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Why Christian leaders struggle with 'dark nights of the soul'

Why Christian leaders struggle with 'dark nights of the soul'

Unsplash/Sasha Freemind

If you read church history at all, you’ll learn that men as faithful to God as Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon struggled with bouts of at least heaviness, if not depression. I’m convinced more church leaders than we know face these battles. Here are some reasons we do, followed by a simple suggestion when we struggle: 

  1. Our calling is a calling of God. We’re blessed to have that calling, but we still answer to the Creator of eternity. That’s a weighty reality that sometimes gets really heavy.  
  2. We work with life and death. In fact, we work in the light of eternity, reminding people of life and death matters. Just that fact can pound on our shoulders.
  3. We live with our own sin. No church leader I know wants to be hypocritical in front of church members, but all of us know our own sin issues. Our desire to be leaders of integrity  increases the burden of our own sin.
  4. Sometimes, few people respond to our leading. Jesus warned us that many would not choose the right path, but His warning doesn’t lessen the pain when few people respond positively to our ministry.
  5. We carry the weight of the burdens of others. Yes, we can pray and turn them over to God – but our heart still hurts when others hurt.
  6. Many of us have few real friends. Sometimes we’ve made that choice (wrongly, in my opinion), but it’s still lonely when you bear ministry alone.
  7. We don’t always use spiritual disciplines well. For some, disciplines are sporadic at best. For others, we turn to them only as a Band-Aid to try to legalistically fix our issues. Neither takes us closer to the God who wants to heal us.
  8. We tend to be perfectionists. I don’t know many pastors who like to mess up. We want to do well, to please others as we serve God. Any failure brings pain.
  9. We haven’t learned the power of 2 Corinthians 12:10. We preach about strength in weakness, but we haven’t learned how to live it.
  10. We struggle with the dark night, and then beat ourselves up for being depressed. “No strong believer should feel this way,” we think – and the cycle continues.

If you’re struggling with this kind of anguish, I plead with you to talk with a brother or sister in Christ. You’re not the only one facing this battle, but you won’t likely win it if you battle alone. For all of us — let’s say a prayer today for our church leaders.  

This piece was originally published at Thom S. Rainer blog

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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