Depressed pastors

25% of Clergy time off in the Church of England is caused by depression - but no-one seems to be talking about it. In the February 2008 Podcast we looked at some of the reasons behind this and what can be done about it. In the April 2008 edition of Christianity Magazine there was a major feature.

  *A lot of clergy stress comes from OUGHTS and MUSTS - things we can impose on ourselves or may be imposed by church members.
This can come from a confusion about what being a pastor is - are you allowed 'time off' for example? has God called you to be 'in role' 100% of the time and what do days off look like?

  *If pastors are to develop more balanced relationships, this will mean that the whole church will also need to change as people will no longer be able to use pastors as before.

  *Some practical tips for making changes are: have a support group with teeth [ie, who can actually control your diary], have friends who are not in your church and ideally who are not even christians or even interested [!], have people who you can lean on emotionally who do not ask anything back.

So what are you doing to help your pastors mental health?

1. Mental health problems are increasingly talked about in churches and pastors often find themselves in the position of ?expert? or at least someone people go to for answers. It can therefore be very difficult when you don?t know the answers and could actually do with some of them yourself! They find themselves put on a pedestal by their congregations - so why are we surprised when they fall off? Maybe it is time that congregations started doing something to help their pastors mental health. Here are some ideas:

2. Don't ask the impossible. They only have so many hours in the week and if they consistently work a full week including Sunday with busy evenings and an interrupted day off - something will crack at some point. Are you aggressively defending their time off and ensuring their working week is manageable?

3. Don't pretend they are perfect. They need to have support, friends and chances to talk just the same as everybody else. Does your pastor know it is OK to be vulnerable with some or all of his congregation if [s]he needs to be?

4. Are you asking them to be jack of all trades and do things that they are not good at, skilled at or happy at? Are you helping them discover their areas of strengths and weakness, then supporting measures to ensure they receive help/staffing/delegating in their weak areas?

Are they ever allowed time off to develop their own spirituality or knowledge? Are you encouraging them to attend conferences, visit other churches and have a full weekend with their family not leading every Sunday?

Rob Waller, 25/07/2008