When Pastors Experience Depression

Depression was once a topic reserved for “other people.” It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?

Ministers often feel shame and failure when they go through bouts of depression. And their reticence to tell anyone about their plights has exacerbated the problem.

But today more and more ministers are willing to talk about this issue. Recent articles in Christian Post, the New York Times, and Paul Tripp’s Gospel Coalition blog address the problem candidly and proactively.

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A Growing Problem

The articles note that the problem of depression in the ministry is not only real, but that it is growing. Further, the rate of depression among ministers is now higher than the rate of the general population.

What are the causes of the depression? More importantly, what can be done to help ministers who are walking through this valley?

The Possible Causes

My list of possible causes is not exhaustive. It is based on the research of others as well as my own anecdotal conversations with pastors and other Christian leaders who experience depression.

· 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 the pastor neglects his family as he cares 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 they 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.

Seeking to Help and Offer Solutions

Pastors need our prayers and support. I challenge you church members to organize intercessory prayer warriors for your pastors. Get each person to commit to praying for him five minutes every day. Fight the battles of spiritual warfare with prayer.

Likewise, make sure your pastor has sufficient time for his own prayer life. As he spends more time with God, he will be able to deal with the demands of ministry more effectively. He will handle the barbs of the critics better. He will not be prone to compare his ministry with others. His hope and identity will be more dependent on his relationship with Christ.

Make certain your pastor takes time off every year. Vacations must be mandatory. He likewise needs to take at least one day off each week. Look for signs that he is not giving sufficient time to his family, and help him to find the time to do so. His wife and children cannot be neglected.

Find out if your pastor is compensated adequately. If not, work quietly and prayerfully with key leaders in the church to rectify that problem.

Thank God for pastors. Thank God for their lives, their families, and their ministries. May we who sit under their ministries and serve in their churches do all we can to keep them focused and healthy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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

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