Dealing with depression

If you’re feeling blue, you’re not alone. A recent study by the World Health Organizations and the Harvard Medical School found that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder – the highest rate of the 14 nations surveyed. This confirms the figures quoted by the National Institute of Mental Health, which states that “Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.” A study by the Australian Government (where depression rates are similar to that in the US) stated that everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression – their own or someone else’s.

People are not seeking treatment for depression
Depression is especially problematic because many people refuse to seek treatment for it. It is estimated that 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment for it. Why? Because of the stigma attached to depression, and the fact that people think they should be able to snap themselves out of it. 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.

Continue reading Dealing with depression

Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago recently published results of their recent study, exploring “satisfaction and happiness among American workers.” They found that clergy scored highest on both counts: 87% said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, and 67% said they were “very happy” with life in general. What?

If you look at the statistics from an earlier post, and from the page on my site about leadership, you find a very different picture. What’s going on here? Continue reading Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs

Top 10 things you should know about anti-depressants

Want a brief overview of anti-depressant drugs? There’s a brief article on the HALT Recovery web site, called “Top 10 Things You Should Know About Antidepressants.” Inexplicably, the points in the article are not enumerated, but I’m guessing there are ten there! Many people I work with — both recovering addicts and leaders working on self-care issues — still deal with an aversion to using drugs to deal with depression. It’s time to let that go.

People sometimes ask: “Why do we think everyone needs anti-depressants today? Our ancestors didn’t have those drugs, and they got along fine.” My answer is always the same: First of all, I’m not so sure our ancestors ‘got along fine.’ Take a look at the picture here … somebody get these people some Prozac! Second, and more important – because we could argue all day about the mental health of people from the past – we have to remember that life is different now. The fast pace, alienation, and media saturation that characterizes life in the 21st century world creates unique and overwhelming pressure on people. If we don’t recognize this, we won’t appreciate the challenges we face, and we won’t take the steps we need to care for ourselves. And we’ll wind up looking like these people, just without the pitchforks and bad haircuts.

Reason for clergy shortage? Just ask why pastors leave churches

A growing challenge in many denominations is finding enough pastors to serve the churches that are vacant. More people are leaving the ministry ranks (through resignation or retirement) than are joining them. In my own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, plans to start new churches are repeatedly scaled back because we can’t find enough qualified pastors to start these new churches. Our denomination is having a hard enough time finding enough pastors to fill vacant churches, let alone finding pastors to start new ones. Why the shortage of ministers?

Several years ago, consultants Alan and Cheryl Klaas were hired by the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) to investigate this issue. They were tasked to find the root causes of the clergy shortage that many denominations are facing. The problem they uncovered was unexpected (to them) and troubling. The reason for the drop-off of new ministry recruits matched the reason for an increase in people leaving ministry: the conflict, criticism, and ill-treatment that has become an all-too-common aspect of ministry life. What follows is an excerpt of an article in the Baptist standard:

“[This research study] was intended to be a traditional recruitment and retention study,” Klaas said. For example, he thought he’d be recommending changes on issues like seminary communication with potential students.

“We wondered if students got good services, if seminaries were recruiting the right people,” he explained. But in the end, the Klaases concluded the problems are 20 percent institutional and 80 percent behavioral.

“The fundamental finding is that people beating on each other is the main issue,” Klaas said.

One telling statistic from the Klaas study is the decrease in the numbers of pastors’ kids who become pastors themselves. Klaas estimates that pastors’ children made up about 40 percent of seminarians in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s a much different picture now at the two seminaries in the denomination Klaas was working with. Last year, pastors’ children made up only 5 percent of seminarians at one and 17 percent at the other.

The bottom line is that churches need to do a better job at caring for and supporting their pastors. Another way of looking at it — from the vantage point of the pastors themselves — is to say that pastors need to do a better job of caring for and supporting themselves (through training, taking time off, participating in support groups, etc.). Instead of sitting back and hoping that the church will do it for you, create a plan and insist on the church’s support for you to take the steps you need to care for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened in my case, had I done this. I tried to do it, but was not clear enough about what I needed, or insistent about getting the funding to get help. To be honest, I don’t think I really understood what I needed or how badly I needed it until it was too late. Don’t make that mistake.

Overview of Life Coaching – and what it can do for you

Life-CoachingHere’s a link to a great general article about coaching by Leni Chauvin. I’m often asked about coaching, and am constantly on the lookout for metaphors to help people understand what I do, and how I can help them. (“It’s sort of like counselling, but not really.,” “It’s kind of like having consultant to help you with your own personal life challenges, with some important differences.” “It’s sort of like working with a personal trainer, in your own recovery,” etc., etc., etc.) I give up! Read this article!

Continue reading Overview of Life Coaching – and what it can do for you

Church leaders at risk

This past Sunday, if the trends were consistent, 350 churches around the country were informed that their pastor had resigned or been fired. This figure comes from a variety of sources, one of which is research done by Focus on the Family. Here’s an excerpt from a letter written by James Dobson.

“Thousands of spiritual leaders are barely hanging on from day to day. Our surveys indicated that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression. More than 40 percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses report that they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules and unrealistic expectations. We estimate that approximately 1,500 pastors leave their assignments each month, due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention within their local congregations.”

Did you catch that: 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or dealing with depression! That should tell us something. Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, once said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and … a pastor.

It’s been 15 months since I took my leave of absence from my senior pastor position. I am now serving as a pastor with a special call to work with other leaders in recovery from sexual addiction. I am still often struck by how stressed-out and unhappy I was in my years as a senior pastor. My experience in recovery has shown me that this unhappiness and stress was not primarily the byproduct of the losing battle with porn I was fighting at the time. The shame and struggle of not living in integrity were a big deal, but even without those, I came to realize that life as a pastor was not going to work for me.

Turns out I’m not alone. I keep running into former pastors who left the ministry for one reason or another, and current pastors who are struggling mightily to keep their heads above water, and their souls from shriveling. There’s something about about the way we “do church,” and/or the way pastors “do ministry” that creates dysfunction. There’s something about the expectations people have for pastors – and pastors have for themselves – that keeps them isolated, because they feel pressured to keep up the facade of having it all together.

Granted, there are many ministers out there who are doing really well, and finding fulfillment and joy in their work. God bless them. But the dirty little secret of Christendom is that many pastors are not doing well, and they are getting judgment and criticism instead of help. The more I think about this, the more sad and angry I get.

Check out these stats from an article on the ironically-named joyfulministry.com website:

  • 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of the job
  • 90% feel they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they started
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend
  • 50% have considered leaving ministry in the last 3 months

There’s a great article by Dr. Dan Chun on this subject. Here are a couple excerpts:

A shocking statistic of Jimmy Lee Draper, former president of Lifeways Ministries, is that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate only one retires from the ministry. Pastors don’t make it to retirement because they are either burned out, fired, have a moral breakdown or just quit. I don’t know of any other profession where there is a 95 percent drop-off rate! (M.B. note: pastors view their work as a call from God, not “just a job,” so this high attrition rate is especially telling.)

Pastors need encouragement (statistics in the articles sidebar demonstrate why). And if no one in the church is assigned to nurture, affirm and prevent burnout for the pastor, then no one will. When they get in trouble, who can they turn to?

What do people do when they face ongoing struggles and frustrations, and don’t have outlets where they can talk about it? They get into trouble in all kinds of ways, hurting themselves, their families, and their churches. We need to do a better job of protecting and caring for our pastors.

Let’s be honest about this: churches don’t know how to care for their leaders, and leaders are profoundly uncomfortable showing their vulnerability to their followers and appearing to be “needy.” In light of this, what needs to happen is that churches encourage (and fund) their pastors’ efforts to establish a network of accountability and support for themselves. More about that later.

Leaders on the edge of breakdown: statistics

I say elsewhere on this site that The emotional and spiritual health of leaders in churches today is dangerously low, and the stresses and temptations they are facing is dangerously high. You don’t have to look far to find stats to back that up. Here are some, gleaned from articles by Darrin Patrick and Mark Driscoll:

  • 1500 pastors leave ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. This means that every hour of the traditional work week, almost 9 pastors somewhere are leaving their ministry post.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors – so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry – leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors fight depression.
  • Almost 40% of pastors said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

What you do is important. I want to help you keep doing it.