Every human is susceptible to depression. Preachers perhaps more than most as we often live in isolation among many people, have jobs with incredibly high expectations but with little authority to determine direction, often live on low pay, our employment is pretty much week to week with knowledge I can be canned at any moment and often for things that are so far outside of my ability to control, and we work in a field where it is nearly impossible to humanly gauge success…it’s not numbers, it is numbers. Don’t ever be fooled we do not do what we do for numbers - either the number in the pew or the number on the pay-stub. But just let the numbers suffer and it won’t be long till you’ll be looking for another pulpit or youth group. There’s the work load, the reality that this life is full court press. Everything we do has eternal consequences! And the unrelenting occurrence of Sundays…they keep coming I’ve noticed, every 7 days. And like it or not that fact colors every aspect of the minister’s life - all the way down to his partaking of the Lord’s Supper each week. Add to this mix the sad fact that the longer you do your job the more you will be taken for granted. Toss in the simple fact that there will always be someone upset with you - your sermon was to strong or not strong enough, they thought you got too personal and were talking about them, they don’t think you are emotional enough, they think your sermons are to long, they want you to study more or visit more, they wish you were more like the previous preacher, they don’t like the color of your tie or the length of your hair - take your pick of these or a billion or so other “legitimate reasons” to not like the man who stands before them each week.
Let’s not forget another reason for our depression - our personal guilt for own shortcomings. Simply put we are not all we wish to be and know it. We wish we were better students, soul-winners, stewards, spouses and speakers. We begin to believe someone else could fill that pulpit more effectively. If you think the brethren are hard on us - they aren’t nearly as hard on us as we are on ourselves. There’s even guilt that comes from being depressed - we don't think we have the right to be depressed (we’d do well to read 1 Kings 19:4; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; and ESPECIALLY Mark 14:34).
Some will even believe this post is inappropriate, that we should NEVER be depressed or that I am focusing too much on the "vessel." But I assure you preacher depression is very common among us.
I once taught that all depression can be cured by a deeper spirituality and more trust. I still believe that we all do better as we continue to grow and properly trust. But before one gets too worked up I would add that when we have extended or contextual depression we would do well to check with the doc and be aware that some of these challenges may be the simple result of chemical or biological imbalances.
Enough diagnosis - what do we do about it? Lest this “post” become a book I’ll only mention a sentence or two on each of these. You can’t do them all but surely in this list of 16 you’ll find some solace:
1. Give yourself some sort of “sabbatical.” Not enough churches give a real one but in lieu of a true one at least take a Monday-Tuesday and disappear to revive on return.
2. Pray - believe what you believe! It is amazing that those of us who “preach prayer” struggle to be consistent in our own personal (not intercessory prayer about the sick and hurting) “talks” with our Lord.
3. Accept God’s Grace: You are not perfect in the flesh. Try to at least be as forgiving of your own weaknesses as you are of others.
4. Surround yourself with some positive people who love preachers: Just as true as evil companions corrupt good morals - negative people will corrupt your mental heart.
5. Have a Paul, a Timothy and a Barnabas: These, as my brother has taught, are other preachers: Older who have been there and can assure you it will be OK. Your age who can speak truth into your life as a fellow struggler. And younger who will inspire you and your hope for the future.
6. Laugh at YOU - or just laugh!
7. Think how you’d tell another guy to deal with that guy: We ALL have “that guy” in our congregation. He (and he may be a she) rains on every parade, quenches every fire and poisons every positive moment. He believes it’s his job to keep you humble/faithful/straight - but in reality he just keeps you miserable and if he gets inside your head you might as well call the moving company or at least bookmark The Scoop Blog.
8. Limit access: God is the only one really available 24/7. Yes, you need to be there for folks but you also need some moments with the door closed communing with God, or some time to recreate as you “visit the Greens.” And if you children check the “desire a visit from the minister” box on the churches attendance card you might need to do just that!
9. Rest, exercise: Sleep is hard for me - but you won’t find a doc who says you don’t need 8-10 good hours. And, you’ll be amazed at the energy you will get from regular exercise. It will refresh you, energize you and clear your cluttered mind.
10. Find your “gift” and live it! Every good thing in your life is from God. Stop trying to be and do what you are not - find what you do well and do it “weller!”
11. Accept a little depression. To paraphrase the text “in this world you will have depression.” On this globe NO human is always UP. Those difficult days help us relate, help us understand, help us minister.
12. Don’t over medicate but don’t ignore chemical imbalances. As I indicated above: In my youth I said some things I seriously regret…”No Christian should ever need antidepressants."
13. Don’t believe your own press clippings! You are neither that good or that bad. Stop buying the bad stock some are selling on you. Learn to use some of that selective hearing you use on your wife on those folks.
14. Own your beliefs. Don't live your spiritual life trying to live up to a standard other than God’s standard. Don’t judge your beliefs by those of Guy N. or Gus but of God.
15. Learn to celebrate the successes of others: They got the offer, the speaking slot, they get to preach for the growing congregation, got good elders. Odd text…we know that Job was a good man, upright, perfect (mature)…we know he responded correctly to discipline (in all of this Job sinned not)…Job 42:10…but we also know God re-blessed Job when he prayed for his friends.
16. Seek peace - “For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer…’” (1 Peter 3:10-12).
Bless you brother. Let me know if I can help or if you just need a listening friend.