Five Reasons Many Pastors Struggle with Depression

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.

Posted on February 26, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Depression doesn't control me says on

    I find it a little depressing that an excuse for affairs is due to depression. I (personally) find that to be a cop-out. Maybe because I have suffered with & dealt with depression due to crap from my husband (who thankfully isn’t a Pastor), He has cheated on me for over 20 yrs & blamed me for it. I know of a Pastor who has also cheated on his spouse, before & after he became a pastor. There’s no excuse for breaking your vows.
    Its sad also that if a Pastor is married, that they can’t confide in their spouse for their troubles, but if they are like my husband, they were raised the “old ways” of “men don’t show their emotions, don’t speak of their issues/problems, not even to their spouses”. But I’ve seen (personally) how mean, harsh, cruel that “Christians” can be to others, so its not a surprise that they would also attack their own Pastor.
    One other to add to the list……is that they are human, they have faults just like everyone else in the congregation, but they can’t appear to be weak or like the average person. That’s a big burden to bare. It is no surprise, that we lose many to suicide or have broken marriages (especially if the men are allowed to use the excuse of being depressed as the reason they had an affair or multiple).
    Even some of the above comments made me wonder just how spiritual the writer is to criticize someone’s treatment. Mental illness, Mental fatigue is a real serious problem in the US & its past time its dealt with, without all the attacks or judgements towards it.

  • Glenda Snead says on

    Today I just heard of another pastor taking his life. My heart breaks for his family. My husband was in ministry for 31 years. He took his life four years ago this week. Life for pastors is incredibly hard and when depression is combined with that, it can become disabling. Thank you for writing this article. It point by point describes what we went through. God has now begun to give me a ministry to share from a pastors wife’s perspective and from the the perspective of a survivor of suicide. The sharing is never easy but the desire is for God to be glorified in the telling and someone to be helped. I can’t stress enough what has been echoed here multiple times—pray for pastors and their families.

  • Pastor Terry says on

    As a founder and bi-vocational pastor for 24 years, I have avoided depression, overcome divorce, gain custody of my two children, and been fortunate to remarry. And unlike many, I believe choosing to work bi-vocationally has been the saving grace of my pastorate. I pray for pastors daily because this call creates isolation and is often brutally unkind. Working in both corporate and nonreligious nonprofits over my tenure has provided balance and worth that I was unable to gain from the ministry. I Love the Lord’s Church, but I had to love the other ministries/callings/giftings as well. I have maintained an excitement and energy because the bi-vocational experience.

  • Hi Thom Rainer,

    My name is Anuj Agarwal. I’m Founder of Feedspot.

    I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog has been selected by our panelist as one of the Top 40 Christian Leadership Blogs on the web.

    I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 40 Christian Leadership Blogs on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!

    Also, you have the honor of displaying the badge on your blog.


  • Hey Thom, great points. I wrote what I thought was going to be a book along similar lines last year called “I Must Not Be A Real Pastor”. Maybe I am afraid of rejection, but I have decided to sow it instead of selling it. I am posting a new part every Monday on a Facebook page of the same name,

  • Duane, I so appreciate your comment. I am not a pastor, a preacher, clergy, or at the moment in any sort of position at my church. I AM in the midst of a church search due to a long distance move. Your post is pretty succinct in helping us discern healthy leadership–and unhealthy.

    Years ago we went through some sad struggles no parent should have to walk through, but thanks to Adam we do. The stress and tension took a toll on me physically and mentally and emotionally. Just when I began to find my way out of the situational depression 3 meds prescribed for me for various health problems suddenly did not play nicely together. Took months to figure that out with a dr’s help, to find an underlying problem (2 vitamin shortages), and a year on an antidepressant to reset my brain chemicals. And of course had to learn new ways and meds to deal with the other health issues.

    During the worst with our child we had one of those shame and blame preachers. We left that church. During the exogenous clinical depression we had a very good reassuring pastor. Made the whole thing much easier, but it still wasn’t easy.

    Now as we visit churches I’m finding it difficult at best to sit under some preaching. I’m not talking about the clear preaching of sin and salvation, of the cost of discipleship, or of the danger of playing false with Christ. I’m talking of the sermons that ALWAYS begin with some version of “why don’t Christians…..” or “this church will grow when the congregation learns to……..” or “no wonder the world hates us when well meaning but can I say it, stupid, church members say….”

    We talked about it maybe 3 weeks ago: some of the preaching so clearly the voice of depression rather than preaching Jesus. And it depresses the flock no end.

    We made the decision that while our hearts go out to depressed pastors, the flock also has its causes of depression and deep hurts. We have simply decide we will not knowingly sit under depression fostering sermons. We cannot do that and survive physically, mentally, emotionally, or most importantly spiritually.

    How can we help depressed pastors without getting spiritually killed from the fallout of their depression? I’ve no clue, but I do pray for both depressed pastors AND depressed parishioners.

  • Hey All,
    Here are five things that will help curb depression:
    1. Read the Word daily.
    2. Pray daily.
    3. Eat right.
    4. Rest right.
    5. Exercise often.
    I too thought I was depressed like my peer pastors, but my challenged me to do the five things above. That was 15 years ago and I am not on any medication for depression. The Holy Spirit added a 6th, “I have learned to be content in the midst of my circumstances.”


    Pastor Pat

  • My Dad pastored small churches his entire preaching career. One thing to remember is some of the meanest people in the world can be found in the Church. They were in every congregation and, at times, made my family miserable. They questioned every action taken by the leadership, stirred up trouble amongst members, pouted and withheld tithes, and threatened to “get the Preacher fired”. Please don’t be “that person”. My Mom was the one hurt most. Imagine a wife watching her husband treated with such disrespect. It is not just the Pastor who suffers. Depression can take hold of a family.

  • Olá irmãos.

    A depressão atinge a todos. Até os pastores, até os que pensam ser ‘Super’. Ela atingiu Elias, Jonas, Jó.
    Tenho sofrido bastante com esse mal, causado por cobranças, abusos por parte de crentes e outros pastores.
    A igreja que deveria ser terapêutica aos que sofrem tem sido causadora de males as pessoas.

    Anderson/Pastor Presbiteriano/Brasil

  • Five and half years ago, I flew across the country for a ministry-related meeting. Late in the afternoon my wife phoned me, concerned for our youngest, a 17-year-old son who had not yet come home from doing yard-work for several folks in the community. While we were on the phone, she discovered the runaway goodbye note he left; an hour later I received a call from his “boyfriend” saying that he had forced our son’s hand in declaring to us that he was “gay.” We were absolutely blind-sided, shocked, dumbfounded, and devastated. We tracked him to NYC, where he had spent several weeks in the summer doing Jewish outreach ministry to help fund his college plans (that’s where he made the connections for his runaway plans). We took two trips to personally look for him in NYC to no avail. We found out he had connected with the Ali Fourney Center (a clandestine group that helps hide children from their parents). Our local Department of Hell and Inhuman Services attempted to crucify us for allegedly sending our son to a “conversion” school (neither of us knew of his struggle with homosexuality and didn’t even know what a conversion school was). Months later, after day upon day of wondering if he was dead or alive, after he turned 18, we were finally reunited with our son. Today he lives in a sodomite relationship in Jersey City and works in Manhattan. We love him and are praying for him, but I have never recovered. In so many ways I am going through the motions, numb, broken, and absolutely don’t know how to move on. There’s actually even more to it than that, but I’ve said enough. Depression? Ya think? I don’t know what else to say.

    • I’ve never experienced anything like that, but I know people who have, and my heart goes out to all of you. For what it’s worth, I prayed for you.

  • I’m not a pastor (so perhaps I shouldn’t be here–followed the link posted by a friend). However, thinking back, at least 75% of the pastors I have known (and I got to know them quite well) over the years have had some degree of depression. As a physician, as well as a widower who was told his wife would recover from a brain-bleed if I prayed hard enough (she didn’t), I recognize the need and benefit of medical treatment, plus prayer. Many doctors of my acquaintance (and this includes psychiatrists) believe in both, and so do I.

  • A book titled “Among the Ashes” by Alfred Lam is worth reading.
    Pastor Alfred served as a pastor for 20 years. When he fell into deep depression, all that mattered to him was quelling the pain. He did not care about “right” or “wrong” – he just wanted the pain to stop. This is an inspiring story of one pastor’s journey through the abyss of depression, told in brutal honesty. Alfred’s story will encourage and empower many who are walking in the same road. You can follow his blog or contact him at