Dr. Garrett Higbee continues the Gospel Coalition’s five-part series on the vulnerability of pastors to depression. Here’s his introduction:
Paul Tripp made a compelling case for the prevalence of depression in the pastoral culture. In continuing the conversation, my focus will be on answering the questions, “What is depression? What are the unique challenges common to pastors that might contribute to depression being an “occupational liability”?”
This resonates with me! Reading through Dr. Higbee’s list of symptoms of depression, I recognize many of them. In around Feb-March of 2010, things hit the fan in the church where I was serving as pastor. Close friends and brothers in the church’s leadership seemed to turn against me, believe false things about me and about my wife. I felt backed into a corner. I feared for my job and for my ability to provide for my family. I feared losing the ministry that was so important to me. I feared people more than God.
Being asked to resign in April 2010 didn’t really help matters much. We moved back to British Columbia, to be close to family and to look for a new ministry, and so we did get a chance to rest. The problem was that I had far too much time to rest. I was interested that Spring in a couple of ministries that had vacancies, but other candidates were chosen instead of me. We began to have a vision for church planting, but the timing just wasn’t working out with our denomination. Feelings of rejection, failure, worthlessness set in as month after month I collected unemployment insurance, while my wife got a job and earned extra income to help make ends meet.
One thing, I think, in particular kept me from sliding into more severe depression. Just a few months prior to the big blow up of my last ministry, the church leadership had agreed to send Heather and I to an intensive retreat for couples in full-time ministry. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend the retreat at Kerith Creek, a retreat centre run by Focus on the Family just outside of Calgary, AB (click the image above). Jerry and Renee loved us, wept with us and prayed with us as we shared our stories. Jerry, an experienced pastor with a personality very similar to my own, could relate to what I was going through. At the time, we did not know if we would have to leave our church or whether things would work out. The storm was brewing but had not broken yet. My anxiety about the future was pretty high. They understood. They had been there. I will never forget the internal crisis I experienced when Jerry pushed me to wrestle with the question, “Who is Joe Haynes? Who would Joe Haynes be if he is no longer a pastor?” At first I reacted with, “But Joe Haynes IS a pastor! That’s who God made me to be!” But in time, with the love and encouragement of Jerry and Renee and of my beautiful wife, I confessed a new-found truth, “No matter what happens to me, to my ministry, to my family, Joe Haynes is a child of God and a servant of Jesus Christ.” I think this is the one thing that has enabled me to receive this past year-and-a-half as a gift of God rather than a curse; as for my good rather than my harm.
I’m still learning though. Learning to root out the stubborn weeds of “fear of people” in my sinful heart. Learning to hope in God instead. My new friend and brother and mentor, Dan Rutherford, is helping me learn these things. Every chewed up, spat out and spent pastor needs a brother like Dan. Or like Jerry. I think every Christian man needs brothers like these.