More and more pastors are dealing with the issue of depression. The pain is often deep, and few pastors have immediate places to turn for guidance and comfort. I write this post to help churches whose pastor might be facing this struggle. If that’s your church, here are some of my thoughts:
Don’t be surprised. It happens. Sometimes we pastors, too, bear wounds from yesterday, and we often carry heavy burdens from today. As I’ve written before, “dark nights of the soul” are not uncommon. In fact, historical heroes of faith like Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther faced these kinds of battles.
Don’t assume it’s a sign of a lack of faith. Depression may well become a faith struggle, but it’s not an immediate indication that a pastor lacks faith. The issues are often much more than that, and pastors have a tendency to keep silent about all of them.
Don’t take it personally. Depression can be a long-term issue with multiple causes, and seldom is one tough church the cause. That’s not to say, though, that a tough congregation doesn’t make healing more difficult. Church members who act like non-believers don’t help anybody.
Do pray for (a) patient understanding for your members and (b) healing for your pastor. Members may not fully understand the issues of depression, and they may first be surprised that pastors deal with such things. Pastors simply want God to strengthen them and grant them victory.
Do offer help with counseling time and costs. Insurance should help, but additional costs might add up. In my estimation, a church has some obligation to help their pastor find healing—both for the sake of their church and for the sake of his present and future ministry.
Do find your own role in the church and serve fully. Depression among pastors is often exacerbated by their belief—faulty though it is—that they must do everything nobody else will do. On the other hand, you likely cannot know the joy and peace a pastor gets when his members serve well and thus remove some of his stress.
Do pray daily for your pastor’s family. The stresses on a family are great, and many families bear that weight silently and quietly. Don’t wait until you hear your pastor’s family is in trouble to start praying; rather, start praying now that the enemy would not devour their home.
Do encourage your pastor for a job well done. Too many church members just assume that their pastor knows their love and support, but their silence often says something to a leader who’s already battling internal strife. A little affirmation can be more powerful than you might imagine.
Pray for your pastor today, and let us know how we might pray for you if this post speaks to you.
Thanks, Chuck, for this very helpful and needed article. Lately, for those facing depression, I have been recommending “Christians Get Depressed Too” by David Murray along with “Spurgeon’s Sorrows” by Zack Erswine. I’m sending your article to our Send Network Training champions because this is great advice for leaders when depression hits church planters.
Thanks, Chuck. Helpful remarks. I believe Zack Eswine’s book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, should be read by every pastor and offers help to anyone who needs to understand depression, and how leaders are not exempt. Helps to destroy the myth that you cannot be depressed & still have strong faith. I reviewed it on my blog a couple months back.
I personally launched a blog last fall on depression and faith, penetratingthedarkness.com. So glad to see more believers and leaders in in the church addressing the issue. Terry Powell on Aug. 3
I might add two more: (1) supportive actions are valued more than platitudes that can come across as empty, and (2) don’t reinforce the pastor’s negative perspectives, especially of himself.
Please do not think that there is no medical reason for depression. You will not overcome an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin without medication. Consult a physician if you continually feel depressed.