Stranger In a Strange Land (The Pastor and Depression)

Many Christians are familiar with the words “The world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” The follower of Christ recognizes he is but a stranger in a strange land, and his customs are different than those of the “natives.”

Strangely, the sentiment “stranger in a strange land” can be just as applicable to many pastors in their churches. The loneliness and sense of isolation a pastor can experience can be overwhelming. When parishioners are wounded in spiritual battles, they can talk to their pastor (or should be able to). But when a pastor is wounded in battle, where can he go? Some will argue, “Well, he is to go to the Lord!” But this is to be said of the parishioners as well, is it not? Often,  when a parishioner is discouraged, weak, or falls, the attitude is, “to err is human.” When a pastor experiences these, it seems to be scandalous.

The life of a pastor is a strange thing. To him come attacks from all sides. He deals with the ridicule and persecution from the world. He fights through the bombardment of accusations and lies from the evil one. He faces attacks, slander, and resistance from those he is trying to lead—and some of the most vicious comes from those he and his family have ministered to. Lastly, but certainly not least, he receives  the stern rebukes from the Lord after foolish decisions or words.

For many pastors, genuine friends are few. Often people feel awkward and hindered when the pastor is around. Believe me, a pastor feels this awkwardness too. He can usually sense when others feel uncomfortable around him or if there is some animosity against him. The pastor is human. He desires—and needs—friendship too, but sometimes is denied this luxury. But what about other pastors? Again, pastors are human. The realm of pastors can remind one of days in high school. There can be pride and fellowship circles, and if one does not fit in that circle or cannot be used as a stepping stone, such a person can be left to struggle alone. This is neither a lie nor exaggeration. This includes many pastors of small churches, as well as pastors of larger churches who must continue certain facades.

What about finances? Many churches require a formal education of their pastors, and for many, an associate or bachelor degree from a respected Bible college is not enough. Even a masters degree is not enough to many churches. Rather, some churches require at least a Master of Divinity, if not a doctorate degree. Such an education is neither free, nor is it cheap. Yet, many churches do not pay adequately. Then consider how parishioners want to enjoy all their toys and providing nice things for their families; however, a pastor is considered “greedy for gain” when he wants nice things for his family. A pastor can put in 60+ hours a week (most people are unaware of all a pastor does), and must still be on call 24/7. This often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

What about shattered hopes and broken dreams. I will venture to say most men who truly go into ministry with a true desire for people to come to know the Lord and for Christ to be glorified (this is not every minister’s desire) also go with a hope to see growth and revivals. This is neither vain hope or vain glory. However, what many pastors see are stubborn people quite content with their traditions, status quo, and sins. Try to touch these idols and a pastor can have hell to pay. But these are God’s people, right? Only God knows. What I do know is this: a pastor is taught (and teaches) God hears our prayers; that “love changes everything”; and the Word of the Lord will not return void. The pastor finds out the hard way that sometimes God says, “No.” Love does not change persons who do not want to change or give up their idols. Sometimes the Word of the Lord seems to be spoken into an abyss. These only chip at the original hopes and dreams. What shatters them, however, is to be slandered, attacked, and betrayed by persons who claim to be people of God.

I once read the following concerning today’s pastors:

  • 97% have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by trusted friends.
  • 70% battle depression.
  • 80% feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastors’ families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% have no close friends.
  • 90% report working 55-75 hours per week.
  • Only 10% will retire from the pastorate.
  • 1,500 quit the pastorate every month.

Is it any wonder why there has been an increase in suicides amongst pastors over the last several years?

I had been a pastor (I still am, just not of a church). I know what I am talking about. I know the experience of loneliness, attacks, false accusations, and betrayals. I know what it is like to have my family wounded in the process. I would not wish any of what I have experienced on another. Yes, I know the hurt and anger. I know what it is like to resent the church. To this day I have little patience for those who sit on their high horses questioning the authenticity of a pastor’s calling who has not the stomach for church politics and betrayals. Such persons know nothing of what they so confidently allow to come vomiting out of their mouths. Truly, I did not expect ministry to be easy; however, my grave mistake was I thought my greatest antagonists would come from outside the church, not from within. Oh, how I was wrong.

I lot of water has passed under the bridge since I was in the pastorate. I have let go of the bitterness, but it took a lot of time to let go and to heal. As I write this, I do remember some of the hurts. I remember having to push aside my own losses, not taking the time to grieve, in order to minister to others. Only to later be kicked in the teeth.

Perhaps you are a pastor dealing with the junk I have been writing about. You are presently a “stranger in a strange land.” I do not  counsel you to leave or to stay. This is between you and the Lord. For me, I had to resign from the pastorate, otherwise my family would have been shattered into pieces. With this said, I will say: DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR FAMILY FOR THE SAKE OF A CONGREGATION!!! Your priority is your family first, then the church, not vice versa. Your wife and children need you too. Do not forsake them. Yes, there are emergencies when the church needs you; however, there are many times you must either say “no” or “wait” to parishioners for the sake of your family.

Perhaps you are a pastor who is battling depression. Please know that you are not alone. Although you feel as if God is a billion miles away and has given up on you, He is ever near and loves you always.

Perhaps you are having suicidal thoughts, and thinking your family would be better off without you. NO!!! HEAVENS NO!!! Such lies are straight from the pits of hell! Oh, may God shine His light in your darkness! Oh, please, Lord!!!

Oh dear one, I know what it is like to encounter such despair. If you are facing such despair, talk to a trusted friend. Get help. There is no shame in this. If need be, feel free to email me at gpproclamation@yahoo.com. I cannot promise you a wealth of wisdom, but I have experienced the kind of darkness you are facing. As difficult as it might be to believe, know that you are loved and have incredible worth. God created you for a purpose. And remember this: you were called and saved by grace, these are sustained by grace, and will always be by grace!

Perhaps you are not a pastor. Praise God! It is a most honorable calling, but not a glorious one. Pray for your pastor. Honor him. Encourage him. Just as surely as every pastor will give account for how he lead and fed the flock, so surely will each parishioner give account for the way he slandered, discouraged, and wounded the very ones God had placed over him. It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to stray from the Word of God and teach otherwise. But it is just as dangerous for a parishioner to rebel against a pastor who IS teaching the Word of God faithfully! Do you think God will turn a blind eye to such stubbornness and insolence?

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

How does it benefit anyone to make a pastor’s work more difficult than it already is, or to silently “kill” the very one who seeks to minister to you and your family? If, indeed, your pastor is a godly man, albeit imperfect, but faithfully teaching God’s Word; and if you are constantly resisting him and making his work difficult; you might want to consider that you may be a weed in God’s garden. If this is the case, you need to repent. Otherwise, in due time, God will pluck you and cast you in the fire.

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