Depression was once a topic reserved for “other people.” It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?

Ministers often feel shame and failure when they go through bouts of depression. And their reticence to tell anyone about their plights has exacerbated the problem.

But today more and more ministers are willing to talk about this issue. Recent articles in Christian Post, the New York Times, and Paul Tripp’s Gospel Coalition blog address the problem candidly and proactively.

A Growing Problem

The articles note that the problem of depression in the ministry is not only real, but that it is growing. Further, the rate of depression among ministers is now higher than the rate of the general population.

What are the causes of the depression? More importantly, what can be done to help ministers who are walking through this valley?

The Possible Causes

My list of possible causes is not exhaustive. It is based on the research of others as well as my own anecdotal conversations with pastors and other Christian leaders who experience depression.

· Spiritual warfare. The Enemy does not want God’s servants to be effective in ministry. He will do whatever it takes to hurt ministers and their ministries.

· Unrealistic expectations. The expectations and demands upon a pastor are enormous. They are unrealistic. But if one person’s expectations are not met, that person can quickly let the pastor know that he is a failure.

· Greater platforms for critics. In “the good old days,” a critic was typically limited to telephone, mail, and in-person meetings to criticize a minister. Today the critics have the visible and pervasive platforms of email, blogs, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

· Failure to take time away from the church or place of ministry. Workaholism leads to burnout. Burnout leads to depression.

· Marriage and family problems. Too often the pastor neglects his family as he cares for the larger church family.

· Financial strains. Many pastors simply do not have sufficient income from the churches they serve. That financial stress can lead to depression. Some pastors do not know how to manage they money they do have, leading to further financial strain.

· The problem of comparison. Every pastor will always know of a church that is larger and more effective. Every pastor will always know of another pastor who seems more successful. The comparison game can be debilitating to some pastors.

Seeking to Help and Offer Solutions

Pastors need our prayers and support. I challenge you church members to organize intercessory prayer warriors for your pastors. Get each person to commit to praying for him five minutes every day. Fight the battles of spiritual warfare with prayer.

Likewise, make sure your pastor has sufficient time for his own prayer life. As he spends more time with God, he will be able to deal with the demands of ministry more effectively. He will handle the barbs of the critics better. He will not be prone to compare his ministry with others. His hope and identity will be more dependent on his relationship with Christ.

Make certain your pastor takes time off every year. Vacations must be mandatory. He likewise needs to take at least one day off each week. Look for signs that he is not giving sufficient time to his family, and help him to find the time to do so. His wife and children cannot be neglected.

Find out if your pastor is compensated adequately. If not, work quietly and prayerfully with key leaders in the church to rectify that problem.

Thank God for pastors. Thank God for their lives, their families, and their ministries. May we who sit under their ministries and serve in their churches do all we can to keep them focused and healthy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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Comments

  1. Don says

    I am a pastor. I am fighting depression. Today I was considering giving up, quitting the church, and seeking a secular job. I thought my depression was an indicator that I did not measure up in ministry. Your article has shown me that I am not alone, that maybe I’m not as inadequate as I think. I don’t know if I’ll make it as a pastor, but I do have some hope now. Please pray for me. I can tell you have a big heart for pastors. I really need help and prayers now.

  2. Michael edwards says

    Don,
    Been there done that. I’m also a pastor. I also deal daily with a tendency to of clinical depression. Fortunately, im on the otherside of a two yr battle. Hit me up and we can chat. Medwards800@gmail.com

  3. Darrick says

    I believe depression among ministers springs primarily from our people’s, denomination’s and our own lust for statistical ‘success.’ We have been indoctrinated from every source that without a certain number (worship attendance, baptisms, offering, etc.) God is not fully happy with our labor. We have believe the lie that success is measured by something more than obedience. Depression has crept in, because we blame ourselves for things outside of our control. Legalism has brought discontent.

  4. says

    It is so important to pray for our pastors. I’m the Prayer Coordinator for my local Southern Baptist association of churches, and of the two main areas we focus on in our prayer ministry, one is praying for all the pastors in our association.
    We have a little prayer program we do called the “Pump Up Your Pastor Prayer Program” (more info here: http://www.bagbrprayer.blogspot.com/2009/06/pump-up-your-pastor-prayer-program.html). It’s simple, free, and doesn’t take much time, but the reward of an encouraged pastor is priceless. I would urge all churches to try this or something like it. Our pastors have found it very encouraging.

  5. rev dr bobby says

    Some pastors are women. It’s 2011. I find your continued reference to pastors as” he” saddening.

  6. Thom Rainer says

    Don, Michael,Janice, Scott, Darrick, Michelle, and Anonymous –
    Thank you so much for your helpful words. Many have already read them and profited by them.
    Bobby –
    I did not mean to offend anyone. I do recognize that there are women pastors. I, however, am a complementarian and, thus, write from that theological perspective.

  7. Pam Field says

    Hi, I am a Christian counselor, who has a part-time private practice. I’m very thankful for the insights you have shared regarding depression. I think another area that might be helpful to address is that of anti-depressants….Sometimes a chemical imbalance is a culprit of depression persisting….It’s a physiological problem that needs treatment. I certainly believe in prayer, and the power of God’s Word, but God also provides other avenues to help our depression…..Christian counseling, along with antidepressants, can provide the relief and hope many people (pastors included), desperately are seeking.

  8. says

    Thom…thanks for a well thought through article…as usual. Your list of 7 possible causes for pastoral depression provides a good check-list to help a leader pin-point one or more key problem areas in defining the root issues. John Vaughan, Church Growth Today

  9. Tracy says

    I believe I’ve experienced all seven of these just this past week… Lol (sort of). I am amazed that I have survived as long as I have. But I know God is faithful and I continue to work at walking as close to the Lord as possible. Then I can simply say, “I’m ok.”

  10. Jeff says

    I struggle with comparison. I don’t understand why God seems to “bless” some churches and not others. My wife refers to this as the “have’s” and “have not’s.” I’m currently serving in a bi-vocational church of less than 50 people. A few months ago, I made a decision based upon a biblical principle. Our church lost six (6) families because of the decision. That’s nothing to get excited about when you feel like you take a stand on God’s word. Like Don, I also feel like quitting, but I don’t want to be known as a quitter. Besides, my part-time secular job couldn’t financially sustain my family.

  11. says

    Good article, but I wonder if you should perhaps differentiate between depression which is a medical condition, (treatable by anti-depressants and talk therapy) and discouragement. I think your article deals more with the latter, and the conditions that lead to discouragement among pastors.
    I have battled both, and have found healing for my medical condition through anti-depressants. Discouragement is very difficult to deal with and requires a small group of people with whom you can be authentic with.

  12. Josephine Durana says

    thank you for your article . it really helps us to move on for we know that there are people like you who keeps on praying for the ministers and understand what we are going through.

  13. says

    I battle clinical depression. I have now come to accept it as a real medical condition needing daily medication. The journey to accepting this actually aggravated by depression both as a pastor and as a man. I had to swallow my man pride to finally admit “I fight depression.” I am also a fire fighter which means I have the pressure of always being tough and able to handle whatever comes my way. However, through the right RX, talk therapy, daily exercise, and common sense healthy living – it is now under control and I am loving life like never before.
    My depression has a tendency to raise its ugly head at the beginning of the summer. Probably due to the realization that summer ministry is a major struggle as people are gone, vacationing, etc.
    I am just coming off a relapse where I needed to have my RX adjusted. I am told this will probably happen again.
    With each relapse, God teaches me a new lesson. This time, God reminded me that my body is His temple and so the depression is His to take care of. And He uses doctors and RX to be a major part of taking care. One lesson He continually drills into me is patience. Patience to wait for the RX to take full effect.
    Thanks for your article Tom. If anyone reading this wants to talk to someone who has been there done that and will probably be there again – I am open to listening and sharing.

  14. says

    Good Morning,
    And I would like to say it is important to have an Intercessory prayer team, but also it is good to have other Clergy who understands the struggle as a young new Pastor, as well as a seasoned Pastor. One thing I have noticed is that we need to find the strenght in others to help us through the troubling times. This is one thing we don’t share enough of. I have quit in my Spirit several times, but their is a stronger power that calls me back. I am glad to know that God is helping us to really tackle this issue we have as Pastors. Yes it is a Spiritual Battle, but we are to keep one another uplifted, amd know if we are going through it there are other fellow brothers and sisters of the Clergy experiencing the same thing. You all are in our prayers. Pastor T.J. Pickett ( The BOLD Church)

  15. Lee Anderson says

    Extreme Makeover: The Interior
    by Lee Anderson on July 7, 2006 in Profiles
    In Adventuring through the Bible, the late Ray Stedman (CTh, 1950), told about Rex Stout, a famous mystery writer who also considered himself an architect/builder. In the 1930s Stout designed and built a fourteen-room house in Connecticut. Then he invited Frank Lloyd Wright to come give his opinion.
    On his arrival Wright examined Stout’s work with a practiced eye. Stout held his breath, hoping to hear a word of praise from the master architect. Wright remained silent for a long time, but finally he spoke. “Beautiful spot, Rex,” he said. “Someone should tear this thing down and build a house here.”
    Whether or not Stout took Wright’s advice, I don’t know. What I do know is that last summer, I began to believe God had decided to tear down the “house” of my life that I’d so carefully crafted.
    It all started about thirty years ago. My wife Laurie and I came to Dallas to fulfill a dream. I came to prepare myself for ministry where so many others had prepared—people who’d had an impact on my life not because they knew so much about the Bible, but because they knew the Bible itself and communicated it clearly and with confidence.
    In the spring of my second year of study, however, I experienced a complete mental breakdown, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. I had to leave my studies, and my wife had to leave her duties as president of Wives Fellowship that semester. We moved to Connecticut, where my parents lived, and I began five weeks of medical treatment and several months of recovery.
    After my release I returned to DTS, where Frank Minirth, MD (MA[BS], 1983), a Christian psychiatrist who was serving on the DTS faculty at the time, confirmed my diagnosis: I had what is believed to be a genetically influenced condition called bipolar affective disorder. It manifested itself in destructive symptoms exacerbated by the stress of graduate-level studies. Dr. Minirth encouraged me to continue preparing for the ministry, with the aid of medicine.
    After graduating with a ThM in 1976, I set out with Laurie to serve the Lord. We spent thirty years in ministry, twenty of them in Texas. At times during those years I would soar at the privilege of preaching God’s inspired Word. At others I felt like I couldn’t make it to the end of a message. Though I counseled others struggling in deep emotional waters, I struggled to keep from drowning myself.
    Laurie and I endured the opposition of some stiff-necked church leaders, yet we learned to love the ministry and the diversity of the Lord’s people. Both Laurie and I loved what the Puritans used to call the “enthusiasms” of the ministry.
    Then last year, after ten years of fruitful ministry in New Jersey, I had a stroke. This was compounded by a severe toxic reaction to medications. This left me with a Social Security classification of “totally disabled.” My daughter and son-in-law had moved to New Jersey from San Diego just in time to help Laurie with the demands of my care. My daughter, Elizabeth, had to shave me and she and Laurie had to feed me. Severe tremors prevented me from keeping food on my utensils. My son flew in from Houston and stayed for a while to comfort me and to help Laurie move much of the parsonage furniture to the first floor. Elizabeth and Laurie felt they might have to put me in a nursing home because of their physical and emotional inability to care for me any longer.
    When my symptoms became most visible to my congregation, one of our leaders spontaneously called forward all the men at the end of a worship service. He then asked them to lay hands on me and pray boldly (yet with reverent humility) for God’s healing.
    The Lord was gracious.
    After a stay in a local hospital, rehabilitation, medicine, and the ministrations of kind physicians, my brain adapted to the injury it had sustained. The tremors disappeared, and I was able to speak and walk normally (although with some weakness).
    Because the toxic reaction damaged my kidneys and affected my overall ability to lead a local church, I resigned. Laurie and I moved in with my eighty-nine-year-old father, for whom we cook and care, living in his mortgage-free home.
    I confess that I have, at times, felt bewilderment because of the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges I now face. No amount of planning could have prepared us for them. I had given my life to bring people to greater maturity in Jesus Christ, counseled people in great pain, and endured battering and bruising opposition from obstinate church leaders, only to find myself in this condition. Is this what I get for enduring a life that conquers seemingly insuperable hurdles? Where was the warm vision that Robert Browning expressed in his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be—the last of life for which the first was made?”
    The prophet Habakkuk found himself in a similar predicament. Facing what appeared to be the “tearing down” of his own “house,” he cried out to God.
    “Though the fig tree may not blossom, 
Nor fruit be on the vines; 
Though the labor of the olive may fail, 
And the fields yield no food; 
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, 
And there be no herd in the stalls— 
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, 
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
The LORD God is my strength; 
He will make my feet like deer’s feet, 
And He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab. 3:17–19, NKJV).
    Habakkuk dealt with his personal terrors by capturing a renewed glimpse of his God. 
“If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he never would have made [his] great confession of faith,” observes Warren Wiersbe. “If Habakkuk looked ahead, he saw a nation headed for destruction, and that frightened him. When he looked within, he saw himself trembling with fear, and when he looked around, he saw everything in the economy about to fall apart. But when he looked up by faith, he saw God, and all his fears vanished. To walk by faith means to focus on the greatness and glory of God.”
    More and more I am making this perspective my own, even as I am making gradual progress in physical therapy. I hang on to the truth that my wife has repeated to herself and to me throughout our ordeal, “God is in control.” There are no accidents, only incidents, in the perfect outworking of God’s will. The King of the universe is too good to be unkind, too wise to make mistakes, and too deep to explain Himself. As the great British expositor G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Our joy is in proportion to our trust. Our trust is in proportion to our knowledge of God.”
    Since moving to Connecticut, Laurie and I have settled into several comforting rhythms. One is to watch Extreme Makeover—Home Edition. Seldom do we make it through the program without crying for joy at what is accomplished to change a family’s life. At the beginning of every program there is the demolition of an old home to make way for one that is “made new.” That seems a fitting metaphor for our lives. And as the dust settles after our own “demolition,” we look up with expectancy to discover what God is going to do next.
    Lee Anderson (ThM, 1976) and his wife, Laurie, now attend Greenwoods Community Church in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts, where Ed Eastman Jr. (ThM, 1979) is pastor.

  16. Lee Anderson says

    I was a Pastor for 35+ years and suffered from clinical depression as complications from bi-polar affective disorder. I highly recommend the practical (and personally helpful) resources available through Frank Minirth MD. He was my personal psychiatrist during the ordeal mentioned in the article below. I own the first North American rights to the article.

    Extreme Makeover: The Interior
    by Lee Anderson on July 7, 2006 in Profiles
    In Adventuring through the Bible, the late Ray Stedman (CTh, 1950), told about Rex Stout, a famous mystery writer who also considered himself an architect/builder. In the 1930s Stout designed and built a fourteen-room house in Connecticut. Then he invited Frank Lloyd Wright to come give his opinion.
    On his arrival Wright examined Stout’s work with a practiced eye. Stout held his breath, hoping to hear a word of praise from the master architect. Wright remained silent for a long time, but finally he spoke. “Beautiful spot, Rex,” he said. “Someone should tear this thing down and build a house here.”
    Whether or not Stout took Wright’s advice, I don’t know. What I do know is that last summer, I began to believe God had decided to tear down the “house” of my life that I’d so carefully crafted.
    It all started about thirty years ago. My wife Laurie and I came to Dallas to fulfill a dream. I came to prepare myself for ministry where so many others had prepared—people who’d had an impact on my life not because they knew so much about the Bible, but because they knew the Bible itself and communicated it clearly and with confidence.
    In the spring of my second year of study, however, I experienced a complete mental breakdown, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. I had to leave my studies, and my wife had to leave her duties as president of Wives Fellowship that semester. We moved to Connecticut, where my parents lived, and I began five weeks of medical treatment and several months of recovery.
    After my release I returned to DTS, where Frank Minirth, MD (MA[BS], 1983), a Christian psychiatrist who was serving on the DTS faculty at the time, confirmed my diagnosis: I had what is believed to be a genetically influenced condition called bipolar affective disorder. It manifested itself in destructive symptoms exacerbated by the stress of graduate-level studies. Dr. Minirth encouraged me to continue preparing for the ministry, with the aid of medicine.
    After graduating with a ThM in 1976, I set out with Laurie to serve the Lord. We spent thirty years in ministry, twenty of them in Texas. At times during those years I would soar at the privilege of preaching God’s inspired Word. At others I felt like I couldn’t make it to the end of a message. Though I counseled others struggling in deep emotional waters, I struggled to keep from drowning myself.
    Laurie and I endured the opposition of some stiff-necked church leaders, yet we learned to love the ministry and the diversity of the Lord’s people. Both Laurie and I loved what the Puritans used to call the “enthusiasms” of the ministry.
    Then last year, after ten years of fruitful ministry in New Jersey, I had a stroke. This was compounded by a severe toxic reaction to medications. This left me with a Social Security classification of “totally disabled.” My daughter and son-in-law had moved to New Jersey from San Diego just in time to help Laurie with the demands of my care. My daughter, Elizabeth, had to shave me and she and Laurie had to feed me. Severe tremors prevented me from keeping food on my utensils. My son flew in from Houston and stayed for a while to comfort me and to help Laurie move much of the parsonage furniture to the first floor. Elizabeth and Laurie felt they might have to put me in a nursing home because of their physical and emotional inability to care for me any longer.
    When my symptoms became most visible to my congregation, one of our leaders spontaneously called forward all the men at the end of a worship service. He then asked them to lay hands on me and pray boldly (yet with reverent humility) for God’s healing.
    The Lord was gracious.
    After a stay in a local hospital, rehabilitation, medicine, and the ministrations of kind physicians, my brain adapted to the injury it had sustained. The tremors disappeared, and I was able to speak and walk normally (although with some weakness).
    Because the toxic reaction damaged my kidneys and affected my overall ability to lead a local church, I resigned. Laurie and I moved in with my eighty-nine-year-old father, for whom we cook and care, living in his mortgage-free home.
    I confess that I have, at times, felt bewilderment because of the physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges I now face. No amount of planning could have prepared us for them. I had given my life to bring people to greater maturity in Jesus Christ, counseled people in great pain, and endured battering and bruising opposition from obstinate church leaders, only to find myself in this condition. Is this what I get for enduring a life that conquers seemingly insuperable hurdles? Where was the warm vision that Robert Browning expressed in his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be—the last of life for which the first was made?”
    The prophet Habakkuk found himself in a similar predicament. Facing what appeared to be the “tearing down” of his own “house,” he cried out to God.
    “Though the fig tree may not blossom, 
Nor fruit be on the vines; 
Though the labor of the olive may fail, 
And the fields yield no food; 
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, 
And there be no herd in the stalls— 
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, 
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
The LORD God is my strength; 
He will make my feet like deer’s feet, 
And He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab. 3:17–19, NKJV).
    Habakkuk dealt with his personal terrors by capturing a renewed glimpse of his God. 
“If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he never would have made [his] great confession of faith,” observes Warren Wiersbe. “If Habakkuk looked ahead, he saw a nation headed for destruction, and that frightened him. When he looked within, he saw himself trembling with fear, and when he looked around, he saw everything in the economy about to fall apart. But when he looked up by faith, he saw God, and all his fears vanished. To walk by faith means to focus on the greatness and glory of God.”
    More and more I am making this perspective my own, even as I am making gradual progress in physical therapy. I hang on to the truth that my wife has repeated to herself and to me throughout our ordeal, “God is in control.” There are no accidents, only incidents, in the perfect outworking of God’s will. The King of the universe is too good to be unkind, too wise to make mistakes, and too deep to explain Himself. As the great British expositor G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Our joy is in proportion to our trust. Our trust is in proportion to our knowledge of God.”
    Since moving to Connecticut, Laurie and I have settled into several comforting rhythms. One is to watch Extreme Makeover—Home Edition. Seldom do we make it through the program without crying for joy at what is accomplished to change a family’s life. At the beginning of every program there is the demolition of an old home to make way for one that is “made new.” That seems a fitting metaphor for our lives. And as the dust settles after our own “demolition,” we look up with expectancy to discover what God is going to do next.
    Lee Anderson (ThM, 1976) and his wife, Laurie, now attend Greenwoods Community Church in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts, where Ed Eastman Jr. (ThM, 1979) is pastor.

  17. Gilbert says

    As an ordained minister, I have often felt both guilty and ostracized because of my depression. It has held me captive for well over 15 years and as hard as I have tried I have not been able to be free from its grip. It has me stuck and I have no idea how to get out. It has put a strain on relationships and has hindered me from being 100%. Can anyone share some remedies that have been of assistance to them?

  18. Deborah Kau Wehyee says

    I am an ordained minister and a wife of a pastor. Many thanks for this article. It strengthens and encourages me. I glad to know that others understand all we are going through. And I am happy that there is reward for our works in Christ- AMEN.

  19. Rev. Peg Faulmann says

    I wonder how we can get folks to write this good stuff without using the word “he” in reference to pastors. I am a female pastor, and a part of my depression at times comes from the lack of recognition that females are called to this vocation and quite capable of doing what men do. This lack of recognition of equality drifts into all aspects of our society, and we need to be aware that our language perpetuates that. Perhaps when posting, the clergy network could make a statement in the status that the article is meaningful, but that it lacks inclusive language. Thank you for allowing my voice to be heard.

  20. Wayne Rhodes says

    Tom,
    I had one clergy say to me, “When the office phone rings, I do not know if I am going to be asked a question, praised or blasted. Another clergy said, “Whwn I walk in the office, I hate to see the red light on the phone. A clergy who was in Vietnam said, “I sometimes feel as if I were back in combat and always watching for the next sniper.

    We have a mechanism for dealing with sick clergy, but not with sick congregations.

    My Vietnam friend has asked the question, “I wonder how many clergy have PTSD?

    On a personal note, thank you for your help with my dissertation.

  21. Ramon says

    Wonderful article, thank you Pastor Rainer. I like to thank Pastor Lee for a powerful story of faithfulness and perseverance. I also like to thank all of the Pastors that wrote about their struggles with depression. I’m interested in finding out how Pastor Lee and the other Pastors are doing after three years since the article came out. I’m a Pastor who suffers from depression & anxiety and have tried everything but nothing seem to work for me. I have faith and hope that my time is coming when I could be free from what is a horrible, horrible illness. Blessings to all my brothers and sisters in the faith. Keep me in your prayers.

  22. Brother Powerful says

    Hi, I am 24 of age and I’m about to be a Pastor, I thank you for inspiring us to do the work of the Lord more effectively. I Hope as I Grow bigger and bigger in Ministry I will have the opportunity to meet you in person. Thank You

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