Even Pastors Struggle

Pastor Fraser Venter   -  

August 2018

In the past week we have heard, read, watch and cried as one of our dear partners in ministry ended his life. Although not part of our Free Methodist family Andrew was part of our greater family as a Kingdom builder and leader. Pastor Andrew was young, vibrant, energetic with a lovely family and a growing ministry. His life as we would all agree was too short on this side of heaven. It is clear that scripture tells us to mourn with those who mourn. And beloved that it is what we do in these moments. We listen, we cry, we lean on each other, and when the timing is right, we offer hope and encouragement. But most importantly we practice presence. And as I have spoken to many of our Free Methodist Pastors and leaders this past week, we have experienced the deep ache of what we know is so close to our hearts and our home. Leading is lonely and reaching out to be vulnerable can be difficult.

Counselors say even fewer depressed ministers get treated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo. “Clergy do not talk about it because it violates their understanding of their faith,” said Scoggin. “They believe they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts.” Stanford, who studies how the Christian community deals with mental illness, said depression in Christian culture carries “a double stigmatization.” Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders—dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.

So, let me be vulnerable with you in the hope that it will open a door for discussion, help, and hope. It wasn’t until I was in Pastoral ministry that I discovered a family shadow that had been masked for so many years through the adrenaline of sports and pursuit of success. Approximately 14 years ago I sat down not by choice but by recommendation with one of our Free Methodist Pastor/Counselors, and he wisely walked me by the discovery that I had been battling depression for a long time. I didn’t realize it. I didn’t recognize the symptoms as they were masked in anger (mostly towards myself), fear, disappointment and a wall of not wanting anyone to see this vulnerability.

I am so grateful to this Pastor and others who loved me through this season of dark valleys and many painful shadows. It took time, accountability and vulnerability to be able to see what had been part of my family’s story and sadly my own. It makes sense that the pressure of ministry, life and the full enmeshment of both these areas that this came to a surface. Nevertheless, I could not see it and how it was impacting how I led myself, my family, others and His Bride. I am thankful to be on the other side, but I will safely admit that the continual discovery of this shadow still is part of my journey. The difference? Letting others who are qualified and safe to give me tools and a place to be heard when depression begins to come knocking at the door. I am victorious in Christ, I am prayerful, and I am free, but that does not preclude my need to be in community, to regularly meet with an outside pastor/counselor and to regularly sabbath. As a conference, we have remarkable counselors who are more than willing to come alongside in confidentiality and encouragement. Please and I emphasize by saying it again, Please don’t wait if you are experiencing signs of depression to reach out right away. Your ministry is not your life, your life is your ministry. To Jesus, to your family and then to God’s family.

You are loved, and you are not alone. As we pray for Pastor Andrews’ family and the church he led may we pay attention to what God is revealing in our hearts. And maybe this is not for you, but it may be the moment as Pastor/Leaders we are discerning of the people we are privileged to love and guide. To give them a safe space to share, be accepted and to be helped.

In His Grace, Hope, and Care on behalf of the FMCSC Superintendent Team,
Fraser