Burnout leads to depression.
  • Marriage and family problems. Too often pastors neglect their families as they care for the larger church family.
  • Financial strains. Many pastors simply do not have sufficient income from the churches they serve. That financial stress can lead to depression. Some pastors do not know how to manage the money they do have, leading to further financial strain.
  • The problem of comparison. Every pastor will always know of a church that is larger and more effective. Every pastor will always know of another pastor who seems more successful. The comparison game can be debilitating to some pastors.

Some Thoughts for Struggling Pastors

Pastors are often told that they need to stay in good physical health. Indeed, I documented my own struggle with obesity in a recent post. The message of good physical health does not need to wane.

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But pastors also need to guard their mental health. Unfortunately, too many pastors have been unwilling to share their plight. Allow me to offer a few thoughts for both pastors and the congregants who love these servant leaders.

  • You are not alone. To the contrary, the problem is pervasive. I recently cited a study that shows depression among pastors to be higher than that of the general populace. Pastors should not think they are the outliers. There are many in this company of fellow strugglers.
  • You need not be ashamed. Mental illness is just that-it is an illness. If we have cancer, we freely acknowledge our physical illness. Pastors should not be ashamed to say they have a mental illness.
  • Get help. Get trusted recommendations of professionals who can help you. Most of the time, someone will also advise you to see a medical doctor to see if there are physiological reasons for your struggle. Others will counsel you about seeing qualified persons for those struggling with depression or other mental health issues.
  • Make the recommended changes. Once struggling pastors get help from professionals, they will be advised about next steps. Listen to them. Heed their advice. Make the necessary changes.

We Are Available

My team and I are not professionals in this area. We readily admit we are not equipped to help with some of the more serious needs pastors have both emotionally and mentally.

But we also realize some readers who really need help may be visiting this blog. We want to be available to get you help. Please let us know. We will do our best to get you help. Just email Jonathan.Howe@LifeWay.com. He will work with our team to find you the help you need.

Thank you for serving Christ and His churches, pastors. Very few people outside the pastoral ministry world understand all you do and all you experience. I hope we can minister to you as well. You deserve nothing less.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 

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