Pastoral Depression. Is it ONLY mental health?

It’s been a hard week for those of us in ministry.  We have been faced with our own insecurities as we heard about the news coming from the U.S.  One of our fellow servants could not escape the pressures we all know too well.  He is now off the bench and we trust in Jesus loving arms.  We are so sorry to hear of this tragedy and please know, there are so many prayers going up for the Wilsons right now.

It’s hard to believe that a leader of a spiritual movement could be overwhelmed with depression.  It almost seems to go against what we preach.  We say that in Jesus, we are free from darkness, yet darkness has taken so many of us down.  We say that in Jesus, there is no temptation that is too great, yet temptation seems to be taking ground in the church?  Is it because Jesus was wrong?

Let me be clear, mental health is a real thing.  For too long, the church has spiritualized some things that are less than philosophical.  Mental health is one of those things.  But perhaps, at times, we have now swung the other way, and have hidden our own worst practices as churches under the issues of the people we have employed.  Perhaps, churches are also at risk of being responsible for the mental wellbeing of our pastors.

Well, I’ve been a pastor for 24 years now.  My dad was one and so was my grandpa.  So if you have a few moments, let me tell you what I’ve seen.

1. “Pastor” is not a clear cut term.

Most people I meet never have a clue about the history of the term pastor.  In fact, in all my studies, at every level of Christian academia, we rarely ever look at what I want to share.  This saddens me, but we must start somewhere.

In the Bible, when we see the term for pastor, it means shepherd.  So think about it. How many shepherds are experts in finance, or social media.  Not many.  In fact, if they are good at those things, there is a great possibility that they don’t really enjoy sheep.  A great shepherd enjoys spending time with the sheep.  That’ seems simple.

But most of those in ministry, with the title of Pastor or Shepherd, don’t actually spend too much time with sheep.  In fact, some don’t enjoy sheep as much as the greater aspects of sheep farming.

Let me explain.

In Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus gave some of our leaders to be Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers.  This is where we have taken shepherd or “pastor” from. Over the history of the church however, between limited funds to support all 5 and a variety of theologies regarding the various roles or need for them, we have found ourselves collectively using the term pastor for the one size fits all ministry. This isn’t even to include that Ephesians suggests that these roles are to prepare the church for ministry, not minister to the church.  That’s a blog, post or book of it’s own.

So many who find themselves in ministry, are in fact called by God, but then we label them with a title that doesn’t fit God’s calling.  This is frustrating and very depressing.  If you have to act like something God did not make you to be, you live in constant failure in your heart.

2.  I’m not a shepherd

When I came upon the above truths, I just had to figure out “who” God had made me to be on this list.  For I had functioned under the title of “Pastor” for years, but I had a long list of frustrations that could potenially be correctly understood and dealt with. When I took a test called “APEST”, each letter representing each of the 5 titles in Eph 4, I found out that my lowest ranking was actually shepherd.  This literally means that God has called me and designed me to be anything but a shepherd in His church.

Did I just put my job on the line?  LOL.  No it’s not that simple.  I’m willing to admit I am not a good shepherd, nor do I want to be.  God never designed me or called me to be one.  But the word “Pastor does not mean shepherd in the local church anymore.  Perhaps it should, but it’s doesn’t.

3.  Success for a congregation is much more than Shepherding

On a side note, I’m currently a “missions” “pastor”.  Hah, I put both in quotes.  What this has allowed me to see is that global view of a pastor.  Honestly, in the global west, we are the only churches that want our pastors to be everything.  The rest of the world just wants care.  But we here in the west want our leaders to be celebrities, social media experts, involved in political justice movements, experts in the law etc. etc. etc.

The western church wants kings, not pastors.  We want to be cared for, but we act as if a caregiver is not worth paying a salary for.  This might seem a little harsh, but it is truly what I’m seeing and experiencing.  I’ve seldom met a pastor in the west over the last 15 years, since the internet and ministry really connected, that has been appreciated for caring for people.  We need to also be communications strategists and more now too.

Plain and simple, when you live outside of your design, God’s design, you will burn out.  If you don’t, you will get depressed.  Do that enough and your brain rewires for survival and your mental health is at stake.  Worse, if you never get to live in your design, but only live in others expectations of you, you will probably live in chronic mental health deficit.

What can we do?

Understand more

Honestly, the more we try to understand, the better.  But it’s not just understanding the ideas.  It’s understanding our Pastors and church leaders.  To be a little blunt, we all, in church leadership, wether we are called pastor or not, have enough struggles with internal guilt that we are not doing enough for the kingdom of God.  We appreciate any and all encouragement from the church.  We love the church.  That’s why we are in it.  But we need to be heard as people, not as the untouchable holy people who better not mess up. LOL

Pray more

Pray for your leaders.  A nice “Dear God, help Pastor… ” is good.  But if you spend some time praying for us, it’s not only going to help us, it’s going to change your church.

Serve more

If Ephesians is correct, then the job of the church leader is to prepare ministry to be done by the church.  The church leader’s Bible job is not to serve the church, but to prepare it to serve itself and the world.  So the more you serve, the less we burn out and the better mental health we have.  It will also build the church like no other time in history.

Take Away

Mental Health is a real thing.  We need to take care of ourselves and those around us that have this battle.  We need to pray for them, but we also need to right size our expectations of them.

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