Monday, October 8, 2012

Depressed Pastors


I was reading a 2010 article in the Baptist Courier about the immense pressure under which pastors experience and found myself nodding my head as I was reading.

It seems to me that most of the pressure pastors experience comes from two sources: church members and themselves. Pastors are held up to unreasonable expectations which no single member would ever place upon themselves. While I was interviewing with a pastor search committee, I mentioned that I usually take Friday as my day off. One lady said indignantly, “Pastors don’t get days off.” I pointed out to this dear lady that even Jesus had to rest as mentioned several times in the Scriptures. Also, I asked her if she had a day off from her job. When she said, “yes,” I asked her why I shouldn’t have a day off. She didn’t have a lot to say after that.

Depression is an occupational hazard for pastors. The article says that since 2006, there have been six attempted pastor suicides in the Carolinas with four who actually died. Depression was cited in each case. Steve Scoggin, president of pastoral counseling centers in North Carolina known as CareNet, estimates that 18 to 25 percent of pastors have suffered from depression. Scoggin says that factors which may breed depression are isolation and loneliness.

Based on my own experience as a pastor for 15 years, I agree with Scoggin on the factors of isolation and loneliness in depression. In every Association in which I have been affiliated, each DOM coordinates regular pastor events for the purposes of fellowship and encouragement. Unfortunately, I have seen very few pastors attend these events. Pastors seem to prefer isolation than fellowship with other pastors. This can be a dangersous point of view.

What are some things we can do to reduce the likelihood of isolation and loneliness in the ministry? Here are a few thoughts of mine:

1. Take a day off each week.
No matter what, take some time off each week. Jesus had to rest, so do you.
 
2. Spend time with non-church members.
Take some time to be with people who are not a part of your church. Consider joining a civic group such as the Jaycees, Kiwanis, etc. Being a part of a civic organization can be good for ministry but that should not be the primary purpose of your membership. Make friends with people outside of your church circle.
 
4. Read non-theological books.
If all you are thinking about is theology, you're becoming a one-trick pony. If you like to read, choose lighter fare which will keep your interest but will not be intellectually taxing.
 
5. Let other people help you.
If you do all the work in the church, the only one who is growing spiritually is you. Learn to delegate. Tasks such as hospital and home visitation can be done by your deacons or other church leaders. This does not mean that you do not have to visit, but you do not have to do all of the visiting.

Depression should not be a dirty word in church circles. Just because we are Christians, that doesn't mean we are less prone to depression. Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in all of Scripture, experienced deep depression after his battle with Baal prophets on Mt. Carmel. He even asked God to kill him. God did not chastise or condemn Elijah for his depression, neither should we. The church should be a place of encouragement not discouragement. Let it begin with you and me.

4 comments:

William Thornton said...

Les, I agree with all of your suggestions but would add here that serious depression, clinical depression, is a medical condition and needs medical attention.

So:

6. Go to the doctor.

Steve Martin said...

Great post.

In a world that values "success", it would be tough to find pastor that would not be affected. And that we are all broken people to begin with.

So, "we walk by faith and not by sight".

You gave some good tips in this post and we all should do our best to encourage and support our pastors.

Thanks.

Luke @ Deep Roots Library said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this topic - pastors have a tough job. They see the best in people, but they also see the darkest of the dark, and that alone can lead to depression and cynicism.

I made a video talking more about this, that you can see here: http://youtu.be/NwYxNY7EaFs

Les Puryear said...

William,

Agreed.