Why Do Pastors Get Depressed?

The faithful preacher lives a life filled with melancholy – one cannot read the writings of Jeremiah or Paul, or the biographies of men like Luther and Calvin and Edwards and not recognize that they were often struggling with Depression.

 We should not think this is odd or sinful, even Jesus had his times of sorrow and depression, for instance in the garden on the eve of his crucifixion he confessed to his disciples:

Matthew 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 

Now while no merely human preacher will have to endure anything like the struggle that Christ did in the garden, all pastors are called to take up their cross and follow CSpurgeongravehrist and endure the same kinds of sufferings. The great evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon confessed to his ministerial students that he knew, “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between” and went on to explain to them why that must be the case:

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. … It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?”” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Ministers Fainting Fits” in Lectures to My Students]


About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
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3 Responses to Why Do Pastors Get Depressed?

  1. Andrew says:

    Faithful preachers…OK. What about plain old sinners saved by grace listening to them in the pews who also experience depression?

    Psalm 88, parts of Job and Jeremiah and many other passages from the prophets prove that God is also the Savior of depressives. The truth is I don’t truly trust ANYONE who is not a depressive, since they have not yet become aware of reality….

  2. dewisant1 says:

    May I print this and share it with 6 or 8 fellows whom I will be instructing this weekend? My particular session pertains to ‘how to avoid burnout’ while in commissioner service to the Boy Scouts…

  3. Pingback: The Unique Burden of the Pastor | poikilos

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