Coming Out of the Dark:
Two Pastors’ Journey Out of Depression
With Wayde I. Goodall And E. Glenn Wagner
Depression and burnout are becoming the occupational hazards of ministry. In a recent Enrichment poll, 17 percent of those who responded said that quite often they were depressed to the extent it affected their ministry performance. Another 20 percent said they experienced this level of depression every 2 or 3 months.
Richard L. Schoonover, Enrichment associate editor, talked with Wayde I. Goodall, Ph.D., D.Min., and E. Glenn Wagner, Ph.D., D.Min., two pastors who have walked through the darkness of depression.
Goodall pastored for 25 years. He has been a senior pastor in Seattle, and a missionary in Vienna, Austria, where he founded Vienna Christian Center. He was coordinator for the Ministerial Enrichment Office for the Assemblies of God from 1995–2000. He was also senior pastor at First Assembly of God, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 2000–05. He is currently director of benevolence for Bethesda Ministry, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Wagner has been in ministry for 30 years. He was senior pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has served as vice president for Promise Keepers. His books include Escape From Church, Inc.; The Church You’ve Always Wanted; Your Pastor’s Heart; Strategies for a Successful Marriage; The Heart of a Godly Man; and God: An Honest Conversation for the Undecided. Wagner is also founder and president of FutureLead (www.futurelead.org), an organization committed to equipping people to live and lead with purpose and passion.
As these pastors share their experience, they also provide a message of hope and healing for those who feel they have hit the wall and don’t know where to turn.
Describe The Events Leading To Your Depression And Burnout.
Wagner: Several factors contributed to my burnout and depression. One was many years of going full speed. Another factor was the difficulties I encountered while trying to make significant changes in our church leadership.
Leadership in the church had gone from a healthy to an unhealthy way of functioning, and I was not able to correct it. It seemed the harder I worked to change it the worse it got, and the more discouraged I became. But I kept trying.
The discouragement ebbed and flowed for a while as I tried to handle it through spiritual disciplines and by spending a brief time away. When I did not feel as bad as yesterday, I believed I was making progress. Another contributing factor was the fact I have never been very good at taking nonworking vacations or days off. The more irons in the fire, the more I enjoy it.
I was convinced during my discouragement that I was just tired and needed a break. I tried to pray and fast. I addressed spiritual warfare issues. I went away on a brief sabbatical. But even while on sabbatical I was still on the phone every day; I never really got away. When I returned I felt somewhat rested only to experience the dark cloud quickly returning.
I had days when I felt fine. People would say, “How are you doing?”
I would say, “Well, I’ve gone a long time without a headache.”
I started thinking I’m making progress. But progress is somewhat illusionary as the body continues to spiral downward.
I had counseled and observed others with depression. I thought with some rest and a break my discouragement would soon end. I believed the ministry initiatives and the staff changes and additions being made at the church would solve the problem. Finally, I would not have everything on my plate, and I could go away for 6 or 8 weeks and get healthy, rested, and come back refreshed. But even as people came on staff and I cut back my schedule and delegated some of my responsibilities, things worsened, which added to my confusion. I did not understand why, nor did I realize I was moving rapidly from discouragement and fatigue to burnout and clinical depression. I believed that stuff only happens to others.
Another thing that worsened my depression were the accusations that I was becoming aloof, prideful, or inaccessible. I was only trying to cut back, trying to get better.
During the last few years of my pastorate I tried to resign three times. Leadership pleaded with me to stay, promising to deal with the situation. They asked for forgiveness for the political things they had done and asked me to trust them again. I forgave them, I trusted them, and we went back into the same cycle again. After trying three times, I now believe I should have just walked away. They were telling me it was not God’s time to leave. I was trying to make choices to save my health. They were promising to make changes to enhance my life and ministry. None of it came about and I resigned in the middle of a mess in September 2004.
I was placed on medication and still continue on this path to level things out. I have a ways to go with this treatment. I am continuing with counseling and I am walking with some guys who are helping keep me on track. I still have physical limitations concerning how much I can do. There are no easy pat answers, which, unfortunately, is what you often get from the Christian community.
Goodall: I hit my depression and burnout in 1987 after finishing 7 years of 70-plus hours a week in the ministry. I had not taken a vacation in 7 years. My wife and I went right into fund-raising for missions, went on the mission field, and then it hit me. I thought I was experiencing culture shock, but I was not; it was burnout and clinical depression. I was exhausted.
I could not pull out of depression. In spite of that, we planted a church in Europe. We then came home and pastored. I thought this transition would relieve me, but it did not.
I needed to get counseling. I was put on antidepressants for about a year, which greatly assisted me and helped me sleep because during my depression I was unable to sleep.
My depression lasted nearly 2 years, which is typical of clinical depression. I reprioritized my life and started taking days off and vacations. Since then I have been free of depression, although I can sense when burnout is coming.
Another contributing factor was my work ethic. My father worked 16 hours a day. I thought pastors worked long hours. I did not know how to relax or have fun. I still need to work at having fun. So, my long hours of work and my lack of diversion were problems.
There is a vicious downward spiral in our churches of never-ending work. Added to this are the politics and the power plays by laypeople that can box the pastor into a corner. A pastor can fight it out, but if he is too tired to fight, the only thing he can do is go on a sabbatical, or resign and regroup.
Why Are Depression And Burnout Growing Issues With Pastors Today? How Widespread Is The Problem?
Wagner: The high calling of ministry drives pastors. A pastor is often involved in too many ministries not because he is a workaholic, but because he genuinely loves what he does. Calling and desire often fuel the fire. Pastors struggle to keep their lives and ministries in balance, and often the church exacerbates this problem. People want their pastor to be available. Usually they do not grant him permission to be unavailable. If people do give him permission to be unavailable, it is only until their family has a need.
A pastor must learn to say no, be able to deal with the resulting negative ramifications, and not feel guilty. This is a goal I am working on. But as soon as a pastor says no, someone will comment on his lack of dedication, question his servant’s heart, and criticize his work ethic. No one likes to be accused of being inaccessible or unapproachable. So the pastor steps over the line because he feels guilt and manipulation from the church.
Depression and burnout are at epidemic proportions. If this were the case anywhere else in the world, there would be an incredible outcry. The September/October 2000 edition of Physician magazine reported that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or dealing with depression.Forty percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses say they are suffering from burnout. The norm among men in our country who are experiencing depression at any given time is about 10 percent. The norm among pastors is 40 percent.
These statistics show pastors undergo significant stress. The church cannot escape its culpability, shoot the victim, or simply pass it off as the pastor’s inability to create and implement proper boundaries and parameters. Pastors do need to learn to say no, but this is only part of the issue. Systemic issues and expectations need to be changed.
When I speak about systemic issues, I am not suggesting church leadership is evil. But leadership is not aware of the systems currently in our churches. Those in leadership lead and react the only way they know how. This is a primary issue hindering the church from being a real movement of God. Current leadership practices unwittingly contribute to depression and burnout. I do not believe it is intentional, even though there are exceptions such as spiritual warfare and antagonistic people who want power and control. Our churches are operating the way they are because this is how they have always done it. So, a reparenting of churches needs to happen to bring change. Through the ministry of FutureLead, my desire is to change the paradigm of how Christian leadership is done in the home, the marketplace, and in the church.
Goodall: Depression is not new to those in ministry. There are biblical examples of depression along with the examples of dynamic church leaders. For example, Elijah wanted to die. David’s mood swings were severe. In 2 Corinthians 1:8–10, Paul talked about his fear of not being able to make it one more day. He did not know if he had the energy. He despaired of his life. Paul was not running from a physical threat; he was spent. Charles Spurgeon and Abraham Lincoln also struggled with depression.
To help me understand the role of stress in a pastor’s life, the executive leadership of the Assemblies of God asked me to participate in a 4-year think tank at Duke University called Pulpit and Pew. A book came out of that study entitled Pastors in Transition. I learned the primary reason pastors quit the ministry is conflict in the church. Conflict never goes away. Many pastors do not know how or when to deal with conflict. Conflict constantly hits them like a baseball bat on the head. They say: “I’ve had it. I’m going to do something different.” Unless church conflict is addressed along with the issues of burnout, stress, and depression, and the underlying causes creating these problems, the church will lose more and more of its fine pastors.
During the Duke study, we worked with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic’s research yielded some phenomenal statistics. One shocking statistic is that the general health of pastors in America is worse than the general health of the population. The general population lives an immoral lifestyle — smokes, drinks, cusses, swears — yet a minister’s health in America is worse. The stress, pressures, and the conflict wear him down. Most pastors I know are incredible people, but ministry is killing them. Addressing these issues will help ministers.
In What Ways Does Depression Affect A Pastor’s Marriage?
Goodall: Depression does affect marriages. I have known many ministers whose marriages were greatly affected and some who divorced. A spouse loses the person who is in deep depression.
I am so thankful I have Rosalyn because she has always been with me through every step of our married life. She is an absolute gift, and I listen to her. I listen to her more today than I ever have. She watches me; she knows what is going on.
I was in my depression before I realized what was happening. One night we were enjoying a wonderful meal in the comfort of our home. I started weeping, and my weeping turned into sobbing. I looked at Rosalyn and felt embarrassed. I said, “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
She replied, “I wondered when it would catch up to you. You have not been home for 37 nights.”
I was surprised. I did not even realize that. I was just doing whatever was next. I would think: Well, I’ve got to do it. This is next on the to-do list, or this is an emergency.
So, I listened to my wife, and I started to follow Jesus’ example in Scripture. He pulled away from the crowds. Many times He pulled away from the masses and ministry to rest, to pray, to think, to process situations, and to be creative. A pastor needs to pull away, or he will become susceptible to depression, stress, and burnout.
Wagner: I appreciate Wayde’s comments on marriage. In our marriage, my depression drew us closer. It changed our family dynamics. My children are grown. Susan and my children began making more decisions. This was positive. But in depression, what is rational becomes irrational, and the irrational becomes rational in one’s mind. I remember feeling anxiety because I believed Susan might leave me. I do not know how many times I asked her if she was going to stay with me. She would look at me with an incredulous look that asked: What is this? My fear was completely irrational, but at the same time, I believed she would be better off without me.
A depressed person suffers through many questions, fears, and anxieties. At the same time, people expect a depressed person to make rational choices and decisions. As I look back, I often ask myself: Why did I do that?
In spite of my illogical, irrational, and unfounded fears, God blessed, honored, and further strengthened our marriage. But depression and fear may be why many ministry marriages fracture and might also be why so many pastors today are getting caught up in immoral, voyeuristic behaviors.
Goodall: Glenn mentions an important point. In my work with ministers during the last 12 or 13 years, I have seen famous pastors become involved in pornography or affairs. In this sinful way they have found they are still alive. When I talk to these men, they have usually been burned out, stressed out, and overwhelmed. Their burnout and depression turn into wrong decisions, and ultimately sin. Depression is no excuse to sin, but the enemy takes advantage of the situation and brings temptation into their lives, and they do not have the energy to fight.
Some pastors may feel they are losing their significance. Having an affair helps them feel significant again, but this is a phony perk. It is a killer, and it happens more than we would like to think. We have not talked about this problem. We write off the pastor who compromises morally, and he is never quite the same. This is sad. We have not restored these pastors properly. We need to finish the job of restoring them. The problem is they cannot talk with freedom about what got them to that point. They need freedom to talk. Transparency helps everyone. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other.” There is healing in confessing our sins not only for the one confessing, but also for those who are listening.
Pentecostals Believe In Healing. This May Create A Stigma About Taking Medication For Depression. What Do You Say To Pastors Who Need To Take Medication Or See A Counselor Or Psychiatrist For Their Depression?
Goodall: While there is a stigma in the church about medication for depression, we would be amazed at how many pastors and/or their wives are taking antidepressants. These numbers are hard to determine because most pastors do not discuss this because of the stigma associated with depression.
In clinical depression, the body does not produce enough serotonin. Serotonin keeps one’s moods in balance. When there is not enough serotonin, a person bottoms out.
One out of five Americans will go through a significant depression requiring medication at least once in their lifetime. My major problem was losing my ability to sleep. I was sleeping about 2 hours a night. My lack of sleep and subsequent exhaustion made my depression much more significant. The medication helped me sleep and took the edge off my depression. I took medication for 12 to 18 months and visited a counselor to learn how to reprioritize my life.
I thank God that nonaddictive medication is available. Medication for depression is not like sleeping pills or Valium. Antidepressants are nonaddictive. They are taken until one’s body learns to produce enough serotonin again and a person is able to get proper rest. When a person breaks his arm, he wears a cast until it heals. It is a similar process with serotonin.
When I pastored, I frequently worked with ministers who were in severe depression. I recommended they visit a Christian psychiatrist or psychologist, get on antidepressants, and get balanced out. It is okay to get help. Antidepressants are a great gift. They are like insulin for a person with diabetes. What would we do without insulin?
Wagner: A pastor must deal with his own theological, philosophical, and personal background. A psychologist friend who took me to the psychiatrist explained that people take medications for physiological issues, and taking medications for emotional and mental issues is no different. This is especially truce since we know that the emotional and mental is so connected to the chemical makeup of the brain.
Another fear I had became a reality: The Christian community did not understand why I was taking medication. Leadership at my church and at other churches made public statements that a man of God should not need medication. These comments did not help and only further disheartened and discouraged me at a time when I was trying to get well but believing that I might never get well.
In the broader Christian community, those who condemn a pastor for taking medication for depression are usually taking cholesterol, blood pressure, or heart medication. I believe in healing. At the same time, God has provided humanity with the ability to discover, create, and utilize medication. There is more than one pathway honored by God in which He heals people.
Describe The Steps You Took To Recover From Your Depression? Why Is It Important To Get Outside Help?
Goodall: I was so miserable I had to get help. I could not sleep. I felt as though I was constantly overwhelmed. Depression is like a dark tunnel with no light at the end. I wondered if I would ever get out of it.
Leaving the mission field broke our hearts, but we needed to get back to America to get some help. I did not tell most people, including my minister friends, why we were leaving because I did not feel I could.
When we returned and were pastoring again, I sought help from a Christian psychologist and psychiatrist. My depression was not getting better; it was getting worse. The first thing I said to my counselor was: “My life, my future, and my ministry are in your hands.” I had given up.
He said, “Wayde, you need to reprioritize your life. You are wound too tight. I am going to show you how to loosen the spring and get balance.” Then he said I needed to sleep and prescribed medication.
I did not know what antidepressants were. I just needed help. I felt like those in the hospital who are hurting and desperately want the doctor to operate.
When I began to sleep regularly again, I regained my ability to think. Then I talked with my doctors and we figured out what I needed to change. I continued pastoring and the church gave me permission to slow down. The church grew in spite of that. Now, when I can see depression or burnout returning, I back off. I tell my secretary to free up my schedule or I take a few days off.
Wagner: One day my wife and I were on a trip. I was driving. We stopped at a traffic light and suddenly I did not know where we were or where we were going. I could not figure out whether we had to turn left, or right, or move forward. Susan navigated me over to the shoulder and said, “Now, are you willing to get help?” She had been trying to convince me that I was in depression for quite some time, but I simply avoided and brushed her comments aside by saying, “I’m simply tired.”
Susan called our friend who is a Christian psychologist. We were supposed to be away for 6 weeks, but we canceled these plans and returned home. Our decision to seek help came at a time when many events were scheduled in the church, which made for an even more traumatic time.
It is important to choose a Christian psychiatrist. Many general practitioners can prescribe antidepressants, but there is a difference between general practice and psychopharmacology. Find a doctor who specializes in this field. Then seek Christian counseling to help you work through changes needing to be made in your life.
I met with our psychologist friend. He took me to a psychiatrist. My condition was serious enough for my doctors to consider hospitalization. They decided to give me time on medication first. I went into a cave that seemed as dark as Lazarus’ tomb.
My next-door neighbor is Dan Sutherland. His wife Mary wrote the book Coming Out of the Dark: A Journey Out of Depression about her battle with depression. Dan took over. He told me I was going to be okay. I thought I would never be able to study, write, or preach again.
Dan came to my house a couple of times a day. He also explained the difference between wanting to die and being suicidal. I wanted to die because I thought my life was over, but I was not planning to take my life. I remember telling the doctor I had seen other people in my condition that did not get all of their mental abilities back. The doctors could not promise me I would. This was my argument with them. I believed life was over. I needed friendship, a confidant, a spiritual director, a medical doctor, and a professional counselor. Leighton Ford also provided needed comfort and direction during this time.
People we thought were friends walked away from us. This was difficult. Some of our ministry friends have not returned. In the middle of our crisis, we received phone calls that my book contract was canceled, and speaking engagements were canceled — not to be rescheduled. It was over. I looked at the situation and said: That’s it.
During this time my wife went into her own depression. She withdrew along with me, and eventually we were both getting help. She had adjusted to taking care of me, but now she also needed help.
I have been good at choosing the Timothys and Barnabases in my life. Over the last 8 or 9 years, my biggest mistakes were choosing the Pauls. When things began to deteriorate, I found the people whom I thought I had real relationships with either wanted to use me or control me. I thought these were mutual friendships, but I soon realized these people were only close to me because I was the senior pastor. Our struggle brought the truth to the surface. This caused me additional grief. I asked myself: How could I have been so blind? Building relationships is another difficult area of pastoral life. Even in a small church, people can get close to the pastor for the wrong reasons.
How Can A Denomination Build Structures And Make Changes To Help Churches And Church Boards Understand What Is Going On In Pastors’ Lives And Take Steps To Assist Them?
Wagner: Building new church structures to assist church boards and pastors is a pilgrimage I have been working on and writing about for over 20 years. I have written Escape From Church, Inc.,and The Church You Have Always Wanted. Creating new structures is like a salmon swimming up the ecclesiastical stream, but I think people are starting to recognize the need for them.
The first step is to replace secular leadership with a sacred leadership model. The church has adopted an overall leadership model that comes from the world. The research shows that the American population as a whole has a very poor view of secular leadership. The vast majority believes it to be untrustworthy and lacking in authenticity. Yet this is the very model and systems we have brought into our churches. Changing this model is key.
When the church changes its leadership model, it can then begin changing its internal structures. The church can move away from the human resources/employee assistance concept to facilitating spiritual direction in pastors’ lives. The human resources/employee assistance approach is an after-the-fact scenario. Proper structure should begin on the front end and move more toward spiritual direction.
The concept of the boardroom needs to be replaced with the hospital room. Churches as well as pastoral offices need to be seen as safe places where hurting people can be ministered to in a nonadversarial way. When a patient is admitted to the hospital, doctors do not yell at him because he is having a heart attack. Doctors do not cause further harm because of the stress they are under. A hospital is a place where people are brought to health, and then changes are suggested for ongoing health.
A leadership shift from a judgmental spirituality to a confessional spirituality is needed. I am one of the more transparent preachers of my generation, but transparency is not well accepted by my generation. The younger generation wants transparency. To allow for a gentle response to the realities of life, pastors need to have feet of clay and permission to confess. If I am preaching on marriage, I can say: “This is where Susan and I had a struggle.”
Pastors also need to get away from the secular concept of accountability, which is about as affirming as an IRS audit. The biblical concept is mutuality. There is accountability along with affirmation and trust, something that was lacking in my situation. There needs to be a change from a solution orientation to a process orientation.
Many people offered me quick fixes, but few were willing to walk through the process with me and encourage me in overcoming depression and burnout. I had many Job’s counselors. A pastor can tell who his true friends are by which way they run when life becomes difficult, and by what they say before they run. I received many well-intended suggestions. I tried exercising 4 or 5 days a week. I became obsessive-compulsive with many of these ideas and none of them were helping me out of my depression. No one suggested I was clinically depressed and needed help.
Last, pastors need to replace giving up with starting over. I was struggling with whether I should quit ministry and just take a job somewhere. I had started a new ministry, but I had my doubts whether it was something I should continue or not. At a restaurant, Wayde looked me in the eyes and said, “You are okay. You’ve done nothing wrong.” This lunch meeting was another turning point in my life.
Pastors Don’t Feel Safe To Share Their Problems With Their District, Church, Or Church Board Without Fear They Will Disqualify Them For Ministry. What Are Your Thoughts On This? How Can This Be Changed?
Goodall: When Glenn and I met for lunch, I saw the depression and burnout in his eyes. I often see depression in ministers’ eyes and faces.
I am open when I speak at a ministers institute, and it is interesting how many of our pastors — at every level from huge churches to tiny churches — come to me and admit they are spent. They are going through stress, depression, or burnout, but they cannot talk to anyone about it.
Pastors are afraid to talk about their depression. I have decided not to be afraid to talk about this. I care less about what others may think because I know the Lord created me and understands me. I do not need to live in fear. I am going to trust the Lord. I have been there, and I am going to avoid being there again.
Denominations need to give ministers permission to talk. Another finding in the Pulpit and Pew study is that most preachers in every denomination in America do not trust their district superintendent or their national office. They are afraid that if they are discovered having marital difficulty, depression, or burnout it will affect their future. It is a matter of job security. Ministers want to protect their ability to continue in the ministry and their ability to make a living.
The Assemblies of God has taken strides toward meeting this need, but there is much more to do. The Enrichment journal, the ministers 800 help line (1-800-867-4011), and various counseling programs across the country have been established to meet the need, but we have not done enough. Ministers are frightened, so they hide. They put their head in the sand. This is why I talk with several pastors on the phone. We talk and we are bringing healing to one another. We are giving each other permission to talk. But there needs to be a change in how pastors perceive their district superintendent and even their presbyters.
Nationally, we need to offer seminars to pastors and laity on stress, depression, burnout, and marital difficulty. Seminar speakers and church officials need to talk about these subjects and say: “Listen, if you have a problem in this area, I’m going to point you in the right direction, but I’m not going to police your life. I want you to get well. I want you to get in balance. I am your friend.”
Wagner: Our churches are not necessarily safe places. It is interesting how many people in the pew have family members on medication or in counseling for depression. But when depression affected me, I was accused of everything from faking depression to having unconfessed sin in my life. People believe a man of God should not be depressed. Many issues need to be addressed, but to blame the pastor for being depressed is wrong. The church should not say a victim is responsible for his own self-care and well-being. Churches and denominations need to take responsibility for the health of their ministers.
When I speak at conferences, people are much more willing to talk to me because I admit my wife has struggled off and on for years with depression. Neither one of us ever thought it would hit me. This is why she didn’t recognize it at first. I’ve always been the strong one.
Where can pastors find a safe place to share their problems? I have a letter from a pastor’s wife. She is afraid if her presbyter finds out she is being treated for depression, it will hinder her husband’s advancement. I have an e-mail from a pastor whose doctor told him he needed to take 6 to 8 weeks off and get away from the ministry. He went to his board. They said they would give him 4 weeks. When he returned, the board gave him a 2-week termination notice explaining his condition disqualified him for ministry. They were unwilling to help him get well.
So, there are two ways of looking at these issues: what a denomination is saying, and the historic issues and anecdotes of individual situations that keep pastors from coming forward. Susan and I have chosen to be straightforward. We speak about my depression honestly and prayerfully, and hope it will free others to do the same.
Discuss The Importance Of Sabbaticals For Pastors.
Wagner: The perception of sabbaticals is changing. Even in the secular world people are starting to discuss and plan sabbaticals for leadership. I have two thoughts on sabbaticals.
First, the average board member does not understand the difference between what they do and what the pastor does. Lay leadership needs to understand there is a big difference between a pastor’s job description and a business owner’s job description. There is a difference between how a church of a certain size and budget operates and how a business of the same size and budget operates.
A pastor has the weight of caring for people and is responsible for their spiritual welfare. His calling mandates he take this responsibility seriously. There is a great emotional drain and pull on those in ministry, more than on the average business owner. Those who own businesses work hard and their responsibility can be draining. The difference is in being responsible for 300 eternal souls as opposed to making and selling a product and operating a business.
Second, the whole concept of a church board turns the pastor into an employee rather than a leader. The more a pastor tries to talk about personal needs and concerns the more moral authority and leadership ability the church board can take away from him. A board can render a pastor powerless in the midst of his ministry.
More information would help the board understand a pastor’s needs. There is a disconnect in pastor-board understanding making it difficult for a pastor to discuss his need for a sabbatical or a salary increase. Most pastors do not want to be perceived as whining or unwilling to sacrifice for the Kingdom. Unless someone becomes the pastor’s advocate and promotes and teaches about sabbaticals and salaries, the church sets their ministry staff up for failure. I have never been comfortable asking for a salary increase. Churches give one to each missionary, but not the pastor. Can a pastor say to his board: “I need a sabbatical. You will need to cover everything. I cannot take phone calls or answer e-mails on this sabbatical.”
A pastor who tries to teach the church how to care for the pastor, especially since he is the perceived beneficiary of this care, puts himself in a precarious position. There must be a better way of instructing and leading church leadership in this aspect of loving the Kingdom. Pastor appreciation month is good, but one month out of the year is not enough, and receiving a certificate to a restaurant is not sufficient. A congregation needs to provide ongoing care for their pastor.
Tools, resources, symposiums, and training need to be provided through denominations and districts to teach lay leadership a different model of leading and following. They need to know what their responsibilities are so ministry is not the sole responsibility of the pastor.
A pastor can go to a conference and think: This is great, but when I return to the church how am I going to explain this to them? These resources need to be provided for lay leadership. Then the church can start implementing them.
Goodall: In most Pentecostal denominations, the word sabbatical is not used. We do not know what it is, cannot define it, and do not know how to take one. My wife and I recently decided we had been hitting it hard for more than 25 years, and we were not willing to damage our next 15 or 20 years of full-time ministry. So, we resigned and plan to regroup during a 3- or 4-month sabbatical. My plans are to outline a couple of books, get some rest, and build up some energy. But churches do not give their pastors permission to do this.
Churches and pastors need to learn how to take a sabbatical. The Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, and many evangelical groups have had sabbaticals in place for their ministers; sabbaticals are assumed. Every 5 or 10 years, whatever structure they have set up, the board anticipates and plans for their pastor’s sabbatical. They rejoice in it.
I have a friend who just took a 6-month sabbatical and studied at Oxford. He came back electrified. He was rested and was able to look at some different ideas. This is healthy. Pastors who take sabbaticals are not lazy. Most ministers are hard working and need a break, and boards need to make provision for it.
How do you get a board in a Pentecostal church to do this? How can deacons guard the pastor’s health? We need to develop a tool to talk to our boards.
Most board members, like pastors, are wonderful people who love God and want God’s best for the church and pastor. But, again, there is not enough instruction. I have not seen any manuals, teaching tapes, or other forms of information our churches can buy.
What Advice And Hope Would You Give To Pastors Who Are Suffering From Depression And Burnout?
Goodall: I would encourage pastors to get help. The first thing a pastor must do is go to a Christian counselor or physician and tell him what is going on. This Christian counselor needs to understand depression and talk to him about where he is in his life.
Pastors need to talk about their condition quickly and define where they are. There are different levels of clinical depression. Are they experiencing level 1 or level 5 depression? A pastor’s spouse should go and be a part of the therapy.
Then they need to reprioritize their life. Glenn talked about his compulsive to excessive exercise, but most of the time the opposite is true. Pastors are not exercising. They do not have balance in their life. According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity is the No. 1 problem with ministers in most denominations. Pastors are often at committee meetings where dinners with desserts and all the trimmings are served. Pastors are not living a balanced life, are not taking care of their bodies, and are not getting enough rest. These items contribute to a balanced picture and are preventative maintenance.
Wagner: One preventative measure is to review the signs of depression. I have collected notes from speaking with pastors about depression. I compiled these and listed them in the article I did for Rev magazine. (See sidebar Ten Telltale Signs of Depression.)
As I went through the list, I remembered seeing these red flags in my own life. Pastors are so focused on other people they often do not see the symptoms in themselves. This is not caused by pride as some would suggest, but by ministerial focus. I had ministered to other pastors from outside our church about depression, but I had not evaluated these areas in my own life. Pastors need to check themselves periodically and ask: Am I slipping in this direction? Am I starting to have some of these symptoms? If they are, they need to seek help from trusted people such as a Christian psychologist or psychiatrist. Some counselors offer intensives where pastors and their spouses can go for a retreat and get help for a week or two. These kinds of helps need to be built into budgets and into denominational frameworks so pastors can take advantage of them.
Pastors need to schedule time for activities unrelated to their work and business. Pastors are encouraged to continue their education. They also need to continue soul care, beyond vacation. Vacation is family time. What will we build in for ongoing soul care during routine, day-to-day ministry? Do we schedule a mental health day each month so pastors can get away?
First, I would say to pastors who are headed into or are experiencing depression that depression is not the end of the road. I thought it was. Facts and feelings do not always agree. Second, there is help. Third, there is ministry ahead for pastors if they and God desire further ministry. Intervention at this critical point and in a safe place is essential.
Goodall: We are two examples saying there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have been there and we are still dealing with these issues. Fifteen years ago when I was in the middle of depression, I did not care if I lived another day. I was not suicidal, but I asked: Who needs life? But there is a way to reprioritize your life. The harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few. The Lord wants us to carry a light burden. There will always be ministry, and we can be in ministry. Our goal is to understand the lightness of His burden. It is not God’s will for ministry to overwhelm or kill us.