Here’s What it's Like Being a Church Leader and Depressed
A leader and lover in the home.
One who holds firmly to the truth.
These are just some of the qualifications that the Bible holds out for leaders in the Church (Titus 2, 1 Timothy 3).
As a church leader, these qualifications can seem daunting. They set the bar high and I am grateful for the grace of God when I fall short of them.
After all, I too, am human.
Like every believer, I live with a tension of who I want to be and who I actually am. I press on in living more like Christ every day, but the core of the gospel reminds me that I can’t be perfected outside of his grace.
Scripture asks me to speak truth to the church. And if I’m being honest, I don’t have it all together.
I am a pastor who lives with depression.
And nowhere in scripture am I disqualified for it.
Quite the opposite.
As I weigh up my own church leadership experiences in the context of living with depression, I think it has actually been a net gain. Let me tell you why.
Whether we recognise it or not, we’re dependent every single day on the grace of God. It’s God who gives us breath in our lungs. It’s God who keeps the Earth spinning on its axis. And it’s God who grows his Church.
As a pastor, I have had to preach the sovereignty of God to myself more than perhaps any other theological truth. His hand over creation is genuinely what helps me sleep at night. There are so many people in my parish with so many needs. There’s always more that could be done. There’s always the desire to see more come to Christ. And I need to recognise my limitations, knowing that I’m a steward but not a savior.
This kind of dependence can be a difficult thing to learn. But living with depression actually makes it a little easier. There have been times in my life where I haven’t known how or when I would be able to work, how to provide for my family. Even in the darkest times, how I was going to go on in life. And yet, looking back, I can see God’s provision in all of it. I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And I’m not just surviving—against the all the odds I’m actually thriving. And it’s only because of his grace that I can say that.
I believe this has made it easier to preach grace to myself, and to others as I lead under God. In living with personal frailty, I can leave room for healthy leadership frailty, because it is God’s strength that is greater. He’s the Savior, the great changer of hearts. Not me.
There is also little doubt that my own struggles with depression have made me more empathetic. In Hebrews 4 we’re told that because Jesus became human, he is able to empathise with us in our time of need. When we feel pain, he doesn’t just intellectually comprehend the concept of pain. No, he knows exactly what it’s like.
When we live something, we understand like never before.
In pastoral ministry, you often occupy a privileged but delicate position of being with somebody at a crisis point. I certainly don’t get this right every time but I can say, without a doubt, that experiencing crisis myself has better equipped me to sit and to listen, to mourn and to feel. The chapters of each of our stories are different, but the shared experience of pain and heartache has enabled me to care in a deeper way than if I hadn’t first gone through hardship myself.
The ‘Go-To’ Guy
It isn’t all roses, though. Being a leader in the church and living with depression absolutely has its challenges.
You quickly find yourself being the ‘go to’ for people when they are in need or seeking guidance.
This is a great honor, but I can easily get sucked into a false identity that I am ‘that guy’—the one who people come to for help. Being needed can feed a weird addiction of power. And the problem (amongst others) is that it doesn’t leave room for your own times of need.
I’ll finish by telling you that today I write this article from my bedroom. For the first time in months, I have had to take a ‘mental health’ day. I’m not physically unwell, I just simply couldn’t face other people’s needs today. My two year old twins haven’t slept through the night for months. And I’m tired. I should have taken a day off before today, but I didn’t, because that would have acknowledged that I couldn’t be there for others in the way I wanted to be. And that was a threat to my false identity of ‘the needed one’. It’s a mental health day as much as it is a spiritual reminder that the world is not turning on my axis.
Like Life Itself
Being a pastor with depression is much like the rest of life in a fallen world. God has a way of bringing about great purposes as a result of it. But it’s a far from perfect life.
Pros and cons.
So there’s no need to treat me differently. My depression is just another reminder of our common experience. Life is a journey of different experiences and emotions, whether you live with depression or not. So I take it one day at a time, and live in faith that God is never absent in his hand over creation.