As I have become more experienced in pastoral ministry, I have developed theories pertaining to many different areas of the vocation. I have ideas about what motivates volunteers, how people best learn about God, what type of leaders are most compelling and many other things that relate. Like any other career or calling, there are still subjects that perplex me. These are things that I am not sure I can fully explain. I have found myself simply having to embrace my lack of understanding and trusting God for guidance.
We have all seen the news in recent months regarding pastors who have succumb to their depression. After these types of instances, rhetoric flies and everyone seems to have an opinion about the spiritual state of the individual, their eternal destiny, and what could have possibly prevented the horrible outcomes. By “horrible outcomes”, I am referring to everything from common (perhaps wrong word to use here) moral failure to taking their own life. Today, I am not writing this to even remotely attempt to dive into the subject listed above from a clinical perspective, but to simply propose some ideas as to why a pastor would begin to develop (circumstantially) a bitter or deeply discouraged attitude.
Disclaimer: I completely understand that all professions have difficult circumstances and stresses…but I can’t speak to those instances. This blog, also, will not pertain to every single pastor…and that’s okay. I can’t speak for everyone. I am not speaking about the chemical imbalance (chronic illness) of depression, but that which is caused by a constant emotional erosion.
Below are 5 Possible Reasons Why Pastors Are Depressed.
Lack of Friendships
No matter how friendly a congregation is, there seems to always be this “elephant in the room” concerning deep meaningful relationships. Many congregants have the idea in the back of their minds that pastors are temporary hired workers who do not need friendships to survive. They may not want to pursue relationships because of the belief that they are not going to be a part of the worship community long term. Pastors need friends…and, to be honest, pastor’s spouses are even more deeply affected in this way.
“We Need To Talk”
Pastors dread this email or text. When a church leader receives this, we already know what is coming. His means that the person who wants to set up a meeting is upset about the way things are going, or they are planning to leave the church. We completely understand that there are things to be changed, or that people are called to other churches, and that is largely okay, but there are not many times when a pastor is called to a meeting to simply exchange encouragement and support. It is normally all about business. Granted, sometimes it is necessary.
“Just Trust God For Your Provision”
I completely agree with this statement, and I think every Christian should maintain this belief. This phrase often emerges when a pastor’s compensation becomes a topic of conversation. The implication is, a pastor should not concern themselves with financial well-being because they have a higher calling that requires them to be willing to be sustained on faith day by day (which is true). For some reason, though, this seems to be an unwelcome conversation when the pastor is not the topic of discussion. For instance, if I were to say this phrase to someone with a Masters in Information Technology or a school teacher between jobs, I would be met with severe push back, and accused on insensitivity. Should pastors be “in it” for the money? Absolutely not. All I am saying is…don’t say this phrase to your pastor if you are not living it. Side note…pastors are often the poorest people in the congregations, and simultaneously the largest givers. I’m not trying to sound arrogant. I am just being an advocate. And by the way…why is money such a sensitive subject for people? I digress…
The “Performance” Mentality
Pastors are not sales people. When they are called to ministry, there is no guarantee for a “return on investment”in a worldly sense. When God calls, the pastors obeys (at least I would hope so) and there is plenty of Biblical evidence showing that God often calls people into areas of service which may never yield an exciting result. Many churches use sales metrics to rate and measure the pastor’s performance, and sometimes they are even let go if they are not producing. Behind the scenes, this is a great burden for a minister who is simply called to care for, and challenge a flock they have been called to. Besides…the pastor should be training people to invite, evangelize, and to be a part of the mobilized force to help disciple. You can lead a horse to water, but… (you fill in the rest).
Pastors Are Not Allowed to Complain
I know this seems like an odd point, but hear me out. In every other area of life or profession, there is healthy room for venting or decompression. Often times, when a minister or church leader is struggling and needs to express what is on their heart for the purpose of catharsis, they are met with immense push back because God called them so they “shouldn’t be complaining and be so ungrateful”. The fact is I am fully aware I am going to get a lot of flak for this post, but I feel like these things needed to be said for this very purpose. Pastors are afraid to say these things because of this exact brand of backlash. We also don’t want to harbor a victim mentality. Overall, this concept is very much connected to the friendship idea due to the fact that there are few people to be able to unload these concerns on.
I am not a mental health professional, so there is only so much I can say about root causes pertaining to deep discouragement in this way. I happen to be blessed with an uplifting and supportive community but these are things that I have heard from pastor friends and those I have coached that do not share my blessed privileges.
Pray for your pastor. They love you very much.
I love you too.