Recently I read a blog post on ministers and suicide. I know of some guys, who were in ministry who have taken their own lives and I know some who have talked about it. Christian leaders and depression is not an academic issue for me and I wanted to address the issue in three blog posts.
- Is there a difference between church leaders and others in church (and so is there a difference when it comes to depression)?
- What sorts of things cause depression in church leaders?
- What’s the solution.
The point here is I won’t get to the solution until the last blog post so don’t be in a hurry to shoot me down until then.
Is there a difference between church leaders and other Christians?
Theologically: the Difference
As such, church leaders and teachers are to be judged more harshly. As James tells us “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1 HCSB) teachers will be judged more harshly. Is a teacher judged by people or by God? The answer is ‘yes’. I think James has in mind that God will judge, but the reality is that people judge as well. “His sermon wasn’t really that good this week was it?”.
They are different and are meant to be different. But the differences, practically speaking in our current culture are also important to note.
Practically: the Difference
Because Christian leaders are held to a different set of standards, their experience will be different in the culture of church. Some of these could be argued are unfair, but I am not writing here about fair, I am writing about what the reality is.
Clergy have different relationships with with people. We have friendships but not friends with people in church. We are close to people and yet ‘professional’. Unlike anyone else in the church, staff have a code of conduct in how they interact with others, where an infringement could cost them their job. The relationship is is different because there are going to be times when we need to have a conversation with someone that is going to be hard and rebuking. It is sometimes hard to have the conversation with a friend. Often I am asked to speak to someone about X, when I ask why the person who raised it with me cannot speak to them the answer is “but you are the minister…”. Because we are leaders we aren’t the same as others.
This does not mean the relationships are any less deep, in fact quite the opposite. When people leave the church it cuts deep. I think when someone leaves church, most people are hurt a little but will go on and understand the decision. For clergy it is someone we have come to care about and love. And it effects us deeply and personally. It is a possible reminder of our inability to do ministry. As much as we don’t want to admit it, losing people, if it becomes a trend will mean losing a job.
The church is not just where we serve and love people, it is our whole life. It is often where we live, what we do for a job, it is escapable. We can’t just visit another church when we want a break. If clergy do want to leave a church and go to another it will mean a change of house, job, relationships, everything.
All this being said, I love being a professional in ministry. I get to study the Bible more than most people and I love that. I get to preach and teach the Bible, people confide in me in a way that they wouldn’t to other people. All this is a great privilege. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love God, his cause, and what I do in that order.
All this is basically saying that clergy and lay people are not treated the same and should not be treated the same. Hence we should expect that there are going to be some factors unique to Christian leaders.
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.