Recently I have spoken to a few Pastors who have commented on how they are struggling with depression and that the ministry in their churches is simply not enjoyable like it once was in the beginning of their calling. There is no doubt that being a pastor today has some unique challenges with the advancement of technology related to the ability of people to communicate information quickly which creates the myth for many Church Leader’s that shapes a way of thinking that whispers in the ear of a pastor that, “I must immediately respond to every email or ping on some Social Media platform.” Over-time this creates a form of anxiety in which a pastor becomes emotionally exhausted as he or she becomes hyper-vigilant in their attempt of not wanting to offend anyone. H.B. London years ago stated that one of the most critical mine-fields that is in the Church today is that “The fallout from dysfunctional homes accelerates in geometric proportions when persons who go into ministry bring unresolved emotional baggage with them from childhood and earlier pastorates.” H.B. London goes on to cite, “That 80 percent of today’s ministers come from dysfunctional families.” If accurate, that means many churches have dysfunctional pastors leading a congregation of dysfunctional people. This is an explosive mine-field!
In this blog article I am in no way attempting to address the matter of clinical depression which does need to be addressed by a trained professional. I am simply desiring to share some specific actions that a Pastor can practice which help himself or herself navigate into personal wholeness. The idea that must be embraced is the same principle Christian Leader’s preach to their congregations that our aim is not to attain personal perfection but for one to walk the journey of allowing God to continue to transform us from the inside-out. I agree with Pete Scazzero who declares with passion “That Spiritual Advancement and Emotional Maturity are inseparable.” It is not beneficial for a particular leader to be able to preach well but not do relationships and people well. In some streams of Christianity we have the ability to hide some of these dysfunctional behaviors by labeling them as manifestations of a spiritual gift. The angry Pastor is simply being a prophet or the codependent leader who has no sense of personal boundaries is told that they have a gift of mercy. It is easy to understand that these do no more than to attempt to sanctify an already broken sense of personal identity.
Here are the Four Practices that I think a Leader must do to maintain an Emotionally Healthy Perspective:
- First, on your journey remain connected to Christ and His love for you!
I deeply appreciate what Pete Scazzero states that, “Christianity is not about our disciplined pursuit of God, but about God’s relentless pursuit of us – to the point of dying on a Cross for us that we might become his friends.” Many Christian Leaders hear the whisper of that sinister voice that comes from one’s family-of-origin which lists false truth’s concerning how one may be a mistake or unworthy that may lead to a pastor seeking out the approval of certain people to feel good about themselves or even believing that one can only earn approval through what he or she does. I came out of a family system filled with individuals addicted to performance. This type of emotional state creates a type of low grade infection in which one never comes to the place of finding contentment. It is only when one becomes serious concerning his or hers own emotional health that one can gain a glimpse into what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:18-19, “How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to (experientially) know this love that surpasses knowledge.”
In order to be emotionally healthy I came to the place of embracing a more “Contemplative Spirituality.” This does not mean I began to live in a monastery but instead I began to become aware of the “Rhythms of grace” throughout my day in which I am consciously aware of God’s love for me throughout my day. Several times a week I practice “Centering Prayer” in which I simply release everything to God. There is a park that I go to in our community that I would drive and mediate on one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the New Testament. I one day meditated on the account in John 13:1-17, when Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples. I began to laugh at Peter’s response to Jesus when he out of pride told Jesus that he would not allow him to wash his feet. After Jesus corrects Peter, Peter’s response is “Jesus wash my head and body!” In the midst of my meditation while criticizing Peter the Lord spoke to my heart, “Al, you do the very same thing when I want to show you my love and make your burden lighter.” That day in the park was an awesome time of me just being with God.
What happens in most Pastors is a “Super- Hero” mindset kicks in which we deny our need for rest and our own connection with God. Find a time each day to have your connection with God. Stay grounded in his love for you. I have found this is a game changer to giving me clarity in my perspective. Intentionally getting rest and connecting with Christ is the difference of functioning in my false-self which only sees the apocalypse to functioning in my true-self that sees the beauty of God’s grace everywhere.
- Second, be unpacking your emotional suitcase. We all have a past and we have been placing our stuff into an emotional suitcase. Location does not change this nor does attempting to fill our lives with busy activities make this invisible. One of the many items that people place into their emotional suitcases are the illusions that we embrace that makes us think we are just fine. Pete Scazzero when speaking of illusions writes, “We become attached or addicted in the area of our wills to the belief that something less than God will satisfy us. We think if we just accomplish that one big goal, then we will really feel content and good about ourselves. It is then we will be “finished” and able to rest.”  We all must be able to take time to unpack our suitcases.
To help unpack my suitcase I make a regular set of appointments with a Christian Counselor in our area that helps me to take another look into my suitcase. I call these annual times my annual emotional tune-up. I meet regularly with a Spiritual Director who helps me to discern what Jesus is speaking to me. The biggest move is to have a circle of friends who love you enough to be honest when you are projecting some of the dirty laundry from your suit case onto others. Many Lead Pastors try to find these type of relationships among their staff team. If a culture has been created that allows for staff to be honest on occasions this can work. I have found that all too often the Lead Pastor is the person who is in a power position that places a barrier in which members of the staff may not feel safe to express this type of honesty. Personally I think hierarchical models need to change but that is a discussion for the future. I would simply say that a Pastor must have relationships in which power is being equally, and mutually shared. It is only in this type of context that a leader can get honesty that will help him or her to take a look into their suitcase. I have these type of relationships in my life and it keeps my heart soft and tender to my own need for authentic community.
- Third, avoid inflating your own sense of importance. What negatively impacts leadership teams in churches is the Primus leader or any leader of the team begin to inflate their own sense of self-importance that drives a leader to over-perform which then gives rise to passive-aggressive behavior from the leader towards others on the team. This creates a filter that sets a leader up for a faulty perception. This filter sets the leader to be filled with fear embedding a mindset that members of the team simply do not care about the tasks that the team faces like this leader does. This leads to a leader complaining, gossiping and adopting a sort of “martyr-complex” that erodes team morale. It is always good for as leader to remind themselves that the journey is just as important as the destination and that he or she is not the Center-Of-All-Things! This may play well for a short period of time when one is needing their own sense of worth to be falsely bolstered but it is fatiguing.
I have a card I carry that has these simple words, “Let Go!” It is a reminder that everyday Jesus is calling me to surrender and not to lose my sense of awe that it is only by His Spirit that the Big Rocks of His Mission can get done. This is not to minimize hard work but to put place hard work in its proper perspective that it is not the “ME” but the “WE” that is important. This will keep the leader from adopting the perspective that people are a means- to- an- end. The beauty of success is found in the dynamic and diverse grace of the team.
- Fourth, do not be a weapon formed against another. Let’s place the “Moose on the Table!” Yes, there are times I have not liked or even overjoyed of a decision a leader that I serve with has made. Yes, there are times on my journey I needed to feel good about myself so it was so easy to critique another leader in order that at the moment I felt some sense of superiority. I have so enjoyed from my Pentecostal background to cite Isiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord.” These are great verses to quote when people are showing some hostility toward you as a leader. The truth is the sword cuts both ways. You as a Pastor do not be a weapon formed against another. The word that I have embraced is be a person of “Honor.” We preach that people should not gossip and yet pastors can be the biggest offenders of this principle because of our own competitive sense that we have to better than the other guy. I have seen pastors become adversarial with people in their church thus limiting their capacity to serve people like Jesus.
It is my conviction that though we each pastor a different congregation in the Body of Christ that contending for the unity of the faith begins with each leader not becoming an enemy toward someone else. The emotional energy that it takes for a leader to nurture a grudge or an offense robs a leader to share a compelling vision. The wonderful expression of the Church as the agency of the kingdom of God can only be perceived when we celebrate its magnificent diversity. When a leader’s ego is out from under the mind-of Christ it becomes the tyranny of this sickness of the soul to want to make people into our image.
To live in peace and wholeness is to not be a weapon formed against another!
The Calling to serve as a Pastor is a wonderful Calling! I submit if we leaders are to maintain a healthy perspective we must not simply preach that God is Sovereign and that He is so in love with us that He desires to be involved with us throughout our day. It is my conviction that we as leaders must live this way for ourselves. It is in this way that we will not create systems of dependency placed on us for growth and maturity in the lives of those we serve. As we ourselves are daily connected to Christ consciously aware of His presence in our lives that we will inspire others to live connected to the King.
 (Wiseman 1993), p 45.
 (Scazzero 2009) p 53.
 (Scazzero 2009) p.57.
Scazzero, Pete and Geri. 2009. Your Life, Your Calling and Your Work. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Brooklyn, New York.
Wiseman, H.B. London and Neil B. 1993. Pastors At Risk. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.