Does your preacher suffer with depression?

Donny Weimar

​Preachers are people like you. They experience the same positive and negative emotions as you and me. Emotional and spiritual causes to depression and anxiety, and the minister is not immune. More than sixteen million adults in the USA makes depression one of the most common mental illnesses, according to Mental Health America. (Unknown, 2020) Everyone in the congregation has the blues from time to time. Be observant of your minister’s mood because it will affect everything in his life and ministry if he develops a major depression and/or anxiety leading to burnout. A Baptist minister writes,

“Pastor burnout is internal frustration, confusion, and disillusionment caused by an inconsistency between a pastor’s beliefs about life and ministry and the daily reality of life and ministry. In other words, clergy burnout results when there is an internal conflict between a pastor’s beliefs about how life and ministry are supposed to be and how they in fact really are.” (Sherman, 2020)

Burnout is a crisis of emotions. Preachers become disillusioned when their conception of the ideal is so ideal, he can never live up to that standard. The Bible teaches us to be perfect, be achieved by the grace of God (Matthew 5:48; 1 John 2:1) Preachers preaching Christ are to accept the faith they proclaim. The ideal is in Christ, and yes that ideal is perfect. But we must depend on the mercy of the Lord for our shortcomings. God’s throne of mercy is there for us to find grace in time of emotional needs. Preachers know this. Sometimes, he needs someone to revisit the subject to console his spirit. You can do what he does for you. Paul teaches, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” (Romans 15:14 NKJV)

Imagine working on a masterpiece of a sermon to preach Sunday morning but hears his elders have a negative reaction. Member reactions are unpredictable. “He visited brother so-and-so” in the hospital, but he has never stood on my porch, says the complainer. Neither the negative vibes ministers get from the congregation, nor the silent politicking that goes on in some places that takes a toll self-image. While church problems arise and can be stressful, inducing anxiety and depression, the mental health of your minister who may be overwhelmed may be resolved with solutions from the Bible teaching and proven natural experiences. The apostle Paul, a suffering preacher who presses on with his mission, experienced depression but also the gave the cure for the spiritual aspects of the condition. He writes to the Corinthians.

“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7 ESV)

Preachers can take Paul’s experience as an example of depending on God for comfort. He can keep their ministerial duties if they are healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Valuable to understand is the nature of depression in a preacher approaching burnout. This will help to prevent or heal from it. Help your preacher think upwards in his life. Tell him to hold his head up. Life is up here with the rest of us, not with downcast eyes staring blankly with a head tilted down. Run a search on “lift up your eyes” in a concordance on your computer. See the large number of references where and read of Jehovah’s promises. They are blessings to those who look up when they feel beaten and down. Tell him to read the Bible for personal gain not for the congregation; God is speaking directly to him through it. Let the Word of God strengthen the weary and contrite heart.

Paul writes about sleepless nights over concern for the of his brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder, because he suffered so much for the proclamation of the saving Good News of Jesus Christ. Today’s preacher may not experience the world as the apostle knew it – full of violence and neglect. But he can relate. The crux of the matter is the preacher’s inner man often prevents him from being stable in his emotional and spiritual life. Ministers and their family are under microscope in a congregation’s eyes. They feel that pressure. And they need encouraging. One denominational preacher writes his ministry,

“Being a pastor—a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success—can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors. “We set the bar so high that most pastors can’t achieve that,” said H.B. London, vice president for pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. “And because most pastors are people-pleasers, they get frustrated and feel they can’t live up to that.” When pastors fail to live up to demands imposed by themselves or others they often “turn their frustration back on themselves,” leading to self-doubt and to feelings of failure and hopelessness, said Fred Smoot, executive director of Emory Clergy Care in Duluth, Georgia.” (Rigaway, 2010)

All people naturally feel depressed on occasion but staying depressed for a month, alerts the members and church leadership they need to embrace the man of God with comfort and brotherly love. Do not be the group of leaders that fires a depressed minister. He is giving his life to care about you. Return the grace with encouraging words and be present for your minister. In all, love one another. He has made an ideal for himself and the church that the leadership must help him understand can only be realized in Christ.

 I reference denominational writers in this article. The application and principles are common in the churches of Christ fellowship as well. I know preachers within the churches of Christ that fit the descriptions of major depression and experience burnout fatigue. One recently asks, “how do your sermons turn out when you are depressed?” “Dry,” I replied. “The ‘show’ must go on,’” is his response. The old saying goes, fake it ‘till you make it. For members like yourself, please empathize with the preacher’s pain. Encourage him not to sit on the premises but to stand on the promises, no matter how ill he may feel.

Works Cited

Gregory Jantz, P. (2020). Depression, Mood Disorders and Suicide. In E. Tim Clinton, Clinical Mental Health. Forest, VA: American Association of Christian Counselors.

NKJV Holy Bible. (2014). Nashville: Zondervan.

Rigaway, T. (2010, September 2010). Silent Suffering: Preachers and Depression. Retrieved from ChurchLeders: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/144651-silent-suffering-pastors-and-depression.html

Sherman, D. (2020, September August 31, 2020). Pastor Burnout – The Silent Clergy Killer. Retrieved from My-Pastor.com: https://www.my-pastor.com/pastor-burnout.html#:~:text=Pastor%20burnout%20is%20internal%20frustration%2C%20confusion%2C%20and%20disillusionment,be%20and%20how%20they%20in%20fact%20really%20are.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). (2001). Wheaton, Illinois: Good News Publishers.

Unknown. (2020, August 28). Depression. Retrieved 2020, from Mental Health America.

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