Depression and Replanting

By Bob Bickford

I am a Replanting Pastor and I struggle with depression.

I don’t think leading a Replant caused it, but it did surface it to the degree where I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Ministry is hard and it’s difficult. So are many other vocations. Every job has it’s own set of challenges and struggles yet there are some unique aspects to ministry that could lead to a Pastor becoming depressed or being confronted by the depression within.

As a Replanter, wise men told me that I would encounter two challenges: Spiritual Attack and Deep Dark Depression. They stood before me like a bridge that had to be crossed, there was no way around it. In writing, I simply offer my own experience as one who has crossed that bridge and is continuing in ministry as a Replanter.

Talk about Your Depression–don’t announce in the bulletin or share it with strangers but talk about it.
  
First with your self–you might need to be honest that you’re having more downs than ups, that the valleys are dark, that the clouds are thick, that rest evades, joy is fleeting and you can’t pull out of the spiral you are in. 

Confide in your spouse–they know anyway, they’ve been living with you. It’s likely they have been hesitant to say anything–fearing that doing so might push you even further into your depression. God has created marriage to be the “first” safe place for us to be completely open, vulnerable and bare. Talk to your wife, use whatever words you have—don’t be concerned with eloquence.

Tell your Elders/Leaders–I’m thankful that our church is led by men who are called, competent and qualified and that they care first about me as a brother in Christ than in my role as the Pastor of the Church. If your Elders are gospel centered and loving they won’t be threatened by your confession—your transparency, honesty and vulnerability is one of the best examples of Christlike leadership you can demonstrate. If the leaders in your church aren’t safe, if they are not mature enough to handle your honesty, if you fear for your job—tell your Associational Director, share it with a pastoral colleague you trust. If you are alone and feel like you have few options to discuss your depression, call the Pastoral Care Line.

Talk to the Professionals–I believe it’s a non-negotiable; every Pastor and Staff member should avail themselves of professional counseling. Find a good Christian Counselor, one who understands the challenges Pastors face, the strain on their families and the unique struggles we have with friendships. Consult with your Physician. If your heart hurt, your vision was blurry and you couldn’t hear—you’d quickly seek out the Doctor. Depression and other mental health issues are often seen as weakness, something to be hidden, something to be ashamed of—you don’t treat other illnesses that way—Depression shouldn’t be any different.

Tell Your Congregation–you don’t have to go into all the details but it’s important to acknowledge that you struggle with Depression. Be real, be vulnerable, be honest. Spurgeon’s Sorrows by my friend Zack Eswine, chronicles the great preacher’s life long battle with depression. In this work we see that one of the world’s greatest preachers was honest about his bouts of depression with his church. Many times Pastors believe that they have to hide behind a smile, feign happiness and never let others see their struggles. God used my honesty about depression in a powerful way, it led to several in our congregation getting help and experiencing hope and progress.

Pastor, are you depressed? Take courage from the raw and vulnerable words Paul writes to the Church in Corinth:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

You don’t have to keep it a secret or be silent.

(Next week I’ll share suggestions on self-care.)


Published October 22, 2015

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick