As a Care Pastor, I’ve had the privilege of ministering to many individuals dealing with spiritual crises and mental health issues. I have listened to them, prayed with them, and journeyed alongside them through grief, trauma, betrayal, and addiction.
Often they expressed frustration at their lack of faith and their inability to work through their issues on their own. I understood their concerns and was able to help them in their relationship with God but also see the benefit of professional counseling and medications to address chemical imbalances.
But it has only been in the last five years that I have felt free to share my own experiences with mental illness. I regret the years I wasted suffering in silence and hiding from others who would have benefited from true transparency.
Many will ask what types of mental issues do pastors and ministry leaders experience, and what are the potential risks and benefits they encounter in sharing these issues?
What mental health issues do pastors and ministry leaders experience?
Mental health issues are complex because they may result from a genetic predisposition, external trauma, or personal choices and behaviors.
First, let me explain what I mean by mental issues.
Depression, anxiety, abnormal thought patterns or behaviors, unstable emotions, impulsive behaviors, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm, are a few examples of mental health issues.
Most of us will experience a variety of these issues in our lives.
The self-isolation of the pandemic has increased the severity of these issues for many. These concerns are representative of the world inside and outside the church.
Pastors are not immune from any of these.
A 2018 survey of pastors revealed the following: “Approximately three out of four pastors said they knew at least one family member, friend, or congregant who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (74%) said they knew someone diagnosed with clinical depression. (57%) said they knew at least three people who fell into that category. In terms of counseling, almost six in 10 (59%) said they had counseled at least one person who was eventually diagnosed with an acute mental illness. Perhaps even more important, 23% of pastors indicated they had battled a mental illness of some kind personally, including 12% who said it was formally diagnosed. The National Alliance confirms these findings on Mental Illness and similar numbers within the general population”.
Pastors can be depressed when the church does not perform well, or they face complex home-life issues.
Pastors face anxiety every week as they deliver a message or interact with others. How will people respond.?
Pastors are not immune to unstable, impulsive, or self-destructive emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors.
Their family of origin, personal experiences, and traumas impact the way they view and conduct ministry.
What is unique about the pastor’s experience is that he openly deals with everyone else’s mental health issues but often addresses his issues privately and in isolation.
Why does a pastor or ministry leader not share their own mental health issues?
What are the risks a pastor or ministry leader faces in sharing their mental health issues?
They fear that the church will perceive them as spiritually weak and unable to lead their congregations effectively. They imagine their community saying, “They saved others, but they cannot save themselves.”
They fear rejection and that they will become vulnerable to being replaced by admitting need.
They fear that they may overshare beyond what is necessary or trigger others’ traumas by discussing it.
They fear that they may communicate that faith in God is somehow deficient.
What Are The benefits gained by the pastor or ministry leader in sharing their mental health issues?
There are 8 unique benefits for the pastor, ministry leaders, and congregation when mental health issues are openly discussed.
- They remove the burden of wearing a mask, which is exhausting. Being fully known allows others to drop their masks as well.
2. They create an atmosphere and place of safety for the vulnerable.
3. They develop relationships based on unconditional love instead of performance.
4. They demonstrate that Christ’s power is made perfect in their weakness. Humility and brokenness are opportunities for God to reveal himself in their lives.
5. They gain credibility with their listeners and an opportunity to impact their lives.
6. They empower others to share their story. Jesus will empower that story to bring healing to His body.
7. They encourage others to seek healing. You cannot successfully ask someone to do something that you are unwilling to do yourself.
8. They expose shame to the light and nail it to the cross. Christ came to pay the price for our sin and to remove our shame. We concentrate on the first part of that phrase but neglect the latter to our detriment.
Many people with mental illness have been shamed because of their condition. Discussing mental illness and shame is a great way to share the good news.
Call to action.
Pastors and ministry leaders who share their mental health issues with their congregation have to weigh the risks and benefits.
Pastor or ministry leader, maybe it is time for you to begin a conversation that can bring healing to those in need, including yourself.
Maybe you are in a position to provide a safe place or resources for your ministry leader to be fully known and accepted.