I struggle with depression as a replanter

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 its 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 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 yourself: You might need to be honest that you’re having more downs than ups, the valleys are dark, the clouds are thick, rest evades, joy is fleeting, and you can’t pull out of the spiral you are in.

Confide in your spouse: They know anyway, because 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 our church is led by men who are called, competent and qualified and that they care first about me as a brother in Christ, more 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 Christ-like 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, then tell your associational director or share it with a pastoral colleague you trust. If you are alone and feel you have few options to discuss your depression, call the Pastoral Care Line.

Talk to a professional. I believe it’s 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 often are seen as weakness, something to be hidden or 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, written by my friend Zack Eswine, chronicles the great preacher’s lifelong battle with depression. In this work, we see that one of the world’s greatest preachers was honest with his church about his bouts of depression. Many times pastors believe 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 themselves 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 Cor. 1:8-11)

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

(This blog originally appeared October 22, 2015)

Published February 17, 2022

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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