No one is exempt
A recent report identified some of the most common sources of poor mental health: criticism and conflict, family problems, stress, depression, burnout, sexual problems, and financial problems. The respondents reported that their job expectations were often unrealistic leading to high rates of anxiety (13.5%) and depression (8.7-11.1%). Respondents felt that their training was inadequate to the actual daily responsibilities of the work. Ultimately, 70% reported regularly considering walking away from their work, and 40% actually did walk away within the first 5 years.
These numbers are a bit shocking and should wake us up to the very real life-changing implications of our stressful lifestyles. Even more shocking, however, is that these statistics are taken from a survey of Christian pastors.
These numbers and observations reflect the reality that many of our beloved spiritual leaders face every day. These are the men and women that we look up to, our spiritual mentors and models, sometimes even our heroes. These are the people we turn to in our times of deepest need for strength, comfort, and guidance. What we fail to recognize is that they need encouragement and support as much as or more than we do.
Apparently, no one is exempt from the treachery of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Approximately 1 in 5 Americans ages 13 and up suffers from a mental disorder in any given year. The greatest portion of these suffers from one of the many forms of anxiety. Depression is a close second and sometimes comes along for the ride with the anxiety.
- Pastors report mental disorders at a rate of 23%, slightly higher than the general national average (18.1%). Our pastors are struggling more than the rest of us.
- More than half of all pastors say that they can get discouraged in ministry and over 80% of young pastors (ages 18-44) say that loneliness is a real problem.
What does all of this mean to you and me if we are not in full-time ministry? I think there are a couple applications for all of us.
First, we need to do a better job of caring for our pastors. Just because they have a big smile on Sunday mornings and a spot-on sermon to challenge us doesn’t mean they don’t have their own struggles. They need prayer, they need honest conversation, and they need help. Some pastors try to do it all and too many of us are content to let them. It’s time for the church to step up and share the work of the ministry with those who have been called to be shepherds.
Second, we need to encourage our leaders to get rest and take breaks often. They need a day or two off each week, like the rest of us, and we need to honor that and help them to maintain their boundaries. Providing a sabbatical program, where the pastor is encouraged to leave normal church responsibilities and enter into a time of spiritual rest and restoration, is another way a church body can show love and care for their pastors.
Finally, spiritual leaders of all kinds, from pastors to part-time Sunday school teachers, need to intentionally care for their own physical, mental, and spiritual health. We need to learn to say no, to take breaks often, to live within our limits and our boundaries. And like Jesus, we need to escape the busyness of life frequently to refuel and be restored by the Father (e.g., Matthew 14:23).
So let’s all agree on this. As a church body we are not supposed to be consumers. We are not supposed to be observers like fans at a concert or football game, showing up every Sunday to see the show. We need to re-vision our role as co-caretakers and co-participants in the ministry of the church. And we need to look for ways to encourage, support, and share the burdens of the leaders whom God has placed over us.