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In George Barna’s book, The State of Pastors, he states, “46% of Pastors report struggling with depression at some point during their tenure in ministry”. This information was based upon a survey that the Barna group conducted in conjunction with Pepperdine University in 2017.
While the book explores several topics that relate to ministers, the one that intrigued me revolved around the subject of depression. Barna states, “Pastors who are not very satisfied with their work are nearly twice as likely as those who report the highest level of satisfaction to say depression is or has been a part of their lives.” Some things that contribute to this lack of satisfaction are “a church with a declining attendance” as well as being part of a smaller-sized congregation. Both tend to contribute to these feelings of failure.
Jim Hawkins, a licensed marriage and family counselor, writes that when these feelings mount, there is a tendency to separate oneself from others. Relationships are severed and the individual moves into a deeper hole.
This condition becomes worse when the minister feels that he cannot have close friendships with members of the church. Over the years I have heard staff members say that it would be better to not have close relationships with church members. Their rationale was that if those relationships did not exist, then the tendency for conflict and favoritism would be less. However, Hawkins reminds us that strong friendships with others provide healing.
It is interesting to note that well-known Christian religious leaders struggled with feelings of despair and depression. The great reformer Martin Luther stopped preaching for 15 months due to depression. Luther referred to his bouts with depression as “dark nights.” He combated his thoughts by reading scripture and through “the fellowship of the church.”
Adonriam Judson, the great missionary who brought Christ to the country of Burma (Myanmar), struggled early in his ministry with depression. Judson and his wife Ann came to Burma in the latter part of the 18th century. Soon after landing, they found themselves penniless and without a mission board to sponsor them. Eight months later they buried their infant son. Adoniram was detained and put in a death prison. While there, he was hung upside down as a regular punishment. After two years in prison, he was finally released.
His wife Ann died shortly after his release and Adoniram entered a deep depression. For months he spent all day by her tomb. He even dug his own grave behind his hut where he stood and contemplated his own death. Over time he began to recover and regained his strength and focus. He continued to study the Burmese language and began translating scripture. He had been in Burma for about 8 years and still had not seen a single person come to know Christ.
By the time Judson died, he had only led 25 people to Christ. Some suggest that only 10 of those were sincere commitments. His greatest accomplishment was that he had translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the Burmese language. Today people from Chin State and throughout Myanmar still refer to him as the one who brought Christianity to their country.
It is truly amazing to imagine how significant the work of Adonriam Judson, Martin Luther and others who experienced feelings of depression, made upon the kingdom of God. While all of us may wrestle with these feelings, let us learn from those who have gone before us to maintain strong relationships, pray, study God’s Word and when needed to seek out medical practitioners for help.