In the September/October 2000 edition of Physician Magazine, Dr. Walt Larimore, vice president of medical outreach at Focus on the Family, along with Rev. Bill Peel reported, “surveys indicate that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression. In addition, more than 40 percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses report that they are suffering from burnout.” That was a long time ago and I wonder if it is worse now.An article in USA Today – http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-10-28-pastor_suicides_N.htm begins with an incidence where a Pastor actually takes his own life. Our District Presidents have taken notice of the issue. They see it all the time and deal with it in many ways. The loss of members, increasingly pagan society, lack of any seeming “success” while trying to fulfill some “metrics” as to what being a Pastor entails can get to be too much.
I was thinking about the conundrum of “congregational revitalization”, and what that might mean. Can it be that Pastors get depressed because they have a false view of what a “vital” congregation really is? Is a vital congregation a large church in a big town that worships 600 a Sunday but does nothing outside of it’s doors for anybody and sees only itself as a mission? Or is a vital congregation one that may be shrinking and slowly fading away but they are generous and active in seeking ways to be of service and to share the love of Christ in their community and around the world? It is an interesting question, but back to Pastors.
Since our convention I have been in contact with a lot of Pastors up here in the North Country and in other places and I detected what I would call a lot of, well, for lack of a better phrase, burn out. I heard the phrase, “somedays I don’t even want to get out of bed” a couple of times. There does seem to be some despondency out there and I wonder sometimes of the questions and the issues that we deal with surrounding the “call” don’t have to do with that feeling of despondency. We get into conflicted situations and have to defend the “divinity of the call” because deep down we are questioning the nature of our ministry and what it is exactly that we are accomplishing.
Sometimes seemingly simple passages that we have read over and over again reach out and grab us. One of those for me is 2 Corinthians 4:1, “I hold this ministry by God’s mercy to me and I never lose heart in it”. Well something like that anyway. The thought of Paul is that he was poor and beggardly and down in the dumps, but God “mercied” him and lifted him up into a glorious ministry and service. His circumstance may change from joy to sorrow and from freedom to imprisonment; he may be sick and poorly or feeling great; he may encounter surprizing resistance to his message and he may have people receiving his message, but behind it all is the mercy of God who put him here.
Isn’t it interesting that we get depressed when we contemplate our “call” and the Apostle gets out of depression by contemplating his. The difference is the understanding that Paul had. He believed that he was what he was by the eternal will and decree of God. So are we. All of us. Pastor and lay people alike. We just need to remember.