Nearly three years ago I wrote about six major issues facing ministerial leaders. One of those issues was poor self-care. While I have written and spoken about this on other occasions, it is worth repeating those words here:
Clergy depression is wide-spread. It has a negative impact on our effectiveness, as well as our spiritual lives and personal well-being. Ministerial leaders must be more deliberate about their own spiritual lives, their own physical condition, and their own mental health. In addition, this continually shifting context for ministry demands that ministerial leaders be diligent about continuing education. We need to have a reading plan, and to participate in conferences and workshops that expand and sharpen our skills. If we have not gained new tools and insights for ministry in the last five years, then we are just as bound to the sin of status quo that we accuse our churches of committing.
My feelings in the years since that was written have only intensified. We tend to dismiss the danger of clergy depression; sometimes thinking it is a modern problem that we can avoid. But I suggest you take a look at Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, from the mid-19th Century. Lecture XI is entitled: The Minister’s Fainting Fits. While the language is archaic (and exclusivist), it shows that clergy depression (while it may be epidemic now) is not new, and offers some very timely suggestions.
Spurgeon begins: It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them. “Prostration” – “fainting fits” – would be called “depression” in today’s language. Spurgeon asks why this is so.
They are men. Get past the Victorian language. Ministers are human beings. As human beings we are compassed with infirmity and heirs of sorrow. Humans are subject to human “passions” [emotions] yet God has chosen to us to be vessels of grace.
Most are in some way or other unsound physically. We don’t take care of our bodies! And sick bodies contribute to “despondency” and “melancholy.”
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. The very nature of ministerial work is inclined to produce depression.
Our position in the church will also conduce to this. Ministers work in a degree of isolation—by necessity. And churches tend to place us on a pedestal and “set us apart from others.” Isolation brings its own dangers.
Sedentary habits. We sit too long; study and write; sometimes in unhealthy settings. Other men look to their tools—but ministers neglect their brains and spirits. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours ramble in the beech woods umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling minister who are now but half alive.
This all sounds familiar to me! I love some of his quotable observations:
As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off balance?
The wonder in many cases is how some ministers keep at their work at all, and still wear a smile upon their countenances.
All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul.
This loneliness, which if I mistake not is felt by many of my brethren, is a fertile source of depression; and our ministers’ fraternal meetings, and the cultivation of holy intercourse with kindred minds will, with God’s blessing, help us greatly to escape the snare.
The bow cannot always be always bent without fear of breaking. Rest time is not waste time. A little pause prepares the mind for greater service in the good cause.
It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.
Serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure.
Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life entry the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.
Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.
About this time last year I challenged you to group studies around Church Next by Eddie Gibbs. I was overwhelmed by the response. One of my joys this year has been meeting with about 75 pastors in six different groups across the Region, talking about ministry in the 21st Century.
Many of you have asked about continuing. In that spirit, I offer some suggestions for next year. While I would love to continue my meetings with you, please don’t feel obligated to invite me and build your schedules around me. If someone will record participation, I will also offer CEU’s for these studies.
My suggestions for 2002:.
· Kirk Byron Jones Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers Judson Press 2001.
· David Hansen The Power of Loving Your Church: Leading Through Acceptance and Grace Bethany House 1998.
· Brennan Manning The Signature of Jesus Multinomah 1996.
· Eugene Peterson The Contemplative Pastor Eerdmans 1989.
· Robert Randall Walking Through the Valley: Understanding and Emerging from Clergy Depression Abingdon 1998.
· C. Jeff Woods Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership Judson 2001.
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of the Great Rivers Region
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