Depression & the Ministry – Part 2

There are good and righteous reasons behind sorrow’s frequent visit in the spiritually-minded church leader

First, God is sovereign over our sorrow. Depression is ordained by God because God is sovereign over everything. As God’s children, no moment, especially not the sorrowful ones, need be wasted (Rom. 8:28). In fact, times of depression season the pastor in a unique way. It is a rare seasoning which, though painful upon the administering, is sanctifying in the long run. Sorrow can be the pastor’s seasoning for kingdom usefulness. We become more acquainted with the frailties of the flock. We are grow up into humility. We are emptied of ourselves. We become truly convinced that any good through me will not be me. We are better positioned to share in others’ sufferings. God’s sovereignty over our sorrow means he is up to something good.

 

In the lasty post, we considered the idea that the ministry is often fertile ground for depression and discouragement. It is possible for strong faith and deep sorrow to co-exist in the regenerate soul. In fact, sorrow is inevitable for the pastor who accurately understands the sinister workings of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It’s not if the world is full of sin’s destruction, but whether or not the church leader sees it and cares with the care of Christ.

It’s no stretch to say that the godly, right-thinking church leader must experience sorrow in the ministry. He does not labor in heaven. Conditions are not heavenly. And though that provides some job security, it also solicits frequent sorrow. He ought not think that bouts with discouragement and depression are always unrighteous. In fact, the righteous response to unrighteousness, within or without, is God-centered sorrow.

At the same time, church leaders cannot use sorrow as license for sin. No circumstance can issue sin a permission slip. And as church leaders, we are called to set the example in godly conduct during seasons of sorrow. Christ in his glory truly is sufficient sustenance during those very normal times.

The purpose of this article is not to offer every solution for ministerial discouragement, but to examine why it is more common than we might think. In the previous post we considered five reasons why sorrow is common for church leaders. The aim is not to grovel in all that is bad, but to be reminded that there are good and righteous reasons behind sorrow’s frequent visit in the spiritually-minded church leader. Here are six additional reasons:

6. Understanding spiritual deception in professing believers can bring sorrow.

Sin seeks to deceive. It’s good at sleight of hand. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). The pastor sees this in his own life. And in the lives’ of others. And it’s painful.

No one ever approaches him and says, “Well, pastor, I have skewed the clear teaching of Scripture by my idolatrous heart. I have adopted the ‘find-the-verse-to-permit-my-sin’ hermeneutic. I am suppressing God’s truth under my self-sovereign inclinations. That is why I am deceiving myself in this sin.” That would be painful enough. But instead, sin is sanctified with, “I’ve prayed about it,” “I have a peace about it,” or “God is calling me to…” We call our fallen feelings, the “Holy Spirit,” and grant license to abuse grace. Comfort worship is called “faithfulness.” The Holy Spirit’s work of conviction in someone’s life is labeled as graceless law. Loving concern is reviled as legalism. It’s spiritual deception.

 

Those we love can’t see it, won’t see it, or both. The blind man’s loved one breaks inside out of love when that blind man sprints towards the cliff’s edge, refusing to heed warning. Spiritual deception in his midst is a common source of sorrow for the church leader.

7. Experiencing frequent personal trials can solicit sorrow.

Trials are part of a pastor’s job description. In some sense, they are a built-in protection device to keep him qualified for the task. If things are going well all the time, he’ll be tempted to congratulate himself. Of all places where that cannot happen, it is the pastorate. Even so, the frequent pastoral trials can be heavy.

“Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines” (Heb. 12:6). God will be faithful to bring a stream of needed struggles to bless the pastor. But rejoicing is not always the knee-jerk response to every blessing.

Some of you pastors are enduring immense trials. It seems like just as you’re about to get a breath, you’re pushed further under. Scoffers watch furrow-browed as you’re drowning. Bildad puts his hand on your shoulder and squawks, “If you are pure and upright, surely then He will rouse Himself for you and restore your rightful habitation” (Job 8:6). No wonder depression is not uncommon with pastors.

We don’t know every reason why God ordains these things. And we don’t need to right now. But the presence of pastorally-tailored trials means sorrow is normal.

8. Witnessing frequent apostasy certainly causes sorrow.

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