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When I Feel Disqualified from Ministry Due to Depression

One of the first thoughts that I have when I get depressed is that I am no longer qualified for ministry.

“How can you preach truth when it does not even help you get out of bed?”

“You talk about a “deeper” and “truer” belief in Christ. Boy, a lot of good it does you.”

“You are going to try to teach people about God and his goodness when you hang your head in sadness. What is up with that?”

“How negative can your thoughts get before you are a complete hypocrite?”

Depressed people in ministry. While my “episodes” are nothing like the “great crash of ’10,” they still come and go. And I am in ministry. As I said in the first post of this series, I am learning to deal with it. I suppose the question is this: How do I continue to admonish people in truth, rebuke unfaithfulness, encourage hope, and preach the peace of God while thoughts of hopelessness win battles in my mind?

I remember after going through my depression last year, I actually changed a sermon that I was going to preach because I felt so guilty about my inability to fulfill its admonishment in my own life. What was the topic I was going to teach on? Thankfulness. I tried and tried for two months to change my attitude, but I could not. So I just changed the topic.

(I am no expert in depression and how to overcome it, mind you, but I hope these help you see where I am today.)

The issue is not simply, “How do you preach when you are depressed?” It is much broader. These questions might be better stated as, “How do we encourage goodness when we are bad? How do we preach the truth that we don’t practice? How do we lift people out of the mire in which we are currently residing? Isn’t there something about the “blind leading the blind” in the Bible?”

There are two things I try to remember:

1. Don’t let your failures manipulate your stand.

Remember the fall of David? Yeah, the Bathsheba thing. Not good. Sexual sin and murder. Remember the spiral downward in David’s life from that time on? Remember his family? Talk about dysfunctional! The crazy events of 2 Sam. 13 were beyond anything I have ever heard. His son Amnon loving his half sister Tamar, raping her, then hating her. When King David heard of this, the text says, “He was furious” (2 Sam. 13:21). That is it. He was mad. He did not do anything to Amnon. He was just mad. This unquenched anger caused Absalom, his other son, to take matters into his own hand and kill Amnon himself. And we all know how that story goes (estranged son, divided kingdom, third dead son).

Why didn’t David do anything? Well, I don’t mean to read into the text (warning: reading into the text forthcoming), but it would seem that these events are meant to teach us that we often have the tendency to look past, fail to encourage, and refrain from rebuke in those areas in which we have failed ourselves. I am sure David had these thoughts run through is mind:

“Who am I to rebuke Amnon after what I did?”

“I don’t have a leg to stand on here. Sure, he slept with his sister, but I killed the husband of the woman I slept with.”

“I understand his issues. I empathize with him. I am just keeping my hand over my mouth here. We will call it grace.”

However, this is not how it should have been handled. Right and wrong are still right and wrong, even if he had failed and continue to fail in living up to the standards of truth.

When we fail in an area like finding joy in the Lord, this does not mean that we cannot still encourage people in righteousness. It will certainly temper our presentation and the way in which we admonish, but we are not relieved of our responsibilities to stand for the truth. Sometimes, being in the mire ourselves can add a bit of encouragement to our ministry. David did Amnon no favors by staying silent about his sin.

2. God only uses sinners to encourage sinners.

Another thing I realize is that if I wait for my life to be perfect, I will never preach. And before you raise your nose too high, let me let you in on a little secret: neither will you. God only uses sinners. Let’s face it – we are all he has to work with. Now, I understand that there are some legitimate times when those of us in ministry do need to keep our mouths shut. In more extreme cases, we may have to take ourselves out of a position of authority due to our failures. However, this does not mean that we don’t continue to stand up for the truth. This does not mean that we quit helping people out of the mire.

I don’t know that I will ever feel qualified to preach, teach, or rebuke. But my call is not to feel qualified. If the standard is Christ, none of us should ever feel qualified because none of us will ever be qualified. Sure, I can manipulate my failures, give excuses for my lack of joy, and do everything I can to make my sin look better so that I feel better, but that is just lowering the standard. It’s just smoke and mirrors. We need to be more like Martin Luther, who said, “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” In other words, don’t make excuses or hide your sinfulness. If you do, then you just disqualify yourself from grace, which thrives only on our recognition of our sins. Bold sinning requires our continual presence in the circle of grace before the throne of God. And you know what? That is where I want to preach from. Those are the people God uses.

My adequacy is in him, not my ability to live up to his standard every moment. My clothes are his. His righteousness is mine. Therefore, when I am sad and depressed, the greatest thing I can do is continue to point people to a better place, even if I have to tell them that I hope to follow later. When I feel disqualified, I realize that we are all disqualified if our qualification is not in Him.

Series title: Dealing with depression #2.

26 Responses to “When I Feel Disqualified from Ministry Due to Depression”

  1. david carlson June 14, 2011 at 6:51 am

    amen

  2. I appreciate your post. It’s an irony of life as a Christian blogger that most of the times I’ve hit the bottom, I have lost all interest in writing. Whatever does come from those periods sounds bleak now, but it’s precious to me because I know what it cost to get it down on paper. So, thank for what you said. Depression isn’t easy to write about.

  3. This doesn’t apply on the Internet so much, but I’ve found that the fact that I understand depression and anxiety “qualifies” me to encourage those that also experience it to those that need the encouragement, and that there are still times that I struggle with both gives those I’ve encouraged a chance to be encouragers to me.

    Relationships in Christ are supposed to go both ways. As Paul trip might say, we’re broken people helping broken people.

    Thanks for the courage of your post.

  4. Almsgiving was one of the main things that got me out of my depression (along with trying to reduce sin in my life to the best of my God-given abilities…) Just helping people and opening up to people, and to God.

  5. Michael, I think you need to realize that some of the thoughts that pop into your head are not your own.

    The enemy has a way of speaking to us that makes it sound as if certain thoughts we have are our own when they are not.

    We battle sin, Satan, the World and the flesh…each can be giving you thoughts that do not belong to you. After each one of the quotes you provided above in your initial paragrah, I could add at the end of each one …”said Satan”.

    It is clear to me where those thoughts come from. Clearly the voice of the Shepherd is encouraging, gentle and true.

    Listening to the right ‘voices’ can help in those times.

    I brought a book to you back in ’10 called “Sidetracked in the Wilderness”. I was not able to give it to you directly, but I hope you received it none the less.

    If you did not, I would like to provide another copy.

    In grace

  6. Go to my FaceBook profile and read my note on the Warriors Creed. It helps me when I get depressed and reminds me that none of us are immune from spiritual attack. Remember His promise in Scripture that He uses our weakness to bring about His will. I had thrown in the towel many times and He picks me up and reminds me that His work in me is not finished, despite how I feel at the time. Defeat in this life is temporary, victory in Him is eternal. Damon’s post #5 speaks about spiritual attack. Keeping you in prayer Brother, and remember it’s not over until He says “it is finished.”

  7. I suffered a period of serious depression in ’09 leading to me having to take 3 months off work. One really important truth that I learned during that time out of acive minstry is that God’s love for me displayed in Christ does not depend in any way on what I can or can’t do, be that preach, pray or just get out of bed in the morning. For sure I ‘knew’ that before I was depressed, but there is ‘knowingin theory’ and knowing from experience.

    When I returned to the pulpit I preached a series on the love of God – starting with my own experience of being loved by God – which I hope to be able to adapt into a book.

    I am out of ministry again, but this has nothing to do with depression – more to do with some of the reasons why I became depressed in the first place. This is neither the time nor the place to speak of those things.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides June 15, 2011 at 10:01 am

    “Right and wrong are still right and wrong, even if he had failed and continue to fail in living up to the standards of truth.”

    The Enemy, Satan, is quite clever and quite effective.

    After accusing someone of the horribly heinous sin of hypocrisy, the Accuser further immobilizes the remorseful hypocrite from doing what’s right and good because of the feelings of inadequacy the Accuser has amplified.

    P.S. CMP, this is a superb post and I laud you loud, long, and heartily to keep doing ministry during these times of depression.

    Addendum, I would not exhort Ted Haggard to continue his ministry were he depressed over his infidelity.

    Does that make me a hypocrite?

    ;-)

  9. Chris Schopmeyer June 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you for this post. Just found your blog and I love it so far.

    I am a pastor that struggles with depression. I don’t know how long, but I have accepted it since 2006. I can name five other people in my family that struggle with it. My wife approaches me within two weeks every time I have stopped taking my medication, “Have you stopped your pills?” How does she know? Why won’t the Lord take this away? Why can’t I get past this?

    For me, it is a medical condition. My brain doesn’t produce or receive enough serotonin. Therefore, I don’t believe Satan is attacking me, per se. I believe my brain is lying to me.

    I hate it every time I have to take my medicine. It bothers me greatly. With that said, I think we need to get past the stigma of depression, and attributing every depressed thought to Satan is not going to help people be the best they can be for the Kingdom. Many very functional people -– including believers –- need medical help in the area of mental…

  10. About six years ago I got married. I had a degree from one of the top business schools in the country and a good job at a fortune 500 company. I believed that God wanted me to go to seminary, so my wife and I moved halfway across the country so I could go to school. My wife got a job and I did well the first year of seminary. Then my depression hit, it had always been there, but never that bad. Since, I did have a son, who I love to death, but I’ve lost a job, can’t seem to get another one (we now have massive debts), and I have all but flunked out of seminary. Yet, my wife and I keep seeing people move on in life and we are still stuck, getting deeper in debt and no closer to finishing school. Not only is the depression almost unbearable, I have so much guilt over what I have done to my wife, moving her away from family, sinking her into debt with me, life just seems impossible. I’m afraid that she is going to leave me.

  11. I have talked to people, a pastor and a psychiatrist, I’ve taken medication and nothing seems to help. Spiritually, I used to pray a lot, but I feel as if God has left me. It seems that everyone I have talked to barely even listens to me, even the psychiatrist seemed like she didn’t believe me when I told her how depressed I was, I don’t think anyone really believes me and I get the feeling everyone thinks I should just get over it.

  12. This is a tough situation, but as all Christians know, everyone is a sinner. God’s grace is necessary for sinners. Not everyone will be on their best day all the time. So it’s okay to teach others even if you feel like just one of them — in fact, you can draw on your experience to understand how others must feel.

    I know it’s not easy to have this help you in times of depression, and I am no expert either. It may also be a chemical thing, so diet and exercise can work wonders in the long term. But I can give you a short list of things that I think would help most people feel happy quickly:

    1) Do not use negative thoughts, but speak aloud using good words such as “love”, “happiness”, “kindness”, “thankful”, “sunny”, “beautiful” etc. and about 10 mins later you will feel better. Neuro-linguistic programming.

    2) Smiling and looking at sunlight and beautiful pictures of places you want to visit etc. makes you feel better. Biofeedback.

  13. 3) Undertake a small task you’ve been wanting to do for a while and complete it as fully and awesomely as you can. Like cleaning a window and polishing every last inch of it. A feeling of agency.

    4) Think of all the people who are worse off than you in important respects and aren’t able to get to where you are. Hungry kids and parents in Africa, for instance. Relative to many others you are lucky.

    5) Finally, have a list of all the things you are happy and proud about in your life. Your family. Your accomplishments. The people you have helped. This is the legacy you will leave behind for others. It is the most we humans can do with the limited amount of life we have on this earth. Thankfulness.

    I think if you do these 5 things you’ll be happy and energized in 10 mins! :)

  14. Gregory,

    I don’t think you have ever ever experienced ongoing or severe depression or you would not likely be giving any one your 10 min fix it list. It just doesn’t work that way.

    I have suffered two bouts of severe depression in my life. Thank God, for some reason mine didn’t last for years like some folks have had to endure. And I am not claiming any credit for that at all, nor do I know why it is different for some others.

    But believe me, the most discouraging thing any one ever told me during that time was that I “just needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps”. Frankly, I was so far down that I couldn’t of found my bootstraps, much less pulled myself up by them–as if that would work any way.

    The bottom line here is that telling very depressed people you have the way to make them feel happy quickly only shows you don’t understand this issue. And it is not something that works. Please don’t offer anyone in this situation the 10 mintute cure all!

  15. Truth Unites... and Divides June 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Dear Isaiah,

    Your pain hurts me. It’s palpable over the internet.

    I pray that you remain faithful to Him as He is to you. And that your wife prays for you and loves you and stays with you.

  16. I didnt intend it as a cure just a quick way to feel better temporarily. It’s supposed to be for anyone.

  17. Isaiah,

    Believe me I know depression can be very bad. I am not in your shoes, so I don’t know how bad it is for you. But I know that it can be excruciating. And I also know you can’t “just get over it.”

    And I know that God knows your pain and that He doesn’t leave us just because we are severely depressed, even though it may certainly feel that way at the time. Please don’t give up on that reality.

    I am not going to attempt to offer you any solutions, I don’t know what they would be for you. But I do hope it helps at least a little bit to know that others do believe you and know that it is an excruciating thing to deal with.

  18. Leslie Jebaraj June 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Isaiah:

    As someone that struggle with depression often, I understand what you are going through. I just said a prayer for you.

  19. Isaiah, I shall pray for your situation. It’s the best I have to offer at this time. Though I do not know you personally you are part of God’s family as I am and we are to love one another….Will be thinking of you brother in my prayers tonight.

  20. Isaiah,

    self-giving love, kindness, and purity are the key out of depression. But you have to have patience, hope, and faith. Open yourself up to your dear ones and to God, and slowly but surely things will change in your inner life.

  21. Lucian,

    Some of us are not talking about a “down in the dumps’ feeling, a “bad mood”, or a “blue day” or long series of days.

    We are talking about an all consuming and exruciating pain of the mind and emotions and a deep overwhelming sense of darkness that you are in the middle of that makes normal functioning extremely difficult if not completely impossible.

    Do you truly believe that “self-giving love, kindness, and purity” are the keys out of that type of depression? If you do, have you experienced it yourself or have you seen others brought out of the depths of that state by those three keys that you offer?

    Those things are always great and necessary and do indeed lift a person’s spirits. But the type of depression being talked about here seems to be much, much deeper then that.

    I would truly like to know, because as one that has been there, I can’t imagine them truly bringing a person out of it again.

  22. Cherylu, You speak wisely, it is so easy to give well meaning advise but you have to have walked that part to give meaningful advice. I have had these blue days and why me situations but never full blown depression. Lean on him and love one another is what I would volunteer. I can’t imagine the strain it must have on all family members.

  23. I have struggled with mild depression most of my life. When I found The Lord about 10 years ago I began to change. He gave me rest for a number of years, but it is slowly creeping in. I can feel the hopelessness hovering like dark clouds every day. I can teach and preach the Word with passion, but somewhere in the back of my mind a voice says, “Everyone but you.” it feels like God is pushing me out of the nest and I’m trying as hard as I can to stay in. Some days I feel like giving in and going back to my old ways, but God has been faithful so far in drawing me to my knees in praise and worship. Writing helps.

    Isaiah, prayed for you.

  24. Cherylu,

    yes, that is precisely what I’m talking about.

    (I’ve suffered from severe clinical depression for at least three months before I had my first breakthrough, and then it slowly but steadily declined during the following 6 to 9 months).

    [I’m Romanian, and the word ‘depression’ carries only a single meaning in my language: it is NOT a synonym for melancholy or sadness, as it is customarily used in English].

    What brought me out of it, as I repeatedly said on this blog, is precisely a constant, determined, strong-willed fight against various cravings, lusts, and addictions, coupled with loving-kindness, goodness, and charity. [It’s not enough to get evil out of the heart, because the soul still remains empty; the heart has to be filled, slowly but steadfastly, with Christ-likeness]. I’m still struggling with sins ands passions, but not with clinical depression. I’m not a ‘saint’ by any means, just a sinner fighting the good fight, and trusting in God…

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