A Wounded Shepherd: When Pastors Suffer With Depression

depression 2

It’s taboo. A major no-no. Pastors never deal with stuff like depression. They certainly are never suicidal…right?

Um, no. Talk of depression among pastors is often pushed under the rug. Oftentimes, by the pastors themselves.

Thom S. Rainer says, “Depression was once a topic reserved for ‘other people’. It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?”

I’m a PK (aka-preacher’s kid for all those non PKs out there). Being in pastor’s family helps you see all aspects of ministry: the good, the bad and the ugly. Believe me when I say that depression is a very real issue among pastors today.

According to Lifeline for Pastors (a publication from Maranatha Life):

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. 90% said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
  • 90% said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.

To be honest, I’ve had a hard time finding people willing to talk with me about this. Most pastors I approached about this topic admit they have struggled with it but when asked if I could interview them, they said “No! If my congregation knew, I would lose all my credibility!” The stigma especially seems strong if the pastor is taking medication for his depression.

Dealing with mental illness is tough enough, but Christians can make it worse by “over-spiritualizing” depression. Believers uneducated in understanding mental illness dismiss this issue as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.


So rather than have their faith questioned, many pastors suffer silently. Avoidance becomes the goal.

A Wounded Shepherd

Pastors are often called ‘shepherds’…the overseers who lead their church flock. The question is then, what is wounding these shepherds so deeply?

1) Spiritual warfare. “The enemy does not want God’s servants to be effective in ministry. He will do whatever it takes to hurt ministers and their ministries.” (Thom S. Rainer)

2) Exhaustion. “A pastor is like a 24-hour ER who is supposed to be available to any congregant at any time…we create an environment that makes it hard to admit our humanity.” (Steve Scoggin, Warner) Workaholism leads to burnout. Burnout leads to depression. stress

3) Unrealistic expectations. Pastors are expected to be at everyone’s beck and call, deliver ground-breaking sermons each week, visit the sick, have perfect children, be hospitable, counsel the hurting and lead the entire church body through teaching and example. These expectations are enormous and unrealistic.

And let’s face it: pastors are dealing in weighty stuff. When you consider that their work impacts eternity…well, the pressure can be crushing. Sometimes the demands don’t only come externally; they are often self-imposed. So when they think they are failing, they can turn their frustration back on themselves. A sure recipe for hopelessness.

4) Criticism. There is a wide-spread fable that ministry is a romantic line of service. You know…kneeling down in the streets of Calcutta, offering water to an orphan who later grows up to declare that due to your devotion and God’s love, they will now spread the gospel in Africa.

Let me stop right here and say ministry is not always warm fuzzies and sweet memories. Honestly, ministry is all about serving others…others who happen to be sinners. There are a lot of crazies out there doing things ‘in Jesus’ name’. I’m convinced that if people knew half of what went on behind the scenes in a church, they would be shocked.

cranky 3

People can be critical. Harsh. Opinionated. And sometimes, down-right mean. And the pastor often gets the brunt of the criticism. In addition, in our modern world there is even more exposure. Facebook, twitter, podcasts, youtube…which all have great potential to spread the Gospel, but also create even more opportunities for a pastor to take a hit.

4) Family problems. The average pastor is often torn between his never-ending duties and spending time with his family. If he’s not careful, the wife and kids will feel neglected. Then add in financial stress. Ministers are often underpaid and take a bullet on their taxes as well, since they are taxed as ‘self-employed’. The church family’s needs will sometimes creep in and affect the harmony of the home. And the pastor’s wife is supposed to be okay with sharing her husband. My mother is a pastor’s wife and jokingly quips that someday she will write a book about being a minister’s wife. She plans to title it Others May But You May Not.

You may wonder why I picked the title A Wounded Shepherd. Pastors are supposed to lead, protect and love God’s lambs.But oftentimes, the picture is more accurate of a shepherd fallen on the ground, while a wolf attacks him over and over. The sheep stand nearby, calming chewing on their cud. As he fights for his life, one of the sheep leans over to the other and says, “You know, he could be doing much better at taking care of us. And honestly, I don’t think he’s done an adequate job feeding me lately…” sheep

Meanwhile, the shepherd is exhausted and bleeding, begging for relief.


This really isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been going on since Bible times. Consider Elijah.

In I Kings 19, Elijah had just defeated the false prophets of Baal. This was a huge spiritual victory! And all done in a very grandiose, public fashion. He should have been on cloud nine.

Yet, one discouraging message and threat from the evil queen Jezebel, and Elijah panicked and ran. running away

He himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep….” (verses 4-5)

Elijah had insisted that his servant leave him. He was isolated and alone. Refusing the encouragement of fellow believers, especially when we’re already down, is a prime time to begin listening to those negative thoughts. When all we have is our own depressed viewpoint, the company isn’t good.

“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (verses 5-8)

Such a beautiful picture of God’s care. The Almighty sent an angel to care for Elijah’s physical needs. God is concerned about every aspect of our lives. And depression very much involves giving attention to our physical bodies, as well as our emotional and spiritual bodies.

It’s easy to forget that God doesn’t just care about our spiritual state: He cares about each and every part of us. He wants us to be whole, complete and happy in Him. Did you notice that in this passage, God took care of all three of Elijah’s needs? He gave him food, water and rest for his physical body, comforted him emotionally and then addressed the spiritual issue that had caused Elijah to run in fear. God is the ultimate holistic healer!

The passage goes on to say that God Himself came to comfort Elijah and remind him that he was not alone in his struggle.

For the Church Member: Lending a Hand…or Two

*Pray for your pastor. The best way to ward off satanic attack is to cover him and his family with prayer. pray

*Encourage vacations. “Make certain your pastor takes time off every year. Vacations must be mandatory. He likewise needs to take at least one day off each week. Look for signs that he is not giving sufficient time to his family, and help him to find the time to do so. His wife and children cannot be neglected.” (Thom S. Ranier)

*Financial. Work as a church to make sure your pastor is being given adequate compensation. …the worker deserves his wages.” (Luke 10:7)

Some churches won’t allow the pastors to work second jobs, but also can’t afford to pay him near what his family needs to survive. So his wife ends up having to work one, or sometimes, even two jobs. This puts an enormous strain on the family. You have to be willing to pay the pastor what his family needs to stay afloat or at least allow him to work. It creates a lot of resentment on the wife’s part too if she has to do all the bread winning and her husband is always gone taking care of everybody else.

Remember, if you can’t live on it, your pastor can’t either.

*Don’t be a time hog. give me, i need Driggers says, “Be respectful of your pastor’s time. He needs his study time. You know, just respect those boundaries. And of course, the world is so different now. Pastors today never get a break at all because of this,” he declares, as he pats the cell phone case on his hip. “This has totally changed everything about ministry. I cannot tell you how many times a day our senior pastor gets called. It’s absolutely nonstop. You know, call on your pastor for the emergencies but don’t call him to tell him how your runny nose is doing. A good rule of thumb is call on the Lord more than you call your pastor.”

*Encouragement and gifts. Encourage your pastor to share at other churches when he has the opportunity to preach in other venues. It will do his heart a world of good to minister to fresh faces now and then.

And who doesn’t love an encouraging card from time to time? Verbally encourage him, slip a gift into his office at random times (Not just on Pastor Appreciation Day). Listen to him if he needs to talk. Organize a ‘food pounding’ from the church: a special time set aside to give his family dry goods, gift cards, etc. Those special moments of ‘loving’ on your pastor will make a world of difference in his work.

For the Pastor…

*Take time to relax. Even Jesus took time alone to pray and recharge His battery…sometimes for an extended period of time.

exhausted pastor

*Make your family a priority. Your family is a ministry too. Don’t be afraid to think long term about how your children will grow up to view God’s work and ministry.

A pastor friend of mine offered this nugget of wisdom. “One thing I always tried to do was make my kids part of the ‘rewards’ part of ministry. If a church gave me a $200 Christmas bonus, we would give a good chunk of that to our kids and tell them, ‘We know it’s hard in ministry sometimes, but there are also spiritual and physical benefits too. I’d like to share my bonus with you, because you are such a huge support to me.’ I think it’s important for pastors to help their children recognize the advantages and blessings of working in ministry; not just griping about the hard stuff.”

*Set boundaries. I think of Moses; how did he manage to lead and pastor over a million people without cracking? And you know, those Israelites did some complaining! “We’re hungry…we’re thirsty…we want meat…we’re sick of meat…we’re tired of manna…it was better in slavery…Moses, are you trying to kill us?”


His father-in-law Jethro even noticed how badly the people were draining Moses. He encouraged him to set boundaries and delegate responsibility. Moses heeded Jethro’s wisdom and saved himself from years of mental and physical anguish.

*Find a confidante. Ask God to send you a friend, a fellow pastor or confidante that you can share openly with; someone who will listen, point you up to Christ, pray with you and can keep a confidence.

*Seek medical help if the depression persists. Contrary to popular belief, needing medication does not mean you’re crazy. It means your human with a mortal body that wears out from time to time. Medication is simply a tool God has provided to help until we receive those glorified bodies He’s promised us. Medical help treats the symptoms while the Holy Spirit helps reveal the cause.

*Nurture your relationship with God. You can’t give what you don’t have. You will have a hard time dropping love and truth into the church folks if you are dry and empty.

When asked what advice he would give to young pastors, Bill Driggers offered this wisdom: “If you want to stay in it for the long haul, you have to maintain your closeness to the Lord. Everybody is going to be pulling on you from every direction and you have stay close to Him if you want to make it. And being a pastor is more than just studying; it’s about serving people and loving them.”

Recovery from the landmine of depression is possible. Hope abounds. Reach for it. Reach for Christ and the rest He can give.

To learn more about depression, people pleasing and a host of other problems that can make a Christian feel ‘unvictorious’ in their walk with God, hollow victory check out Hollow Victory here: http://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443011206&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson


The Forgetting: Learning to Forgive…and Forget

by Tara Johnson

“I’ll forgive but I can’t forget.” forgive funny

Have you heard this phrase before? Me too. Maybe you’ve thought it or even spoken it on occasion. It’s an understandable sentiment because, let’s face it, forgiveness is sometimes extremely difficult. The deeper the hurt, the more grievous the wound, the more jagged the scar, the harder forgiveness becomes.

There are three undeniable ways to feel shackled, stuck and unhappy in your walk with God: 1) believe Satan’s lies, 2) embrace the very things Jesus died to free you from, and 3) refuse to forgive.

unforgiveness tied

Unforgiveness in the Bible carries the idea of tying someone to your back and refusing to cut them free. I confess, there are a few people I wouldn’t mind tying up until they learn their lesson but tying them to my own back? No way! If you tie someone to your back and have to move around, who is doing all the work…the person tied up or the one with an ornery person strapped to their backside?

Put another way, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the person who wronged you to die. It only affects those who willingly drink it.

When I consider God’s mind-blowing capacity to forgive, I’m often guilty of using my ‘humanness’ to justify hanging on to the old ‘forgive but don’t forget’ mentality.

“I [God], even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” ~Isaiah 43:25  love keeps no record

God is God. He can forgive and remember it no more. But what about wavering, flip-flopping humans? It seems like an impossible task for someone as broken as myself.

Just this past week, I was mulling over an incident with someone who hurt me deeply.

To be honest, I was weary of the cold, dark feeling hovering around me. I was tired of replaying the incident over and over again. I just wanted peace.

“Father, I know through You I can forgive this person. What they have done to me is no worse than all the ways I’ve wronged You and You continue to love and forgive me. I can cut these choking ropes loose but there’s something I don’t understand. You are God and can totally forget my old sins when I turn to you and seek your forgiveness but I’m only human. How do I learn to ‘forget’?”

At that moment, His Spirit whispered gently to my heart, His tender voice a nudge of mercy. “You want to forget how they have wronged you? Ask me to help you.”

With a dawning awareness, I realized I’ve often asked God for His help in forgiving someone but I’ve never once asked Him to help me forget—forget the crushing words, the harsh stabs of anger or the gaping wound left behind.

When I pass someone who has hurt me, I don’t want to just forgive them. I want to forget the pain stirred by their presence and see them as a person Jesus loves, someone He died to free. I don’t want to be so blinded by past mistakes that it distorts my view of their heart in the future…hearts that are needy, messy, hurting. Just like mine. forgive and forget

I don’t want past pain to taint future joys.

I’m discovering there is a great freedom in forgetting.

Forgetting is a choice to turn to God instead of mulling over the hurt. It’s a choice to grasp those things that true, lovely and kind instead of wallowing in pain that only reopens the old scars. It’s freedom. Peace.

Struggling with forgetting today? Here is a prayer for you to offer up to the Healer.

Heavenly Father,

I come before You today thanking You for your forgiveness. You have promised that when I come to You with my heart rent and broken, You will hear my cry for deliverance.

Lord, You know how ______________ has hurt me. You hear every word and see every action. You discern the thoughts and intents of all hearts. Help me forgive them just as You have forgiven me. Search the motives of my heart. Reveal to me if there is any pride or fear lurking inside and cleanse it from me.

Help me not just to forgive but to forget the sting of pain. I want to learn what You would have me know but I don’t want remnants of bitterness, hurt or anger to linger. Help me to love this person and see them as You love them. Give me grace and mercy in the forgetting.

May I cling to nothing more tightly than I cling to You. I ask these things in the name of Jesus, for Your honor, glory and Your Great Name…


To learn more about Tara, or book her to speak at your special event, go to http://www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com.

To Do or To Be…That Is The Question

by Tara Johnson

This past week, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

to do list

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:




Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible


Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes


Slow to speak





Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  walking

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.


I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Some final thoughts from the lovely Linda Tracy Miller!

Please welcome back my friend Linda Tracy Miller for the third part of her guest spots on this blog. Her thoughts are always beautiful spun and a refreshing touch of grace for the day. 

linda miller

As long as we are alive, we are never too old to experience growing pains. Life is all about constant adjustments, coping with unexpected situations, gain and loss. Between May of 1999 and October of 2000 I lost my husband, my mother, 2 aunts, 2 cousins, and uncle and a mother-in-law…as well as a number of close friends. Needless to say, God used that time to teach me many lessons I had hoped never to have to learn. Writing down my thoughts helped me to stay sane, even when the world felt too heavy to carry, too lonely to travel. When I lost my oldest son in 2006, He gave me words that would sustain me. I cannot imagine how anyone can travel this life without His Love and Guidance.


One foot in front of the other,
Just one step at a time.
Going through the motions,
Overflowing emotions,
Learning to stop on a dime.

Calendar changes
As life rearranges itself
In new patterns, strange.
Breathing out,
Breathing in,
Watching the seasons change.

Looking for focus
As responsibility pokes us
In the eye, in the face, in the heart.
Knowing our options
Are larger, yet smaller.
Not knowing quite where to start.

Life goes on, even when we do not,
So what else have we left to do,
But trust in God
And live each day
In the best way we can
Until our time here is through?

Linda Tracy Miller
LLTM © 4-12-2000

Feel free to contact Linda anytime via her email: miller7450@att.net