Recently, there has been an increased focus on mental health and emotional wellness. Not just in society, but also in the Church. Suicide rates are up as more and more are feeling down. Depression is the latest buzzword. Not just in society, but also in the Church. And it hits hardest when we discover that yet another pastor has taken his own life, the latest being that of Pastor Jarrid Wilson.
When that happens, it raises more questions than there are answers. How? Why? Is it even possible? Was he saved? Is he still saved? If you’re looking for a point of view, theological or otherwise, there are enough articles and contributions for you to consider.
Interestingly, most of the commentaries seem to focus on the person and his own self-care, or lack of. As a minister, I am fully aware of how easy it is to neglect this critical aspect whilst determining to give all to the Lord and His people. But there is more to it than just scheduling that personal retreat or chilling over a cappuccino every once in a while.
According to this Church Leaders article, Why Are Pastors Depressed?, a Canadian study by Rev Andrew Irvine of Knox College, University of Toronto, highlighted five key contributors to stress and mental illness in clergy:
- Lack of Rest or Day Off
- Lack of Support From Fellow Clergy and a Sense of Competition
- Lack of Personal Community
- Marital Strain
- Signing Up for Ministry but Feeling More Like a CEO Than a Pastor
Please read the full article for a better appreciation of the points. Having served the Lord in a full-time capacity since 2004, I can relate to each and every one of these points. Allow me to add some of my comments so that no one misreads, misunderstands or misinterprets anything.
Lack of Rest or Day Off: It is not that I don’t want to rest, but that it is difficult to do so. Yes, I know the theology of rest and I have preached it more than a few times (to myself too). More easily said than done. I am thankful that presently, I have the flexibility to push hard or pull back. Many pastors do not have that luxury. The demands of ministry and our acute sense of responsibility are a potentially dangerous combination.
Lack of Support From Fellow Clergy and a Sense of Competition: This is really ironic, right? We preach family and teamwork from the pulpit. But when the rubber hits the road, it is often ‘every man for himself’. Sadly, this is still the case in many places. Although we would like collaboration, it is competition we experience. Real or perceived? Perhaps we still need to deal with our own insecurities. Sigh.
Lack of Personal Community: Ministry is all about people. And yet, ministry can be extremely lonely for pastors and leaders. It is not that we don’t want to get close to the people but as odd as it sounds, the people don’t always want the leader to get too close. We are good for vision, direction and instruction. But when it comes to interaction, building authentic relationships, there seems to be this barrier. And since all ministers are busy and stretched, it is difficult to form relationships there too.
Marital Strain: I thank God for Serene and all she has had to put up with. More than a few times, I have neglected her and her needs for the sake of the ministry. It has not been easy for her (seven children & homeschooling) but she has stood by me in every season. Few understand the dynamics and challenges of our family and ministry. Our pet phrases are: “If it’s not you, then it’s me. If it’s not me, then it’s you.” and “If don’t laugh, can go crazy.” Thank God that we are still able to laugh.
Signing Up for Ministry but Feeling More Like a CEO Than a Pastor: Oh man! I sure can relate to this! Back in 2012, it became so frustrating and unbearable: I left my job for the ministry, only to find myself back in a job! I am so thankful that I discovered my kingdom assignment in Archippus Awakening. Now, if only I can just go awaken the saints without having to worry about strategy, administration and management! Hmmmm …
Yes, I have good days and also bad days. There are times when I feel so low that it is scary (no joke). Thankfully, these moments are brief and few; and they go away after a good run around the park. (Of course, read bible, pray, worship, etc.) This does not mean they do not return every now and then. I am well aware that physical and mental exhaustion can trigger such negative feelings and emotions. At the same time, I am also mindful that the enemy is all too ready and willing to help me feel worse about myself, the ministry and others around me.
Thanks for reading and sharing in my struggles and that of many others who serve as pastors, ministers and leaders. We appreciate your words of appreciation, encouragement, support and prayers.
However, more than just a call and reminder to “Pray for Your Pastor” or observe “Pastors Appreciation Month” (coming up in October – in USA, not Singapore), there is one thing that would really, really, really help: that you know and fulfil your God-given kingdom assignments. (Did you see that coming?)
I believe every minister desires to serve God and His people well. That is why we do what we do, often at the expense of our own well-being and health. On our part, we must strive to achieve the right balance and seek help when needed; hopefully not when it is too late. That said, the people of God have a part to play too. If the majority largely remains consumeristic, then the load and stress will remain on the same small percentage of workers. If that is the case, just telling your pastor or leader, “I will pray for you, for God to enable you to do great and mighty things for Him!” sounds nice but is not going to help very much.
Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate every prayer uttered for me and on my behalf. However, as sweet as these may sound, it is music to our ears when we hear faithful ones step up and say, “Pastor, I know what my kingdom assignment is. I am going to co-labour with you. It is not easy but together, we will share the load, so help us God.”
The above five points are indeed great reminders for me as I navigate the challenges and demands of ministry. Most definitely, by His grace, I will be careful to constantly check my own alignment where these are concerned. As I do my part, I pray that you will do yours too. More than just pray for your pastor, seek to know and fulfil your God-given kingdom assignments.
Trust me. That would really help.