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FIRST-PERSON: Helping yourself so you can help others

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After pastoring in a fog of clinical depression for several months, I came very close to walking away from the church I was pastoring and the ministry altogether. I had been pastoring for 22 years at the time and was burned out and fed up—mostly with myself.

At first, I was determined to figure it out and fix it myself. Fortunately, I instead sought counsel from my family physician and a local therapist who worked together to help me get healthy again. 

Because most ministry leaders are not mental health professionals, we are typically unsure of how to help people—including ourselves—through dark seasons. Here are four lessons I learned through my experience that I pray will be helpful to you both personally and professionally:

Don’t self-diagnose

When I realized the dark clouds in my head had set in for too long, I naively asked my wife, Janet, if she thought I was clinically depressed. It occurred to me the next day that this question put both of us in awkward positions since neither of us was a mental health professional. So, I did something radical for a pastor—I asked a professional for help. 

Our family physician asked me a few questions about my thoughts, feelings, sleep, concentration, eating, work routines, etc. He then diagnosed me with clinical depression, prescribed some changes in my routine, and some medication that I took for almost a year—all of which were very helpful. 

Let others pastor you

Understandably, the perceived stigma of depression makes it harder for ministers or their family members to seek ongoing help within the community we serve. Just don’t let the stigma become an excuse to ignore your mental wellness. 

During that season of depression, I met monthly with a therapist, three to four times a year with my physician, and quarterly with a handful of deacons who called themselves the Pastor Support Team. These deacons just wanted to know how I was doing personally, not professionally. Deacons have been a part of God’s plan for pastoral wellness since the day they showed up to help in Acts 6. 

It is humbling to be on the receiving end of pastoral care, but it is not humiliating. Jesus surrounded me with caring, qualified people who were helping me get healthy again. He and His people will do that for you, as well, if you simply ask for help.

Trust the Lord for healing

Satan has a plan for your life, but so does Jesus, who has already won the battle for your soul. God obviously allowed Peter to go through a sifting and refining process (Luke 22:31-32) so he could grow in both strength and humility, both of which he would need later.

Jesus is the hero of your story and mine. The same God who called us promises to finish what He started, so let’s trust Him together.

Help someone else

I am so glad I did not hastily run away from my problems. Little did I know that right around the corner would be my favorite season of ministry as a pastor, then as a pastor-advocate at GuideStone for people like you in the ministry.