In the previous post, I started to look at the issue of depression and Christian leadership. I looked at whether Christian leaders were really the same as other believers in church.
In this post I want to look at some of the distinct reasons why Christian leaders might suffer from depression. This is a summary, updated with my thoughts from Charles Spurgeon. His chapter from Lectures to My Students entitled, oddly, ‘The Ministers Fainting Fits’ is still, I think, one of the best reflections on the topic of the distinct sources of depression clergy can face. Again, as I reminded you in the previous post when I say ‘clergy’ think all people in professional ministry and their spouses, especially wives.
- We are human. We, and lay people, can forget this. We grieve, we get burnt out, we sin, we grieve that sin. There is a myth that all things emotional just bounce off the chest of the super-Christian, the church leader. But it does affect us and forgetting this, putting it to one side, and getting on with things can build up and build up to a point of unavoidable crisis. We are indeed clay vessels that can be easily broken.
- The work is beyond us. What we do in ministry, the feeding of the saints, the building of the church, the bring of new life to unbelievers is work that is beyond us. It is supernatural. Losing sight of this can be crushing. What is harder is that successes can not be attributed to ourselves. The day to day grind can grind us down.
- The position is lonely. By virtue of the appointment of leaders, there is a form of a hierarchy in the Christian community. The higher you are in that hierarchy the lonelier it can be. As I mentioned in the previous post, leaders can have friendship, but not friends. They are not equal to people they are leading, there is dynamic to the relationship that is not the same and hence leadership can lonely, more lonely the higher you are.
- Ministers tend not to look after themselves. This was something I have been told again and again. But hearing it from Spurgeon it had some extra weight. He in turn quotes Burton from the Anatomy of Melancholy:”Students are negligent of their bodies. Other men look to their tools; a painter will wash his pencils; a smith will look to his hammer, anvil and forge; a husbandman will mend is plough-irons, and grind hatchet if it be dull; a falconer or huntsman will have special care of his hawks, hounds, horses, dogs, etc. a musician will string and unstring his lute; only scholars [including clergy] neglect that instrument (their brains and spirits I mean) which they daily use. Well saith Lucan, ‘See thou twist not the rope so hard it will break'”. In an effort to put others first, we may lose sight of the long race and not be able to finish because we have not looked after ourselves.
- Spiritual attack can come, especially before a great achievement. This, of course, is why the devil only approaches Jesus in his earthly ministry before it starts publicly and before the cross. It is the same with us, when a big event, or achievement might come then it is when we feel the worse and that is not a co-incidence, it is part of the war. It may be big or it may be that doubts and feeling low just before you head out to do some evangelism. It is the last thing the devil wants you to do.
- One crushing stroke can bring a minister down low. Again this is something I have experienced and seen others experience, yet Spurgeon’s words seem to add some extra weight to the experience. Bringing ourselves close to another opens ourselves up to exposing our weaknesses. I would like to say that this means we never get hurt, but it is the ones that are closest to us that hurt us the most. We expect opposition from those outside the church, but from those at our side, opposition is most painful. (I should point out the inverse is also true: people who are hurt by clergy are most hurt, but this is not the point of the post).
- We don’t have control when people make dumb decisions that effect us. This is not one of the things that Spurgeon mentions but it is a topic of countless conversations that I have had. One of our key volunteers come to us and announces “from next week I will heading off to a round the world trip for 3 months” or “I won’t be coming to church for the next 6 months because my child has sport on Sundays”. While we are trying to be supportive, a series of questions fall into our heads: Why? How will you grow as a disciple of Jesus during this time? Why not give us some warning here? What example does this set to others who look up to you? Who will take the place of the ministries, formal and informal, that you have?”. This kind of announcement, I have found, is usually left to the last minute. When I have enquired as why, the answer has been “because I didn’t want you to talk me out of it” which makes me wonder if the person knew it was not a good decision and they knew it would hurt us.
- Sometimes it just happens with no reason. Sometimes none of the reasons above are true and church leaders or their wives just get worn down over time, or there is no reason.
Again I want to remind both lay and clergy, there are lots of good reasons why people do professional ministry and there are lots of joys to the job as well. For the sake of these posts I am only focusing on the negative and actually that is one of the keys to dealing with depression in ministry…
Next: Are there particular stressors that lead to depression in clergy….
If you would like to know more thoughts on depression and the Christian you read this article or head to our website where we have some talks on the issue. If you think you might have depression, or more importantly, people around you are worried see your local G.P. or head to Beyond Blue.