To many people's surprise, many pastors really struggle with depression. This is true today and it has been true throughout the history of the church. The great Charles Spurgeon wrestled with depression throughout his life. Martin Luther and John Bunyan had grappled with significant bouts of anxiety and fear. God’s men are clay pots indeed.
Most church members have no idea their pastor is depressed. They don’t know until they are awakened to the reality of some of the dramatic consequences of the depression: broken marriages; sexual affairs; resignation from ministry; and even suicide.
If you are a pastor reading this post and you are struggling with depression, please get help. Too many pastors have been taught that depression is a sign of failure in ministry and must be hidden from view. Those are lies, blatant lies. Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of and healing is possible. Please get help. Now.
The primary purpose of this brief article is to explain the precipitating factors to depression. More clearly, these are the five primary causes many pastors identified as the reasons behind their depression. Each of the causes is followed by a direct quote from pastors who shared with me their struggles.
1. Spiritual Warfare
“I don’t mean this in a profane way, but there was a point in my ministry when all hell broke loose. I can’t explain the attacks any way other than spiritual warfare. The enemy was intent on destroying my ministry, and I began to spiral downward emotionally.”
2. Surprising Reality of Pastoral Leadership
“I wish someone had told me how tough it is to be a pastor. My single counsel was to preach the Word, and I understand the priority of preaching. But, after a year or so in my first pastorate at age 31, I saw the underbelly of local church life. I was just caught off guard. And it took me some time before I realized I was truly depressed.”
3. Sense of Inadequacy
“My church is declining. While I don’t get hung up on numbers, my members started talking about the decline. And when we had to delete a position because we could no longer pay the person, I really begin to hit rock bottom. I felt like it was all my fault.”
4. Critics and Bullies
“Pastoral leadership really can be a death by a thousand cuts. It’s not any one person or criticism; it’s the constant and steady stream of criticisms. It wears on you. My depression came on gradually, so by the time I was in deep depression, I did not see it coming.”
“It’s really hard to find a true friend when you are a pastor. And when you have no one to talk to about your struggles and questions, life can get lonely.”
Not a Pastor?
If you're involved in church leadership, a volunteer, or a member: PRAY FOR YOUR PASTORS!
Depression is a real threat to pastors' well-being. It seems to be pervasive. May we who serve alongside them, staff and laity alike, take a few minutes a day to pray for our pastors. It could very well be one of the most important ministries we have.
Let Us Help
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression please know you are not alone. We can put you in touch with someone who can help you. Reach out to us by email at [email protected] or by live chat using the button on the bottom right of your screen.