Occasionally I hear of pastors suffering from depression, and my heart goes out to them. Anyone who has served any time in the pastoral ministry knows the unique stress it brings and the vulnerability to mental strain and burnout. I commend the pastor who has even begun a blog devoted to his experiences with depression and mental disability. You can check it out here.
Both of my parents suffered from depression before they died. My father, who was a 23 year vet of the Army probably had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they weren't that far along in this area when he retired in '63. My mother suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and depression to the end of her life, and it was the anti-anxiety meds that finally tipped the balance of her health and sent her spiriling into dementia. A look at their lives certainly reveals why they suffered as they did. The stress of combat, alcoholism, the pain of loss, the list goes on.
Pastors are not immune to the pressures of life, and one might contend that they are especially vulnerable. The expectations placed upon them are often huge. Not every pastor possesses an equal amount of gifts or abilities, and yet it is assumed that they will be as good in the pulpit as in the classroom as in the office.
In doing a little cyber-research, I discovered an article from 2001 from the Religious News Sevice entitled "Ill-behaving members leave to clergy burnout." (Hilary Wicai) She reviews a study done by the Klaases of Mission Growth Ministries, which was commissioned by the LCMS. "The fundamental finding is that people beating on each other is the main issue," Klaas said. How true. After 19+ years in the ministry I have seen all too much of this. And, yes, I have suffered along with my family. The tough part is not to take it personally, to turn it inside yourself.
There are other issues to be sure, but it was interesting to discover that this study put this issue at the forefront of clergy burnout.
Another article from Christian Century, entitled "Exit Interview: Why Pastors Leave" by David Wood, is also a good read in this area. He reviews a book by Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger entitled "Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry." Another aspect of clergy burnout noted was a sense of lonliness. Pastors, by the nature of their vocation must often work in issolation from their peers. As a circuit counselor I appreciate even more the colegiality of the fellowship of pastors. Cyberspace has spauned a whole world of list-serves and blogs which apparently are trying in their own way to fill this void. We need support from those who understand us. Pastors should be especially leary of allowing themselves to become isolated.
If pastors find themselves suffering from depression and lethargy in the ministry, where they no longer have the will and spirit to serve as they once did, they should find help and assistance from others. Do not suffer alone! Changes can be made. You are not trapped.
There are many reasons that eventually crush the spirit of the pastor. We walk by faith, not by sight, and ours is, yes, a lonely road, but not one without the strength and hope of Christ. I do not have all the answers to this issue, and find myself exploring it, in part, for my own personal and professional reflection.
On additional resource, however, comes from the saited Dr. Robert Preus, former president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne. This should be at the top of the list of 'must reads' for those exploring this further. The title of the CTQ article is: “Clergy Mental Health and the Doctrine of Justification," and can be found at the seminary's site here.