As many of you will have gathered already, I recently edited a book called The Pastor with a Thorn in his Side. It is a collection of stories from serving and former pastors, assistant pastors and missionaries who have all suffered with depression. We have written it to help the church grapple with the realities of mental health issues in their midst. We hope that it will help churches better understand how they can help, not just pastors, but anybody in their churches struggling with their mental health. We think it will help pastors and members who are suffering know that they are not alone, encourage them to ask for help, provide clear ways for others to help those who are suffering and avoid making matters worse and generally aid conversations about this epidemic in our churches.
The books follows a fairly simple format. The introduction tells us about the reality of depression and provides a working definition of the illness. It also presents some of the stats about what is going on in the church and briefly outlines theology behind suffering and illness, particularly as it relates to pastoral ministry. It also explains why we wrote the book, who we think it is for and how we think it will help them and their churches.
The meat of the book is seven different stories from those in various ministry roles who suffer from depression. Some were ill before they went into ministry whilst others first became ill whilst in their posts. Most were speaking from the position of continuing to live with the illness as serving ministers today, others were speaking from retirement or other situations that mean they are no longer in full-time paid Christian ministry. This range of experiences is there because there is no one definitive form that depression will take. We believe that somewhere, across the range of these stories, most people suffering with mental health illnesses will be able to recognise something of what they are going through.
The final chapter sums up all the stories and draws together the similarities and differences. It looks at the things that everybody agreed were helpful and unhelpful and encourages people to take note of these things as they are likely to be common to most people’s experience of depression. It looks at the things that a number of people said but were not part of every story, suggesting these things could be a factor in other stories but aren’t necessarily going to be present. Finally, it looks at the things that were different in every story, suggesting we shouldn’t insist these things will be at play for others too or that doing or not doing them will be particularly welcome. The aim is to give sense of how best to help and support those you know who are suffering with depression.
You may or may not be thinking that sounds helpful and exactly like the sort of thing you think you should be buying. Of course, I think you should all rush out and get it. But you should take my word for it. Here are what some other folks think about it.
Surprisingly enough, this is a very positive book and, I’m sure, it will help a lot of people. You won’t find within it quick fixes, magic wands or infuriating ‘Christian’ platitudes. Just personal realism and practical, biblical wisdom. But that’s precisely what you would hope from a collection of pastors’ testimonies! I hope and pray that it helps more pastors feel less isolated and more church members less confused when depression rears its ugly head.Mark Meynell, Director (Europe & Caribbean) for Langham Preaching and writer of When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend (IVP, 2018)
This fallen world is full of pain – and our pastors are not immune – but all too often their struggles go unheard. In this raw and honest work, some powerful stories are told. We meet real men who know the depths of depression. And, as we hear from them, we are all better equipped to listen, love and pray with hope for those in ministry. An important work for pastors who are currently struggling alone – and for congregation members who care.Helen Thorne, Director of Training and Resources, Biblical Counselling UK
This book invites you into the inner life of pastors who suffer from depression. It will be an eye-opener to many people. It will help pastors who suffer similarly to see that they are not alone and encourage them that God is still with them. It will also enable church members to support their pastors more intelligently especially in prayer. It is an important book for our times.John Benton, Director for Pastoral Support, The Pastors’ Academy, London Seminary
We also have a launch event on the evening of 5th May taking place on Zoom. You will be able to meet some of the contributors to the book, hear a bit more about their stories and learn how their depression has affected them in ministry. There will be a time of Q&A to ask them any questions you might have about how they have managed their mental health in ministry too. To sign up to join the event, visit The Pastor With A Thorn In His Side.