Posts Tagged ‘pastors and depression’

Did you know that being a pastor may be “the single most stressful and frustrating working profession?”

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Richard J. Krejcir from his study of 1,050 pastors at two pastor’s conferences back in 2005 and 2006.

(You can find the study, titled What is Going on with the Pastors in America? at http://www.truespirituality.org.  If you can find a more recent study, please send it to me.)

Here are some of Dr. Krejcir’s discoveries:

*90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out (not necessarily “burned out”) on a weekly and even daily basis.

*89% of the pastors surveyed considered leaving the ministry at one time.  57% said they would leave if they had a better place to go – including secular work.

*77% of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.

*71% of pastors stated they were burned out and that they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.

*38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.

*Only 23% said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home.

Dr. Krejcir’s findings are also supported by the following research which he distilled from The Barna Group, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary:

*1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.

*80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

*80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave within the first five years.

*70% of pastors constantly fight depression.

*70% of pastors do not have close personal friends with whom they can confide.

*50% of pastor’s marriages will end in divorce.

*50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could.

*Most statistics say that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not still be in it ten years later, and only a fraction will stay in it as a lifetime career.

Krejcir concludes:

“The results of the survey are that pastors face more conflict, more anger, and more expectations than ever before.  At the same time, they work long hours and have little pay, little reward, and produce their own dysfunctional families because of their absence.”

Which of these statistics most impact you … and why?

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I recently read an article about a Christian leader that broke my heart … and I can’t get it out of my mind.

This leader was a long-time executive director of a major Christian organization.  He committed suicide as police were investigating a serious charge against him.

I’ve admired the work that his organization has done for a long time.  My prayer is that this tragedy doesn’t affect the crucial work they’re doing all over the world.

While reading this article, I thought about the many Christian leaders that I’ve known or respected who were discovered to be all too human and fallible.

Professors at Christian schools.  Missionaries.  Prominent pastors.  Christian vocalists and musicians.  Parachurch leaders.  Evangelists.  Associate pastors.  Televangelists.

Some preached against divorce … and eventually went through their own divorce.

Others railed against adultery … only to be seduced themselves.

Some preached a prosperity gospel … and later lost everything.

And some have behaved in ways that we … and even they … cannot fathom.

Back in the late 1980s, when there was a rash of scandals involving Christian leaders, we were told that leaders needed to demonstrate greater accountability, and that this single step would halt most of the scandals.

Maybe so … but I have a different take on this.

I believe there is a direct correlation between doing ministry and personal pain.

The more committed you are to ministering to others, the more pain you will experience in your own life.

If you doubt me, read 2 Corinthians.   In 1 Corinthians, Paul tries to address various issues at Corinth and restrains himself when it comes to expressing his own emotions.

But in 2 Corinthians, Paul lets it all hang out, and at times it’s difficult to read.  Just a few examples:

1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”

2:4: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”

4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

7:5: “For when we came to Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.”

11:23-25: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received frm the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”

And then there’s this one:

11:28-29: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Notice that?  Besides all the physical pain that Paul endured for Christ, he also felt emotional and spiritual pain because he cared so much for others.

When I entered church ministry, I was told in general terms that I would suffer.  I plowed ahead anyway.

What I wasn’t told … and most of us aren’t … is that there are times when the pain becomes so great that it becomes unbearable.  After a while, the hurts of others gets to you, and you don’t know what to do with all that pain.

Some Christian leaders secretly turn to alcohol and drugs … some to illicit sex … some to overspending … and some become depressed.

When you’re expected to be “on fire” for the Lord all the time … and experiencing victory after victory … it’s hard to admit to anyone … much less yourself … that you’re hurting.

You’d like to lean on your wife, but she has her own pain to deal with, and she’s already tired of hearing about yours.

You’d like to talk with a counselor, but you don’t know who to trust, and you suspect that counseling will uncover more of your own buried pain.

You’d like to tell your board, but you’re afraid they’ll condemn you or fire you, so you stay silent.

You want to tell somebody about your pain, but you can’t find anyone who’s safe enough to trust.

And so you stuff it … and the pain starts turning into anxiety, anger, and depression.

And when you finally do something stupid … or take your own life … people wonder why you didn’t reach out for help.

Maybe you should have reached out … or maybe you just didn’t know where to go for help.

I’ve visited a lot of churches over the past 4 1/2 years … probably 50-60.

And in the course of listening to many preachers, I’ve come to this conclusion: I wouldn’t dare share a personal problem with most of them.  Know why?

Because they don’t dare share their humanity with us.

When I hear a pastor tell a story on himself … or admit that he struggles with certain issues … or needs the gospel just as much as I do, I’m drawn to him.  I feel safe with him.

But when I don’t hear any humanity coming from the pulpit … when the pastor says “you” and not “we” … when he yells and condemns and intimates, “I have it all together” – I don’t feel safe … and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The ethos of much of the Christian world seems to be, “Even though you aren’t perfect, you better act like you are, so you can keep your job and your reputation.”

But Christian leaders aren’t perfect.  Every one is messed up in some way.  They all have their issues, wounds, and struggles … just like you do … and just like Paul did.

One of America’s greatest pastors has always been transparent about what God is doing in his life.  I once heard him tell a group of pastors that he was in therapy for some “junk from his past” and that he and his wife were in marriage counseling for some issues they were struggling with.

When asked how he could be so open about his life, this pastor said, “It takes too much energy to hide who you are.”

Those revelations might deflate many Christians, but they were liberating for me.  My attitude was, “If God can use him with all his problems, then God can use me as well.”

And I operated by this corollary: if that pastor can share his issues in appropriate ways to appropriate groups, then maybe I can do the same thing.

Which is the more inspiring statement?

“Christians have no right to be depressed, and I have never been depressed because I know Jesus.”

Or …

“I have been depressed in my life, but by God’s grace … and with the help of other Christians … He has brought me through depression and made me stronger.”

Personally, I resonate with the second statement because it’s true of me.  28 years ago, I was severely depressed to the point I wasn’t operating normally.

My wife found a qualified Christian counselor and I saw him for four months.  After our time together, I never became that low again … and I’ve been through some pretty horrendous times in life and in ministry.

Because I want the painful times in my life to be redemptive, I’ve openly shared my long-ago struggle with depression both while preaching and in writing.  (Did you know that 48 of the Psalms … roughly 1/3 … deal with depression?  Maybe God is a lot more open about it than we are.)

But I do know this: we’re all weak and vulnerable at times.  Because of the pain in our lives, we’re all tempted to do stupid stuff.

And all of us – including Christian leaders – need safe people we can talk with and safe places we can go if we’re to experience healing and continue in ministry.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul quoted Jesus as saying that His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

Not in strength … in weakness.

Act like you’re strong all the time, and you may eventually succumb to weakness.

Admit that you’re weak, and just might be on the road to becoming strong.

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