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Pastors and Depression

This article focuses on pastor suicides, but it seems to me that the most important information contained in the article is about pastoral depression.   You have to read the article carefully to get to the important stuff regarding depression and pastors.  (While the information on pastors and suicide is important to note, it is also important to note that the article itself says – despite its own focus – that there is no statistical evidence to indicate that pastors commit suicide at a higher rate than the general population.)  Read on to see a few of the highlights.

The author checked with a few people who counseled pastors:

Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it.

Pastors, particularly in some cultures, have such high expectations that they are afraid to talk about their problem.  Having lived among southern Evangelicalism for awhile, I tend to agree that it is worse there.  But I think the problem exists any place in North America (at least, that’s my guess).

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, Ga., which provides pastoral care to 1,200 United Methodist ministers in Georgia.

A pastor is like “a 24-hour ER” who is supposed to be available to any congregant at any time, said Steve Scoggin, president of CareNet, a network of 21 pastoral counseling centers in North Carolina. “We create an environment that makes it hard to admit our humanity.”

It’s a job that breeds isolation and loneliness — the pastorate’s “greatest occupational hazards,” said Scoggin, who counsels many Baptist and other ministers.

Moreover, pastors are often (or perhaps even usually) unwilling to get help:

For pastors, treatment can come at a high price. “You are committing career suicide if you have to seek treatment,” said Stanford, “particularly if you have to take time off.”

If a pastor is afraid for his job, getting help can mean putting the family at risk.  So they simply don’t get help.

It seems to me that a lot of this is because we treat pastors as professionals who are a step above the congregation.  The Biblical model is that all believers are a part of the body and that we all should be equipped to minister – not just THE minister.

So, just a few suggestions:

1.  We should be creating a culture of openness with our pastor.  He should be able to share his struggles without threat of job loss.  As I was leading my small group not too long ago, teaching a passage, someone said “What’s that mean to you?”  I was surprised – no one usually asks me that.  I’m so busy asking other people I never talk about what I’m learning or going through or how God is working on me.  But I need to.  And, just as I expect from the rest of my small group, I need to be open with them.

2.  Be willing to get some counseling for your pastor if he needs it.  Elders and board members, this is something you should more than willing to do for the man God has called to your congregation.

3.  Make sure the pastors family is cared for if the pastor is having depression issues.  It’s not just affecting the pastor, after all.

For the record, I’m not depressed and this is not a cry for help!  But the article struck me as important.  Statistics say that somewhere within my local community are probably 2 or 3 pastors who are depressed.  It’s hard enough to be a pastor without the black clouds of depression hovering around.  Be willing to offer that help.

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  1. November 11, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Good article. As a pastor, and one who has battled depression due to “unrealistic expectations” grace can get lost. Steve Brown deal with this in his book Scandalous Freedom. Enjoyed reading your post.
    I’m new to this blog thing..love Cymbala too.
    Daniel P.

  2. John Lemke
    November 11, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I agree that grace can get lost – and quickly! Depression was touched on in my seminary training, as well as ways that one can get help if needed. I was grateful for that bit of training! I didn’t realize how large a problem it was among pastors.

  3. March 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Wow. Thank you so much for this article. It really reminded me that I wasn’t the only one that struggles with depression. It is a large problem amongst pastors, I think, largely because they don’t have the support web and community that the rest of us have. They are above the crowd, in a world where fewer participate. I think we need to humanize our pastors a little, and realize that they are people just like us, and offer them the same help and support that we would a congregationalist.

    I love your blog! You might like mine too.. Here’s my latest post: http://wp.me/pq3cW-h6 Leave a comment if you stop by!

    God Bless,
    Jordan

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