We know what the Scripture says: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). We know this in our heads; if only it would sink into our hearts. To this point, another verse comes to mind—a prayer, really, from a distraught dad: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Truth is, everyone gets discouraged, even depressed at times. This is often especially true of those who are involved in professional ministry. Make no mistake about it, depression hurts. It hurts deeply. But (and here’s the main point) depression is not a sin. On the contrary, it’s just confirmation that we are all frail, fallen and fallible humans.
As ministry leaders, we are particularly susceptible to the pain and pathos of depression. Personal character sketches drawn from Scripture present us with many examples of leaders chosen by God who grappled with serious depression—people who knew what it was like to feel emotionally downcast, despondent and discouraged. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jonah, David, Jeremiah, Hannah, Job, Saul and Ezekiel all manifested key diagnostic indicators of depressive syndromes. Even “the Man of Sorrows” Himself knew the agony of despair. While praying in Gethsemane, Jesus “began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then He said to them, My soul is very sad and deeply grieved so that I am almost dying of sorrow” (Matthew 26:37-38a, Amplified).
More recently, renowned British preacher Charles Spurgeon, in a published lecture to his pastoral students, remarked, “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us.” Spurgeon disclosed that he personally knew “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between.” Having made this personal confession, he went on to normalize this “occupational hazard” of ministry even further by citing struggles from Martin Luther and John Wesley, both of whom documented their experiences with depression at great length.
The point? If you are battling depression in your ministry, you’re in pretty good company. That in itself should be some comfort. But is there anything you can do about it? This is the question many of us are asking, and not without good reason. For while most Bible schools and seminaries are strong on hermeneutics and homiletics, they usually don’t offer courses on how to stay hearty, happy and healthy in ministry.
Fuller Seminary professor Dr. Archibald Hart has made a positive contribution toward filling this gap. In his classic book Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions, he points out several key contributors to depression for those in ministry and suggests helpful solutions:
- Many ministers fail to take proper care of their body. We must prioritize our own self-care adequately by means of the essential three-legged stool of proper diet, adequate rest, and meaningful exercise. Some ministers feel guilty when they relax—especially when souls are perishing. Others simply don’t know how to do it. What we have to realize is that diet, rest and exercise are essential and non-negotiable. Bio-physiological problems can create chemical depression.
- The nature of the work naturally produces depression. Serving others, preaching funerals, low remuneration, bearing the hurts and heartaches of others, loneliness, isolation, being put on a pedestal, criticism, betrayal by trusted friends—all of these take a serious toll on one’s psyche. Ironically, seeking to medicate these pains with workaholism, pornography, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors only intensifies and exacerbates one’s original depression. The real solution is to reach out for understanding and support.
- There are no clear boundaries to ministry work. Vague criteria for measuring success, working evenings and weekends, unclear lines of accountability, living in a “glass house,” and dealing with others’ unreasonable demands and role expectations all lead to burnout, marital conflict, family stress, and low self-esteem. The answer? Learn how to say no, to delegate, and to prioritize. Find healthy ways to recharge our own batteries.
When you become weary in doing good in your ministry, we hope these tips prove helpful and encouraging. Remember, you are not alone. God sees you in your time of need, and He’s the One “who is able to keep you without stumbling or slipping or falling, and to present [you] unblemished (blameless and faultless) before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exultation [with unspeakable, ecstatic delight]—” (Jude 24, Amplified).
When you are in need of further help or encouragement, we here at Focus on the Family are only a phone call away. Here’s our toll-free confidential Pastoral Care Line: (877) 233-4455. May God richly bless you as He uses you for the Kingdom.