Five Reasons Many Pastors Struggle with Depression

February 26, 2018
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Many pastors really do struggle with depression.

Most church members have no idea their pastor was depressed. They don’t know until they are awakened to the reality of some of the dramatic consequences of the depression: broken marriages; sexual affairs; resignation from ministry; and even suicide.

If you are a pastor reading this post and you are struggling with depression, please get help. Too many of you pastors have been taught that depression is a sign of failure in ministry, that it is something that must be hidden from view. Those are lies, blatant lies. Please get help. Now.

But the primary purpose of this post is to explain the precipitating factors to depression. More clearly, these are the five primary causes pastors identified as the reasons behind their depression. Each of the causes is followed by a direct quote from pastors who shared with me their struggles.

  1. Spiritual warfare. “I don’t mean this in a profane way, but there was a point in my ministry when all hell broke loose. I can’t explain the attacks any way other than spiritual warfare. The Enemy was intent on destroying my ministry, and I began to spiral downward emotionally.”
  2. The surprising reality of pastoral leadership. “I wish someone had told me how tough it is to be a pastor. My single counsel was to preach the Word, and I understand the priority of preaching. But, after a year or so in my first pastorate at age 31, I saw the underbelly of local church life. I was just caught off guard. And it took me some time before I realized I was truly depressed.”
  3. Sense of inadequacy. “My church is declining. While I don’t get hung up on numbers, my members started talking about the decline. And when we had to delete a position because we could no longer pay the person, I really begin to hit rock bottom. I felt like it was all my fault.”
  4. Critics and bullies. “Pastoral leadership really can be a death by a thousand cuts. It’s not any one person or criticism; it’s the constant and steady stream of criticisms. It wears on you. My depression came on gradually, so by the time I was in deep depression, I did not see it coming.”
  5. Loneliness. “It’s really hard to find a true friend when you are a pastor. And when you have no one to talk to about your struggles and questions, life can get lonely. That is why Church Answers has been a God-send to me. I get to ask questions and share my struggles in a safe place.”

The pastor in number five mentioned Church Answers, a dynamic community of church leaders. It’s a place where you can get your church questions answered 24/7. And, more importantly, it’s a place where you will never feel alone. I urge you to become a part of this community while it is open this week. It may be one of the best decisions you make in ministry.

Depression is real with pastors. It seems to be pervasive. May we who serve alongside them, staff and laity alike, take a few minutes a day to pray for our pastors.

It could very well be one of the most important ministries we have.

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87 Comments

  • .. I meant “Bob” .. sorry

  • Pastor Bucky says on

    Hello everyone:

    I’m a new and upcoming minister. I’ve been doing online ministry, however, for some time now. Yet just recently I’ve been called into moving to Antlers OK for ministry. I’ve dealt with depression my entire life. Does this disqualify me as a minister? How do I deal with it and still help those around me instead of becoming a liability and hindrance to them instead? I long to serve God and serve a church congregation but fear that I’m just going to fail and let them and especially God down like I’m used to doing in everything I seem to do in life.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Bucky –

      Depression does not disqualify you for ministry. I do hope, however, you are getting help. Local church ministry can be grueling. Please make certain you have seen your doctor and take his or her recommendations to heart. My prayers, my friend.

  • chernate samuels says on

    I would like to help my Pastor

  • Pastor Carol Oleary says on

    Really related to thee article on “Five Reasons Pastors Struggle with Depression. Hit the nail on the head. The two I really relate too we’re 4 and 5 especially 4

    Thank you

  • I’ve lost all objectivity and unsure of most that do … I’ve really lost who I am anymore after 20 years in the ministry – very sad what the church can do to a person.

  • Sorry for my English. I think it is not very big problem, because i think any pastor has knowing of God and has helpers. Of course good to pray for pastors. But if pastor doesnt see the Difference between system/organisation and free alive society of Fans Of Jesus Christ – it is hard. Hard to see this balance. And very hard if pastor depends from finance of organisation part of church. Pastor of course need to support organisation part of church, but when church come situation with 95% organisation and only 5% of life of Jesus – for what support this 95%? Why try to get up a dead horse?
    But if pastor afraid to broke system or change something – of course he will be under depression. He is not free and he is under fear.
    Only 1 test question: is in your church services happen something strange/not srandart? But if no, if is not normal. Jesus is very diverse and multifaceted! He is not “standart” by most of thinking of people. Or, for example, are happen pauses in your church services? 5min?20min? “Awkward pause”? Awkward in eyes of some people but not for Holy Spirit and not for people who are seeking His presence. Pauses when ministers are not pretend that all ok.
    When people spiritually or mindly are waiting what Holy Spirit will to say/to do? Why not? Or is it happen that pastor hasnt some word for people and look stupid? Why not? Nobody not perfect! But if you try to be perfect of course you will be depressed.
    I think more good to support Jesus life inside of pastor, support and inflate God’s fire, his joy within himself. Tell the congregation that it is very hard for you, and ask them directly in the service to ask Jesus to help you. Well, or ask just the next of the leaders to pray with you, ask to support your hands! Moses did it! I think it is impossible or very seldom situation when helpers aroud the pastor only are full idiots. Or there arent any helpers. Pastor minimum can to appeal to theim about moral help and praying together! Jesus did it! I! Are you sure no helpers or all helpers are an idiots??? May be you need to forgive somebody or ask Jesus about your love to people? Or may be try to “esteem other better than themselves”?

  • Pastor Ken says on

    I am a relatively new pastor who’s biggest joy is serving the Lord and my church. Yet, I have battled depression and anxiety for some time. Depression and anxiety run in my family and proneness to these can be hereditary to at least some degree. It hits me daily in the last afternoon. A heaviness and darkness descends over me and feels like a vice enveloping my heart and emotions. I have been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which I’ve taken for years. I thank God for it. Pastor or not, sickness-is-sickness, and disease-is-disease. Those who judge a pastor for clinical depression and anxiety have never lived with it or through it. It is treatable, and if a pastor has it, it doesn’t mean God can’t and won’t use that pastor’s ministry powerfully. Most people are so kind and gracious, and amazingly loving. But there are a few who believe mental/emotional challenges are inconsistent with the ministry, and that ministers who suffer with it are incompetent to serve as pastors. May I remind those that God has a great history using real, normal, everyday people (warts and all) to serve his purposes. I choose to believe that.

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