On his blog today, Thom Rainer sites a Lifeway Research survey of pastors about depression and loneliness. What they found is that depression among the pastoral population is very common.
I didn’t need a survey to know this. I know this from experience.
I am often lonely and depressed as a pastor. Recently, Vanessa and I did some research into our personalities. We learned that people with my personality take criticism so personally that it can actually be paralyzing. It’s not that I don’t think criticism is helpful or valid. I do. But when criticism comes, it triggers something in me that makes me want to climb under the covers and stay there.
But when I think back on the most depressed and lonely I have ever been, it wasn’t necessarily criticism that sent me in that direction. It was the evolution of my theology that put me out of sync with my fundamentalist church upbringing.
I was pastoring a fundamentalist church in Michigan before we moved to Arkansas to start Vintage. Through a series of events – most notably, turning 30 and preaching through Genesis – I realized that I felt like I was wasting my life and spinning my wheels. I was faking it on Sunday mornings. I was pretending to be excited. I was pretending to believe the pat answers of fundamentalism. I was pretending to have all the answers.
This lack of authenticity sent me into a spiritual and emotional spiral that I didn’t pull out of for months. I credit the patience of Vanessa, the words of people like Brian McLaren, and the renewed hope of doing something risky like starting Vintage for helping me climb out of my hole.
There are a lot of reasons why we talk about authenticity so much at Vintage. I think, for instance, that faith requires authenticity. In other words, we can’t be Christians unless we are real. But I also push Vintage to be a place where people can be themselves because that’s what I need. When we started Vintage, I was fond of saying that I needed to pastor a church that I would go to even if I wasn’t be paid. I have to be authentic so that I don’t go back to that very dark place.
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for depressed pastors. I’ve been. I’m sure I’ll be there again. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess. And let us hold out hope for one another.