You Are Not Alone: The Truth of Anxiety and Depression in Ministry

Anxiety and depression can become intertwined in the lives of ministry leaders, but there are ways to defend ourselves.
8 min read

I stood and looked over the edge, and the most horrific thought crossed my mind. ‘It will be quick. The pain will go away and this will be better for everyone.’

Wow. This is probably more than you were expecting as you sat down to read this article, but please don’t stop.

Trust me.

One woman who is stressed or in pain from depression, anxiety or headache related health issues
Image Credit: 5m3photos/Moment/Getty Images

But the reality is that sometimes anxiety and depression can become intertwined in the lives of ministry leaders.

Shallow or deep, it still hurts.

And when they flood into your soul, they take over everything.

And by the way, depression doesn’t care about you. Anxiety loves to rob you of your job. They do, however, love that you’re struggling.

In other words, depression and anxiety love that the light is disappearing from your heart, and they take great joy in extinguishing your passion for life. 

You Weren’t Created to Go Through this Alone

Let me back up.

I am a beloved child of God. Of course I know that. I have taught that literally thousands of times from over 500 stages in the last 24 years.

My parents are amazing—they are my best friends on the planet. And don’t even get me started on how incredible my wife is. Our 5 kids are the treasure of my life. And I have some amazing friends and ministry partners.

I’m almost embarrassed sometimes by how powerfully God has blessed me.

But if all that is true, why did I look over the edge and think it would be better if I just stepped off? If all that is true, why was I struggling with anxiety and depression at such a deep level? And why did they seemingly become my best friends?

tudent shrugging at desk
Image Credit: Image Source/Seb Oliver/Getty Images

Then after a taxing ministry season, I brought my church staff to a baseball game for some fun. And there I was, looking over the edge on the top deck of Comerica Park at a Detroit Tigers baseball game.

I hate heights, so I wasn’t standing there just admiring the view.

I walked up to the edge because I had an extremely quick thought about how to end the exhaustion, the burnout, the depression, and the feeling of despair that was overtaking my life.

I’ve served the local Church for 24 years, and I’ve served in just about every capacity. I’ve served kids, students, college students, and adults.

I love the Church. But honestly, I had let myself continue on a ragged journey, and I was in a rough place. I was tired because of it all.

Anxiety and depression were winning. 

Here’s the Reality

I wish this weren’t the case, I really do. But the reality is, sometimes even ministry leaders can become depressed and ruled by anxiety.

Even God’s chosen can be consumed with panic attacks. And those can be at so many different levels.

But why? I mean, we’re serving the Church! We’re loving people for Jesus! So how on earth in the midst of all that could depression and anxiety take over and steal pieces of our lives away from us?

The reality is, sometimes anxiety and depression can become intertwined in the lives of ministry leaders.

Can we be honest for a second? I mean really honest.

Ministry is hard.

Take Care of Yourself

Leading volunteers, walking with them through their rough seasons, teaching kids, listening to all the struggles, walking with families with sensory needs, and balancing the demands of many is a lot.

In addition to that, I think we’re in a new day for ministry to kids and students. I believe with the rise of technology, we have more and more kids who are struggling with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression than ever before.

Here’s the deal, even Jesus took time to be alone and rest and care for His soul. 

So it’s no wonder that depression and anxiety are weaseling their way into the souls and hearts of ministry leaders. And one of the primary reasons why is that we’re not caring for ourselves. 

There are so many people to care for and so many ministry projects to accomplish. On top of that, wee need to care for family and friends.

How can we use the precious time that we have to care for ourselves?

Here’s the deal, even Jesus took time to be alone and rest and care for His soul. 

Close-up of tired thoughtful businesswoman with arms crossed at office
Image Credit: Maskot/Getty Images

Jesus said to them,`Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while.’ Many people were coming and going. They could not even eat. So they went away in a boat to a lonely place by themselves. (Mark 6:31-32)

So, if we’re going to fight back the onslaught of anxiety and depression in our lives, we have to take the control back from them and put a ridiculous amount of effort into caring for ourselves. 

In order to ultimately fight off anxiety and depression, you can implement these life-changing ways to care for yourself. 

ONE: Change Your Mindset

So many of us believe that caring for ourselves isn’t all that important. That has to change.

We tell ourselves things like, ‘I don’t need any help,’ ‘I’m not weak like that,’ ‘I’ll take care of myself someday,’ or ‘I don’t want to bother people.’

But, we have to stop and remember that we’re not indestructible. 

TWO: Reorder Your Calendar

Do yourself an incredible favor and read ‘Sacred Rhythms’ by Dr. Ruth Haley Barton.

I promise you, it will change your life. You will learn how important it is to think through your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly rhythms.

Dr. Barton says; ‘These basic rhythms will keep us connected to the voice of God.’

When we put great focus and thought into rhythms, they will change our calendar and they will change our lives. 

THREE: Make Your Sabbath a Priority

Our Creator knows us intimately, and He made us to work 6 days and rest 1 day. So, are you putting great focus into your Sabbath? If not, it may be your pride keeping you from resting.

Dr. Barton says that ‘the Sabbath has to be the most important practice of a follower of Jesus.’

And Dr. Tim Keller says that we ‘Live in a culture that’s inundated with brokenness. So, we have to fill our minds with beauty on the Sabbath.’

In order to do that, Keller says we must, ‘Cease, Rest, Embrace, and Feast’ on your Sabbath.

If you make the Sabbath your priority, your soul will benefit greatly over time. 

FOUR: Actually Take Care of Yourself

This is just huge. Sometimes we don’t because we don’t remember or believe how much God loves us.

I love this encouragement from Rick Warren: ‘Your first job in ministry is to let God love you. You were created so God could love you and every beat of your heart God is saying I love you.’

If we remembered that every single day, we would do a much better job of caring for ourselves. Drink water. Walk 10,000 steps every day. Eat healthy. Cut the caffeine. Carve out time for solitude.

And actually do these things! 

FIVE: Set Up and Trust an Accountability System

The reality is, we were made to be accountable to someone. So, do you have an accountability system in your life? And if you do, are they allowed to really ask you tough questions?

If not, you need to start from scratch and set up a system that actually works and is built on trust. And most importantly, you have to be transparent with your accountability and really let them know how you’re doing. Simply put, dive deep with them and keep them up to date.

If you don’t have someone, find a Christian counselor and make this time a priority. 

SIX: Make Sure You’re Checking In—On Yourself

We are very good at checking in on others. I mean, we’re ministry leaders. So we disciple, we lead, we love, and we serve. But we can’t forget about ourselves.

Honestly, forgetting about myself is how I let myself get to the point that I looked over the edge of that stadium and let that horrific thought enter my mind.

So don’t let yourself get to that point. If you put effort and focus into caring for yourself, you can fight off the anxiety and depression. 

Additionally, we absolutely can’t forget the words of Psalms 34:17-18:

Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
If you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath (from The Message).

You weren’t created to go through this alone.

Closeup shot of a diverse group of people holding hands together in unity
Image Credit: Moyo Studio/E+/Getty Images

Don’t Go Through it Alone

My heart is breaking for you if you are struggling with anxiety or depression. If you have ever had any thoughts like I had, my heart is breaking for you.

I hope after hearing my story you will be motivated to do everything possible to care for yourself.

I took a quick look over the edge that day and the thought about jumping entered my mind. For a split second, I thought about writing something to my wife and kids in my phone, and then I looked back.

When I did, it was like a million memories came flooding into my soul. Memories of my family and friends and ministry. All this happened in under 20 seconds.

Each step I took as I walked away from that edge was like a step toward freedom.

As a result, I decided that day that I was going to take great care of myself from now on. That even if it meant upsetting others or saying no, I would never let myself get back to that point. 

I hope you will take care of yourself. 

In conclusion, let me leave you with these amazing words from Kevin DeYoung.

“Jesus did not do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.”

Kevin DeYoung
You Were Made For This cover

Ready to get some rest for your weary soul?

Get ready to pause, take a deep breath, and rest, in our guide from Ministry Spark: You Were Made for This: Caring for Your Soul as a Ministry Leader.
Free Guide
You Were Made For This cover

Ready to get some rest for your weary soul?

Get ready to pause, take a deep breath, and rest, in our guide from Ministry Spark: You Were Made for This: Caring for Your Soul as a Ministry Leader.
Free Guide
You Were Made For This cover

Ready to get some rest for your weary soul?

Get ready to pause, take a deep breath, and rest, in our guide from Ministry Spark: You Were Made for This: Caring for Your Soul as a Ministry Leader.
Free Guide
post article end mark
  Updated on June 4, 2020

About the Author

  • Jason Raitz is a speaker, storyteller, coach, and pastor. Jason has been speaking since he was a teenager. He has been given the privilege of speaking over 100,000 people since 2000. He loves to encourage people to choose love and discover beauty in everyone!

© 2020 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
© 2019 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
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