Clergy and Mental Health Supporting pastors to thrive in ministry
Nearly one-fourth of all pastors (23 percent) acknowledge having “personally struggled with mental illness,” and half of those pastors say the illness has been diagnosed. Source: LifeWay Research
Centre for Clergy Care • The number of pastors diagnosed with clinical depression was double the national average. • Almost 40 percent sought the care of a clinical counselor. • 45 percentsought advice from their family doctor regarding stress and anxiety issues. • On average, only halfof those with depression seek help. • Source: Breaking the Silence: The Mental Health of Our Clergy by Sandra Moll and Kristine O'Brien
Centre for Clergy CareFindings on clergy well-being: • On average, pastors surveyed are working 50 hours. A quarter of them work more than 55 hours. • Nearly 40 percent take fewer than three days off per month. • Many ministers neglect regular exercise, personal devotions, and relaxation to find more time for serving or to avoid feeling guilty. • Reading Scripture is one of the most important sources of spiritual renewal for ministers. Yet 94 percent of pastors said that although they read Scripture to prepare sermons, it rarely nourishes them personally. • Source: Breaking the Silence: The Mental Health of Our Clergy
45.5percent of pastors report having felt depressed or burned out to the degree that they had to take a break from ministry. • Source: Pastors at Greater Risk by H. B. London, Jr., and Neil B. Wiseman
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, claims many pastors are "reticent to say anything about their depression lest they be viewed as unfaithful to God and unable to help others." • Source: “Pastor, Heal Thyself?” by Amy Simpson
“We were sitting at Outback, and I simply couldn't take it anymore. I told her, ‘We have a great house, we have nice cars, we're living comfortably, and the church is growing at a rate I never thought it would. I'm getting asked to travel and speak at conferences all over the country. And I hate my life! ’ “Over the next three years, I experienced days that were so dark, so difficult, and so overwhelming that I considered taking my own life. I finally decided not to do it . . . But I still remember some of those long days when I just wanted out of here.” • Source: Pastor Perry Noble, quoted from “Pastor, Heal Thyself?”
“I had a dream the other night. I was a minister or some sort of leader and was supposed to lead in something, but I was totally out of control. I couldn’t find my robe. I couldn’t find the right page number. I finally told the people I was disoriented and then I fell to the floor—unconscious.” These words from an extremely capable and accomplished pastor point to a well-known truth: Pastoring is pressure-filled work.
Table Discussion Table #1: Select two to three examples of mental health problems occurring inScripture. How did biblical figures find support when they struggled? Scripture ideas: Moses (Numbers 11:10-17), Elijah (1 Kings 19:3-9), Naomi (Ruth 1:11-21), Saul (1 Samuel 22:6-19), David (Psalm 38), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:1-11), Jonah (Jonah 4), Job (Job 3),Paul (Acts 9:1-9), Psalm 77, and Psalm 88. Table #2: What are some of the pressures in pastoral ministry that open the doorto mental health problems? Table #3: List some of the ways we support people in our congregations when they face physical illnesses. Which of these would be helpful for pastors facing mental health issues? Which would not?
How can congregations support their pastors in ways that are contextual and proactive?
Overview “[In the pastor-consistory relationship] . . . concern for one another’s well-being is a visible expression of being a Christian community. It can also encourage addressing concerns before they spiral into crisis. . . . When the pastor experiences significant stress or a crisis in mental health that impacts his/her participation in ministry, it may be necessary to consider a leave of absence. This brief guide is meant to help pastors and consistories—and their classis—in navigating a path of healing and health.”
For the pastor: •Connect with your classis • Seek professional help “Silence about a mental health situation fosters stigma and gossip. Appropriate transparency communicates trust, invites compassion, and signals to members of the congregation that the pastor’s own mental health concerns may be addressed in the faith community.”
For the council/consistory: • Utilize your regional pastor/classis as resource. • Pastoral care is important. Let the pastor and family guide you as to what they need. • Communicate with the congregation in language that is approved by the pastor. • Maintain confidentiality to ensure safety and trust.
Guide for a Clergy Leave of Absencefor Mental Health Reasons A recommended next step: • Bring the document to your council for discussion and consideration. Your feedback, questions, concerns . . .