by Mark Dance
After pastoring in a fog of clinical depression, I came very close to walking away from my church and the ministry five years ago. I had been pastoring for 22 years at the time, and was burned out and fed up—mostly with myself.
Thanks to the help of my doctor and therapist, I would learn what role mental illness had in my decision-making. Fortunately, my depression was temporary and treatable, as most are if diagnosed early. However, many pastors struggle with mental illness in secret isolation—we have a role to play, expectations to live up to, and people to please.
If you are a ministry leader who is struggling with ongoing depression, please consider these four suggestions.
1. Seek professional help
Self-diagnosis is usually a waste of time. My first conversation was with my medical doctor, then a licensed Christian therapist. It was a humbling, but rewarding experience for me.
2. Let your church minister to you
The stigma of depression, or any weakness, tempts us away from seeking help from those who love us most. I meet monthly with an accountability partner/friend, monthly with a therapist, and quarterly with a small group of supportive deacons. Along with my wife, this is my “Dance Team.”
3. Trust the Lord for healing
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31).
Satan has plan for your life, but so does God! Although I don’t believe it was God’s will for Peter to fail, He obviously knew about and allowed Peter to go through the sifting and refining process so he could grow in both strength and humility. He would need both later.
We know in retrospect that God had big plans for Peter, but we also know God has plans for our ministries, too. Jesus is still praying for our good and His glory. Praying that our faith would not fail, even when we do.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
4. Help someone else off the cliff
“And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers “(Luke 22:32).
Several pastors and deacons talked me off that cliff of ministry suicide five years ago, and I will always be grateful to them. Stepping away from ministry and the church I loved and needed was neither in the best interest of my church, my family, or myself.
I got a ministry recall and have used it countless times to help other pastors off that same cliff. There are many of us out there considering it.
Mark Dance (@PastorDance) is associate vice president of pastoral leadership at Lifeway. Most recently, he served 13 years as a pastor in Conway, Arkansas.