In light of the recent suicides of many pastors I decided to write this blog to help others understand the personal pain that many pastors have. Depression is common in society and even more so for pastors and those that are care-leaders of any people. Let’s look at what I believe are the top six reasons senior pastors struggle with depression.
1. Their elite status. Being viewed as superior to others often means that no one in your life will ever deal with you for the human being you are. You are forced to ignore or bury your humans for the sake of not appearing less than angelic. This can cause the person or the pastor to feel cut off, isolated, and untouched by those around them. This eventually becomes the cause of bouts with loneliness that can lead to some vice or addiction to numb the pain. Also as an elite, you rarely get to hear your name. Your name is constantly repeated to you shrouded by the title of what you do. Being called anything outside of your name has the potential to bankrupt you of self awareness.
2. Lack of support. The pastoral staff are the only other people in the life of the pastor who are capable (in measure) to understand the pastor’s life, his burden, and his vision. When there is a disconnect between the staff and senior pastor, the pastor will feel abandonment. The final nail in the coffin for many pastors is when members don’t attend on the regular. Support from the congregation is shown by their attendance, giving, and a few other things that I will highlight.
3. Members that leave. Members will leave for several reasons and for many of them it is for reasons such as marriage, death, or a career opportunity. These changes often mean a very painful re-adjustment for the pastor that can be tough to weather especially if they are key leaders or congregants. However it’s the members that leave seemingly without a cause and without notifying the staff (who in turn notifies the pastor & others) that pains a pastor’s heart. How would you feel if a person you have dealt closely with for several hours a week and for many years suddenly disappear without a trace? What if it was several people in your life at one time that disappeared ? Well that’s how it is for a pastor when a member or an entire family leaves without a word?
4. Lack of enthusiasm. Believe it or not, the energetic attentive-interest that comes from the congregants when the pastor is teaching and preaching the Word of God is important to their person. Many pastors would say that they do not care whether there is applause or cheering when they speak because of their commitment to saying what God inspires them to say regardless of response. But no pastor would say that they would rather that the hearers remain quiet. I will guarantee you that! Anyone that stands before an audience to speak, teach, or perform needs to know that the audience is listening, understanding, or enjoying. An audience communicates that these things are taking place or have taken place – by their response. This response transmits an energy that leaves the pastor with feelings of accomplishment and effectiveness which makes their study time, prayer time, and any other preparative processes worth it!
5. Undervalued and under compensated. Many, if not most pastors, are being underpaid for their services and to add insult to injury, their life sacrifice is often going unrecognized. Many pastors of small and medium sized churches still carry out the menial duties of pastoring such as counseling and one on one mentorship – along side of their personal responsibilities of a career and/or personal ministry or business. Most members say they find it hard to come to church once a week or a few times a month due to their jobs but never consider that the pastor in most cases are doing what they are doing in addition to their pastoral duties. For the pastor, normalcy isn’t anywhere to be found. If the pastor is married and has a family, often “their family” includes church staff, or members who are separated from their families that they emotionally and financially support. This can be a financial strain and a sensitive responsibility with severe repercussions if not handled with care. Their life decisions are all made with the church in mind and their financial decisions are largely contingent upon the liberality of the church. Pastors will never (and can never) have “a life” and do their job effectively. No other career is more physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually taxing, consuming and intrusive as being a pastor.
6. Vision vultures. The lack of financial support for the vision from those who benefit from it or have benefited from it, is devastating to pastors. Can you imagine giving your all to something for the benefit of others or to someone for their sole benefit, and on top of being underpaid for it, and in addition to your personal issues and struggles – no one consistently puts their time, energy, effort or money forth to assist? Burn out happens to pastors and even pastoral staff when teamwork isn’t the practice when attempting to reach goals. Instead of vision builders the pews are loaded with vision vultures especially in churches where the education level of the average member is a high school diploma.
Being a pastor has been a career choice for many, but as you can see this people-service shouldn’t be viewed or approached as such. I believe it is a divine calling. It takes supernatural faith and divine empowerment to give of oneself at this level for what very well could be a lifetime. The demand and stress of the job rightfully leads many pastors to self medicate in ways that aren’t ethical or morally correct. I believe unconsciously those many began to look for things to do that can resessitate them from the comatose state that they are in through routine obligation and responsibility. I believe unconsciously they are looking to make their life enjoyable as it is – so they incorporate some event or even someone to “get them through” the paining humdrum instead of finding the deeper excitement through fullfilling their purpose. Instead they find it in “games that numb pain”. Pastors that are numbing their pain with drugs, alcohol, illicit sex with others, money, cars, houses, clothes, and such are unmotivated to face the personal pains they are having as pastors and “choose to soothe and use”. Addicts indeed! They are suffering in secret. Let me say this. I believe pastors must be above the par and well able to lead under these circumstances and weather the pangs of such a career/calling. I believe pastors should be pastors and do their job and be an example to others. I believe that pastors should be motivated to do what they do because of others and IN SPITE of others. And I firmly believe that it is essential for pastors to have strong prayer lives along with proper confidants along side of them – who were picked in wisdom. This blog is in no wise to pity any pastor for their load of duties or responsibilities, but this blog aims to offer insight to those who may not understand why pastors struggle with depression and other things, and so that the reader can understand their job. I have counseled many pastors and have been a pastor myself of several churches since 1997. I know that these perils are very real for many. I also know that having an extreme undying warm heart for others is the one thing that a pastor must have burning inside of themselves every waking minute of their day, if they want to stay true to this call and committed to it for any considerable amount of time. ..and that is what I am thinking…..
Dr. Larry D. Reid, B.Th., MACC, D.Th.
For books, preaching/teaching, or music by Dr. Larry D. Reid Ministries please visit http://www.drlarrydreid.com
Pastor Commits Suicide – Isaac hunter http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2013/December/Florida-Megachurch-Pastor-Ends-His-Life/ Pastor Commits Suicide – Teddy Parker http://www.christiantoday.com/article/pastor.teddy.parker.commits.suicide.congregation.waits.for.him.after.confessing.sometimes.he.cant.feel.god/34672.htm Pastor Commits Suicide – Ed Montgomery http://guardianlv.com/2013/12/grieving-pastor-commits-suicide-mom-and-son-watch/ Pastor Commits Suicide – Allen “Tommy” Rucker http://m.christianpost.com/news/godly-iowa-pastor-who-read-bible-constantly-takes-own-life-behind-church-parsonage-church-in-shock-says-deacon–114548/ Pastor Commits Suicide – Robert McKeehan http://www.joy105.com/prayer-another-pastor-has-committed-suicide/ Pastor Commits Suicide – Bishop David Huskins http://www.charismanews.com/us/45175-charismatic-church-network-leader-dies-in-apparent-suicide Pastor Commits Suicide – John Gibson