In January 2020, shortly before COVID obliterated our sense of normalcy, I received a fresh reminder of why QuietWaters Ministries exists. The Wall Street Journal had published an article about pastors who struggle with mental health and how admission of these struggles can often have negative repercussions, such as termination. It’s interesting to revisit this topic now, after so much has changed in the world. The unique challenges grappled with by pastors and other Christian leaders have not disappeared, and in fact have only been exacerbated by COVID and the other crises and conflicts of this season.
Ian Lovett, the WSJ reporter who authored the article, wrote, “Churches have grown more willing to discuss mental health in recent years, yet many congregations still believe that any mental-health problem reflects a spiritual deficiency or lack of faith… Tony Rose, a Southern Baptist minister who counsels pastors with depression, said there is a widespread expectation that Christians, especially pastors, ‘are supposed to have it all together.’”
At QuietWaters, we know that it requires great courage for pastors and Christian leaders to acknowledge a struggle with their own mental health, family relationships, or ministry calling. Along with others in our field, we have a unique opportunity to speak up and say, “Pastors are humans too!” Was it not one of Christian history’s greatest pastors, the apostle Paul, who wrote extensively of his weaknesses? “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NASB)
Ours is not a Gospel of success, of perfection, of how to “have it all together.” The God-followers and leaders in the Bible were a very human group of people: humans with extra-marital affairs, humans with deep pain and grief (possibly depression?), humans who lied and deceived, and humans with mysterious “weaknesses.” The Christian Gospel is the story of a broken world and a Savior who rescues us from the power of sin and death. The same Savior who rescues us continues to transform and heal us throughout our journeys of faith. Like Paul, we can boast in our weaknesses, or at least be open about them, because it is Christ’s power that rests in us.
Unfortunately, as the WSJ so painfully highlighted, pastors and Christian leaders do not always find a safe place to be open about their struggles. Sometimes even sharing a mental health diagnosis can result in forced resignation or termination. The article did note positive change, however. “Ronnie Floyd, president of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention… said there is a growing willingness to discuss mental health compared with 20 years ago. In decades past, he said, a congregation might have asked, ‘How am I going to listen to this guy if he can’t deal with his own problems?’”
We see this at QuietWaters too. We receive many calls and inquiries from churches and organizations that want to journey with their pastors and leaders as they seek help and renewal. We also serve many clients who unfortunately experience something quite different. Either way, we want to be a safe place for leaders who are looking for healing in the midst of all kinds of struggles, mental health and otherwise. I’m so thankful that our Licensed Professional Counselors are experts in the field of mental health, as well as deeply rooted Christians trusting God to meet our clients and walk with them through their faith journey.
This article reminded me of our common humanity. We all, pastors and leaders included, are people in need of a Savior to rescue and heal and transform us. Since early 2020, have we not become even more acutely aware of the brokenness of our world? Each of us is susceptible to physical, mental, and relational illnesses. Let’s be a Church that accepts the humanity of our leaders and the unique ministry challenges they face. Let’s celebrate not the perfection and strength of people, but the great power of Christ that rests in all of us, even in the midst of our weaknesses.
Executive Director, CEO
*Source: Ian Lovett, “Churches Struggle with Mental Health,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2020