Ralph Smith, responding to a survey of American pastors indicating 80% of them are depressed and feel inadequate.
I have some questions about the results and the meaning of the "shocking survey" below.
How shall we think about depression? David was depressed quite a bit and wrote lots of Psalms that we are supposed to pray and sing.
My take is that God wants us to think about and understand depression so that we can pray our way out of it or at least pray our way through it. Depression is part of the life of every great saint in the Bible.
And for some of them it is essential to their ministry. David could not have written Psalms without it. Job could not have written his book without it (if he is the author). And consider Jeremiah -- the most depressed man in history. How could Jeremiah write Lamentations if he didn't know deep depression. In his case, it characterized his whole ministry. He hardly had a happy day.
Remember the famous words "Behold and see if there by any sorrow like unto my sorrow." (Lam. 1:12)?
Handel changed it to "His sorrow" and made it a reference to Christ, because Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. I think that was a legitimate application of the verse since Jeremiah is a type of Christ in His sorrow.
But it is very different to say behold my sorrow and behold his sorrow. Jeremiah wishes he had never been born (Jer. 20:18), and calls on the world to behold his sorrow, asking if we have ever seen anything like it.
I am not sure how much more depressed a person can be -- except for the Man of Sorrows on the cross.
But Joseph, Moses, David, Job, Jeremiah, and all the other depressed people in the Old Testament were godly people. Most of them were depressed on occasions when depression was the correct response to their situation.
For example, if you son betrays you, plans to kill you, sleeps with your concubines on the roof of your palace, and sends his armies to finish you off, depression seems to me an essential aspect of your godly response to the circumstances God has dropped into your lap.
If a man has been in the ministry for any length of time and has not been seriously depressed, he is either gifted with a special sort of personality, retarded, mentally ill, or he is an apostate swine who has no care for his flock and the trials of others, not to mention no feeling about his own sins and failures.
Visit the war zone, look at the soldiers in the hospital. Visit the poorest of the poor in the third world.
We have lots of good reasons for being depressed and if we are not depressed at least sometimes, we are spiritually dead.
I do believe that depression, sorrow, and anguish are /not/ incompatible with a certain kind of joy, and with hope and thanksgiving.
Depressed, but not despairing should be normal, shouldn't it?
The real shock -- 80% feel unqualified and discouraged. How can that be? I would think it should be at least 100% who feel unqualified.
Do any of you "feel qualified"? I sure don't.
The longer I am in the ministry and the more I realize what is required of a good minister, the more deeply I feel how unqualified I am. If I knew 35 years ago what I know now, I would have never had the audacity to assume I could enter so high and difficult a calling.
I don't feel qualified at all.
A good minister should:
1) know the Bible very well, including the original languages
2) know church history, theology, world history, etc. well also
3) understand music well enough to read it and to be able to intelligently lead his congregation; this includes knowledge of music history and an ability to sing.
4) be able to manage the business affairs of the church and direct those who do the actual work
5) be a wise counselor to members of the congregation on every sort of problem they face
6) be an evangelist to the non-Christian community
7) be a godly husband and father
8) be a man of spiritual depth and holiness, filled with love for God and His people
9) etc., etc.,
I fall so far short on everything that I believe a good minister should be that I feel very inadequate all the time.
The only reason I don't quit the ministry is that I believe God called me to it. Also, as I look around, I find that though there are many, many men who are better qualified than I and who do a much better job than I, there is still a need for someone like me.
I am still better than nothing, but that is about all.
My incompetence, my failures over the last 35 years, the slowness of my growth as a Christian man and minister, my sinfulness and foolishness, and many other things are discouraging.
I would be discouraged if I were a psychological counselor and had failed to help people -- which has to happen in 35 years.
I would be discouraged if I were a medical doctor and had seem my patients die when I thought I could help them.
Who can do any work for 35 years that has a major impact on people's lives and not experience failures that will haunt you till you die?
Then there are problems with the staff, fellow elders, etc.
Well, again, look at every other profession. Start with politicians! The staff argue, fight, and quit, right in the middle of the election campaign! Doctors, lawyers, business leaders, etc. all have problems like this. Anyone who is the leader of a group of people faces the problem of personal relationships in the group -- that includes the leaders.
There was a man named Jesus, who had twelve disciples who fought among themselves about who would be greatest -- even on the night that He was betrayed.
Being told that staff, elders, and deacons are sometimes hard to get along with, compete for power, or cause problems in the church is like being told that if I don't brush my teeth, I will get a cavity -- SCHOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!
Every business will tell you that one of their major problems -- if not the major problem -- is personal relationships among the workers.
Men are sinful and their sins make a mess of things. This is unpleasant and I really wish it were not part of the life of the church, but I am unshocked on this point, too.
In conclusion, I don't mean to say that this survey shows us that the church in America is healthy and good, or to say that it means nothing -- though I have deep doubts about the value of surveys and their helpfulness for understanding the church.
But I am certainly not shocked. I haven't lived in America since 1981, so my knowledge of the American church comes from my recollection of the way things used to be and from what I see on the internet and through my occasional visits.
But considering that the liberal churches still dominate the American ecclesiastical scene, that evangelical churches are pathetically weak, and that reformed churches major on minors, that even in Christ, men are sinners, etc., there is nothing in the survey that shocks me -- except that someone would be shocked by this.
Crusty, bald, bad-smelling, old guy,