Church Leaders Can Become Depressed?

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I felt like I was in a deep black hole. I could look up and tell that I was in a pit but had no earthly idea how to get out.

Over 20 years ago, a friend of mine called from another state. He had a weekly subscription to receive audio copies of the Sunday morning messages from our church. He was straightforward and to the point.

“What’s wrong with you? In some of your recent messages, you sound hesitant and unsure.”  

That was jarring to hear but it actually helped. It jarred me enough to realize that this sense of hopelessness and the numbness were impacting my life. (This had gone on for a number of months before I realized it.)

Charlotte and I visited with a friend of ours, a physician, about this. Our friend suggested that I was experiencing some depression. She wanted me to see a counselor, but I might not have done so without her encouragement because I wasn’t motivated to do anything (part of depression). I saw a Christian counselor for six months and took an anti-depressant during that time. Seeing this counselor every other week was a life-changing experience. Nothing happened overnight, but months later Charlotte and I could definitely tell that things were better. I was handling the stress that I was experiencing in my ministry much better.

Much of this was related to my work: ministry. I worked in a tough situation and the church was experiencing severe conflict. Those were lonely and extraordinarily difficult years. By no means am I unique for experiencing a form of depression.   

Many people deal with some form of depression. For some people, it might be fairly mild (no less frustrating) and related to difficult circumstances in life. On the other end of the chart are people who suffer with severe and even clinical depression. Some have a long family history of depression. They can name various persons in their family who have struggled with this. It may be business people, young mothers, college students or older people. Both new believers and longtime Christians may find themselves dealing with this.

Some of the conversations may go like this:

“He has been having a tough time. Things at work have not been going well. And, he’s dealing with some depression.”
“I keep the curtains closed most of the time. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. I know I’m dealing with some depression.”
“My wife has been trying to get me to see the doctor. She thinks I may be dealing with some depression.”
“How long does it take for this medicine to make a difference? The doctor said it might help with my depression.”

A few observations:

1. Being trite or flippant about someone’s depression doesn’t help them get through it. “He just needs to ‘man up’ and get on with his life.” Not sure how helpful that is.

2. Seek a counselor you can connect with and have confidence in. (The counselor I mentioned earlier was the second person I saw. I just didn’t click with the first person.)

3. Depression is not shameful. To struggle with some form of depression doesn’t mean that you have a weak faith or that you don’t depend on God. Remember that self-condemnation may actually be the depression playing itself out.

4. When dealing with situational depression, don’t depend on any one approach to help you get better. In other words, be open to whatever might help. Medication might help. Exercise might help. Working on your thinking might help. There is no silver bullet. Be open to whatever might contribute to getting better.

5. Pray. If you have difficulty praying, ask family members and friends to intercede for you daily regarding your life.   

Question:

What would you say to a church that desires to be helpful to people wrestling with some form of depression?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://practicalyouthministry.com Brandon

    Thank you for talking about this and for being so transparent.

    • Jim Martin

      Brandon, thanks so much. I am grateful for our friendship.

  • http://blogprophet.wordpress.com brian

    we understand if someone has a broken leg, or a knee that hurts when the weather changes, or still limp from falling off a ladder years ago, etc. but I don’t understand why we are so insensitive toward people who have had mental/emotional trauma and are dealing with the consequences.

    I have been there. great thoughts and encouragement here. thanks

    • Jim Martin

      Brian, so true regarding physical injuries and our understanding toward such situations. You have been there. For that reason, I am especially glad you found this encouraging.

  • http://www.preachermike.com Mike

    Jim – Thank you, my friend. These wise, honest words will help many. Wish I’d read them a decade ago!! Mike

    • Jim Martin

      Mike, thanks so much for taking the time to leave this encouraging comment. I really do hope this post helps many people. There are so many of us who have experienced this kind of pit and have felt the intense loneliness that seems to come with it. Again, thanks so much Mike.

  • Debbie

    To give time for undemanding fellowship. Leaders in any venue are expected to perform. As Jesus shared with Martha it is a better thing to sit at His feet. Not only was Mary learning, she was relaxing, not performing.

    We are believers first, leaders second.
    A form of sitting at Christ’s feet is enjoyed by being a Mary without the needed performance of being a Martha/ leader. In my own walk with Christ I try to keep a healthy balance of these two examples.

  • Jim Martin

    Debbie, thanks for your comment. I really do commend you in trying to keep a balance.

  • http://Www.wadeoradio.com DJ Wade-O

    This is powerful. I’ve struggled thru this myself as have others I know in ministry. Many of us did not know how to deal with it. Thank you for your transparency and honesty. This was a blessing on many levels.

    • Jim Martin

      DJ, thanks so much. I am glad this was helpful in some way. I appreciate your feedback and affirmation.

  • http://jasonreeves.wordpress.com jason reeves

    Thanks for sharing and helping us see the bigger picture Jim. God is indeed faithful!

    • Jim Martin

      Jason, thanks very much!

  • Connie Lard

    What would you say to a church that desires to be helpful to people wrestling with some form of depression?

    Be the kind of church where transparency and intimacy are present. Promote settings where sharing on a deep level can occur.

    • Jim Martin

      Connie, great to hear from you! Excellent comment. Great point about being the kind of church where transparency and intimacy are happening.

  • John

    Jim,

    Thank you for your words. Obviously, straight from the heart. It is so refreshing to see so many respond. The “Black Dog” stalks more people than we realize; its just we only see the one nipping at our own heels.

    I do not know if others can relate, but being able to express my inner darkness has never been a “talent” of mine. I do not feel believable trying. It is an awesome thing to have a God who totally accepts our clumsy, bumbling prayers.

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