After pastoring in a fog of clinical depression, I came very close to walking away from my church and the ministry ten years ago. I had been pastoring for 22 years at the time, and was burned out and fed up—mostly with myself. Thanks to the help of my doctor and therapist, I would learn later what role mental illness had in my decision-making.
When the well known and beloved 30 year old pastor Jarrid Wilson took his life Monday evening, shockwaves could be felt throughout the kingdom. As an advocate for mental health, his voice was one of hope for those who struggle with depression.
There is still hope for you.
A 2017 Barna study found that 22% of pastors is at risk for depression or burnout. I’ve found that ministry leaders in particular are not sure what to do when they suspect something is wrong with their minds, so here are a few suggestions based on my journey, as well as others I have helped.
Seek Professional Help
Self-diagnosis is usually a waste of time. My first conversation was with my medical doctor, then a licensed Christian therapist. It was a humbling, but rewarding experience for me.
Focus on the Family provides a free, confidential Pastor Care Line: 844- 727-8671, as well as a referral network is findchristiancounselor.com. Whatever you do, please resist the temptation to self-diagnose, especially if you are having suicidal thoughts. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great number to keep in your phone: 800-273-8255.
Let Your Church Minister to You
The stigma of depression, or any weakness, tempts us away from seeking help from those who love us most. I meet monthly with an accountability partner/friend, monthly with a therapist and quarterly with a small group of supportive deacons.
Along with my wife, this was my “Dance Team.”
Trust the Lord for Healing
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. Luke 22:31
Satan has a plan for your life, but so does God! Although I don’t believe it was God’s will for Peter to fail, He obviously knew about and allowed Peter to go through the sifting and refining process so that he could grow in both strength and humility. He would need both later. We know in retrospect that God had big plans for Peter, but we also know that God has plans for our ministries too.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
Jesus is still praying for our good and His glory. Praying that our faith would not fail, even when we do.
Help Someone Else off the Cliff
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:32
A handful of trusted pastors and deacons talked me off of that scary cliff ten years ago, and I will always be grateful to them. Stepping away from ministry and the church I loved and needed was neither in the best interest of my church, my family or myself.
Self-care is strategic, not self-centered. Get and stay mentally healthy for the sake of your family, your ministry, and yourself.