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Pastors and Depression

A Pastor's Guide for the Shadow of Depression

​​Book Cover: Pastor's guide for the shadow of depressionBook review by Paula Snyder Belousek.

For many pastors, depression can be a companion that accompanies their ministry in secrecy and shame. As Gary Lovejoy points out in A Pastor’s Guide for the Shadow of Depression (Wesleyan Publishing House 2015), one in seven pastors will experience depression while serving a congregation. This short book attempts to be a much needed resource, not only to help pastors recognize when they might be depressed but also to provide strategies and suggestions for minimizing one’s risk of depression.

The audience best suited for this book are those who would view depression as a result of spiritual failure and a lack of trust in God.  Lovejoy makes a strong case throughout the book that depression is not a result of spiritual weakness. Rather, it serves as an emotional alarm system that identifies the need to make a change in one’s life. He emphasizes that depression provides the opportunity to address problems or issues that are often hidden from one’s awareness. 

Where this book succeeds is in providing practical strategies and stories that illustrate the importance of self-care in ministry.  Lovejoy’s approach includes a strong emphasis on learning to know oneself, the importance of knowing God in a personal way rather than as an intellectual concept, being aware of one’s own limits and the importance of setting boundaries.  He also emphasizes the need to accept help and develop authentic friendships both inside and outside of the congregational setting. This book does not cover new ground but provides a helpful primer for much needed self-care for not merely surviving, but thriving in ministry. 

Despite the wealth of information directed towards preventing or minimizing depression, the book lacks actual resources for pastors who

WHERE PASTORS CAN GET HELP

Doug Ronsheim, Executive Director of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, suggests two organizations that can assist faith leaders looking for counseling services: The American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the Samaritan Institute.

"These are licensed mental health providers and many are also clergy," Ron​​​sheim adds. "Judicatories often have referral lists of trusted therapists that are recommend for faith leaders and their families. Another important resource is the development of clergy support groups. Such support resources can decrease the isolation of faith leaders and provide a network of colleagues that clearly understand the stresses of ministry. The experience of isolation can be a precipitant of depression."

are currently experiencing a depression.  It is not until the middle of the book that a definition or listing of characteristics of depression is given and even then little insight is provided for how readers might proceed if they recognize these symptoms in themselves.  Additionally, the strong emphasis on preventive care seemed to promote a subtle theme that if pastors are doing the right things, they will experience success and as a result will not be depressed.

Some of the suggestions given seemed less than helpful, such as a strong emphasis on maintaining right theology, guarding against heresy, and tips for successful preaching.  As a pastor who has experienced depression linked to pain and failure in ministry, this would not have been the advice or support I would have needed.  In my own situation, trying harder and striving to do more simply led to deeper depression, feelings of failure, and shame.  It was only the accompaniment of an experienced counselor, the wisdom of a spiritual director, and the prayers and support of close friends that sustained me during that dark period. 

It would have been helpful if the book had addressed how one might find a good counselor who can deal with the unique struggles that pastors face, as well as holistic ways of dealing with depression such as exercise, sleep, good eating habits, or the value of medication.

Pastoring is a challenging calling, and due to ongoing stress, high expectations and a multitude of responsibilities, pastors are vulnerable to depression.  A Pastor’s Guide for the Shadow of Depression raises important issues that illuminate the way that many pastors suffer in silence.  The book is most suited for those who need to be convinced that self-care is important, and that depression is a reality that many pastors will face and does not result from spiritual failure. 

Order from the publisher.

Reviewer Paula Snyder Belousek is pastor of Salem Mennonite Church, Elida, Ohio. ​​

 

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