He was just 30 years old. While other people his age were still searching for a career, he was already the pastor of a mega-church. He talked often about his call to ministry. He loved his church with a passion. He loved his beautiful wife and three young sons more than anything. He impacted thousands through his upbeat sermons. This week he took his own life.
This is the second suicide in a month involving a high profile pastor that I am aware of. And quite frankly, denominational leaders across the nation are alarmed at the rash of pastoral suicides, in just the last couple of years.
There are several false assumptions pastors tend to buy into when it comes to dealing with their own anxiety and depression:
1. As a pastor I should not be struggling with anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately in a broken world we do struggle with such things. So did Moses (Numbers 11:14-15) ….. so did Elijah (I Kings 19:3-4) …..so did Jonah (Jonah 4:3)….. And even Paul said He “despaired of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV)….. And what about Jesus? He said His own soul was overwhelmed! Matthew 26:38.
Anxiety and depression can come to us through a number of different avenues, and if allowed to go unchecked, it could become serious. It might come because of spiritual battles we fight. It might be caused by broken relationships, or from negative thinking patterns, or chronic pain or grief. It might even be caused by a chemical imbalance.
No matter how depression hits us, the pain is real and it is devastating.
2. I can handle this by myself - I just have to pray harder and get into the word more.
Really? You and I were never intended to walk alone. If we really believe in God’s perfect grace that He gives to us, or the grace that He gives to others to extend to us, why do we tend to default back to works, especially when it is “doing” that often brings us to stress and burnout in the first place?
Jesus’ idea is not to work harder or to pray louder, but to rest in Him. He says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill- fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
3. I have battled depression for so long, there is no hope for recovery.
Not true at all! To believe there is no hope for recovery is to refute God’s Word where He declares Himself to be our Great Physician! There is hope!
4. If the OMN or my church board knows I struggle with anxiety and depression, It could negatively impact my ministry.
Just think how depression and anxiety could impact your ministry if you don’t get help!
Admittedly, there is a stigma regarding mental health issues. There is not the same stigma when another part of our body malfunctions. We freely discuss with others our gall bladder surgery or the pills the doctor has prescribed for other maladies, but when it comes to matters of the mind we don’t want to talk about it.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses the human body to illustrate how the Church is to function. He emphasizes the fact that each part is important to the other parts of the body. I would surmise that the mind fits into all of that, and thus the importance to keep the mind in good health.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression I want to remind you…..
You are not alone. others are facing some of the same devastating issues you are facing.
God has not left you, even though you feel distanced from Him.
There are friends who will lovingly walk with you in confidentiality.
You are loved and too valuable to lose.
The following christian counselors are as close as your phone.
Ministry Resources International 425-827-3036
Assemblies of God help-line 1-800-867-4011
Oregon Ministry Network Pastoral Care 503-393-4411