In 2009, I took some of my study leave at the time and used it to look at the rates of depression and/or burnout being suffered by clergy across many denominations.
I had become aware of the increasing impact of it as an illness on those who have been called into ministry. It has been a hidden condition by many for many years, partly because of the stigma that society as a whole had put on it, but also more acutely by the pressure many Ministers/Pastors have felt as men and women of God called to His service. For these people, not only did they have to deal with societal pressure but also pressure from within the church from those who claimed that clergy could not suffer mental illness if they truly were men and women of God. All of this was often spoken very hypocritically when such critics were often on some medication or other for some condition or other themselves.
My study at that time discovered unsettling information of so many clergy feeling forced out of the ministry they loved, either by their own high standards which they felt they could not measure up to, or by the lack of understanding of those to whom they ministered. I read of clergy being fired because they were going through a time of depression. I even had a successful senior minister in NZ tell me that he once considered suicide whilst driving home from another one of those endless evening meetings. Telling me was the first time he had disclosed this truth to anyone, including his wife! He went on to have a further twenty-odd successful and happy years of ministry before he retired.
I also discovered that in the USA, Canada and Australia many studies had been done into this problem. One denomination even set up a nationwide and confidential structure that allowed pastors to share their hearts without fear of recrimination for as we all know, so often the army of the Lord is the only army that shoots its own wounded, and this had been the experience of many in that particular denomination. Unfortunately, at that time of writing in my first report in 2009, all ninety pages of it, I was unable to find similar research done here in NZ.
So now, taking just one month of my accrued study leave, I am hoping to revisit some of what I looked at all those years back. I am hoping to find evidence from NZ in particular which points to more having been done, which would be great. Thanks to the likes of John Kirwan, much of the prejudice against sufferers of depression has lifted in NZ, but as far as for clergy, I’m not so sure. In fact just today, I had a reply from a convenor of a national committee in the PCANZ who told me that she knew nothing about any reports or studies that had looked into the impact of depression and burnout on our Ministers or were being considered to be done.
Doesn’t look like its starting well eh, but who knows; maybe I will be able to prompt some who need prompting. Maybe some fine Ministers now and in the future who at some time suffer a period of depression may be able to be ministered to themselves just as others would expect for themselves; they will be helped back into being fully functioning, healed members of God’s church. After all, Paul had a thorn in his side, so why can’t those who follow in his footsteps?