6 Survival Tips for Pastors with Depression

I’m not sure if it is because it is mental health awareness month, or if we are all just feeling the end of the school year pressure, but there are a lot of pastors out there right now who are really struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with major clinical depression. It’s been a long road that has included being suicidal, going on disability, and eventually taking a call to another congregation. So in the interest of all those who struggle with me, here are a few tips from one who has been there.

  • Take it a day at a time. One of the tricks of the depression brain is that it always wants you to globalize. Globalizing means taking one bad experience and using that as the lens through which you look at the rest of your life. One parishioner complains because you didn’t see them, and all the sudden you’ve convinced yourself that you’re about to be removed from your congregation. Resist the urge to make sweeping self-judgments. It’s not easy, I know. But by focusing on one day at a time, it can keep you in the here and now, and not talk yourself into more nonsense.
  • Think process, not outcome. What I mean by that is that the steps you take every day as a pastor, the things you do, may not feel like much. Making that shut-in visit doesn’t seem like a victory. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would say “BE their pastor, don’t DO their pastor.” By focusing on individual steps and the process, it can free you to think of each step as a gift and a victory of God’s mercy, and not just a false step toward failure.
  • Plan for down time. Learn your own triggers and limits, and try as much as possible to plan for them. If you know you will be exhausted and useless after making a certain visit, then give yourself permission to rest. God rested. It’s okay for you, too.
  • Bring community with you. For me, it is the one-on-one visits that are often the hardest. That level of attention and emotional energy drains it right out of me. So why not bring the church with you? A deaconess, an elder, even someone who just likes to visit can be a huge help when you are feeling drained. You bring Christ to your people. Why not bring the Bride?
  • Recognize what is causing you the most stress and anxiety, and deal with that first. This is a hard one, because it goes against what our depression brain and our own lazy nature might want. But by tackling it right away, that allows you time to recover, and may reduce your stress level for the rest of the week.
  • Do an emotional inventory or journal. I find that if I pay a little bit of attention to self-evaluation, that often can help me identify what is really making things bad. Journaling helps a lot with this, but if that sounds too hippy, thing of it as an emotional inventory.

These are the ones that occur to me on a Thursday night. What are some of your best tips for pastoring with depression?

He Restores My Soul

I just finished reading He Restores My Soul. This book is a series of essays by twelve women, and a pastoral response from Rev. Rick Stuckwisch.

The book in many ways is both exhausting and liberating. It is exhausting, because of the vulnerability and courage shHRMS-front-cover.jpegown by these women. They each have their own voice. They each have their own crosses to bear. Yet somehow, through it all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shines through. They tell the story of the God who is ever present with His people, who walks with them through the valley of the shadow of death, and who never leaves their side, no matter what the trial. It doesn’t matter if they are talking about he burden of disease or death, single-hood or dementia, they share this language of faith in a way that I did not expect.

But vulnerability is exhausting. It lets other people into your life. It gives them a place a your table, and you at theirs. It’s why true vulnerability is so rare. It is easy to have a strange kind of pride in suffering and sorrow. LOOK AT ME, we might be saying. But that’s not the voices of these authors. They see their own weaknesses and fears. They see how Satan has tried to sift through them. But more importantly, they see what it means to be one in the body of Christ, in communion with God and with each other. It is a rare treat. I feel like I’ve had a peek into an important family conversation, and I am all the more blessed for it.

What I like the most about these essays is that they hit the challenges head on. They don’t sugar coat. They don’t turn the Gospel into the over sweet saccharine of the false hope of our age. Real sin demands a real savior, who really died, and really rose again from the dead.

At the same time, they all point us to the flesh and blood work of our Savior, drawing us in, walking with us, dying for us, and rising for us. This is no small task, especially in the face of so many challenges and hardships.

This book will probably be most enjoyed by women, although I don’t think that is exclusively so. I thoroughly appreciated it, and I hope and pray that each one of these authors continues to write more for the sake of the Church and those in need everywhere.

It is available for $18 plus shipping at Emmanuel Press by CLICKING HERE

You may also purchase it at Amazon by CLICKING HERE

There is also an Amazon Kindle version by CLICKING HERE

 

Rev. Todd Peperkorn, Pastor

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Rocklin, California

 

One Thing that The Last Jedi Gets Right…

Well, having an article published about Star Wars may mean that my life is now complete. I’m a nerd, and most certainly a Star Wars nerd. I saw the original Star Wars in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, when I was six years old. I am oh so aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise, but for good or ill, it is the mythology of my childhood, along with The Lord of the Rings.

https://thefederalist.com/2017/12/20/heres-one-big-thing-last-jedi-gets-right/

Higher Things and BJS: Really?

Seventeen years ago, I was blessed to be involved with the formation of a youth organization that became Higher Things. It began with the Dare to Be Lutheran conference in Laramie, Wyoming, in the summer of 2000. Since that time, tens of thousands of youth have received Christ, received the gifts of God, and have embraced what it means to be Lutheran in a world that continues to fall apart at the seams.

I haven’t been involved with Higher Things in a leadership capacity for ten years or so. For the most part, I go to conferences, occasionally preach, and do sectionals about depression, suicide, the liturgy, or whatever else they want. I am much more of an attendee today than on the inside of any decision making process.

What I do see is the benefit it has for my own children, and the youth of my congregation. As a congregation, Holy Cross goes every year. I would face an utter rebellion if we did anything else. The young people of our church look forward to the trip, raise money for it, and talk about it in Bible class and Sunday School. What’s more, they talk about Jesus, about good theology and worship, and about how awesome it is to know and recognize that they aren’t the only Lutherans in the world. There are other churches out there that use the hymnal, that practice closed communion, and that preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. They, we, aren’t alone.

Our conference group from 2016, plus the group from Zion in Terra Bella, CA.

I won’t claim to like or agree with every jot or tittle of every decision that they make about conferences. Or worship. Or even play (A chant off? Really? That’s just unhelpful and irreverent). But I do so from the perspective of honor and respect, and a recognition that what they are about is precisely what I am about as a Lutheran pastor, and what we are about as a congregation. In this world we call earth and in this place we call the LCMS, things aren’t perfect. Sometimes there are speakers I like, sometimes not. Sometimes articles in the magazine maybe take the wrong tactic on a tough topic (see the Eilers débâcle from a couple years ago). If they make decisions that I think are wrong, I’ll tell them. I have. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they ignore the old guy. I’m okay with that. It’s called working together, and churchmanship.

All of this is why the piece published by BJS on Higher Things is so wrong-headed and just plain bad. It assumes that because the 1517 Legacy Project sponsors a T-Shirt, they are somehow now tied at the hip with HT. And when a former professor at Concordia University Irvine is scheduled to speak at an HT conference, somehow that means everything he’s ever said is now what Higher Things stands for.

Nonsense.

I don’t know Dr. Dan Van Voorhis. I’ve never met him. I’ve listened to the podcast, though. He’s engaging and worth learning more about. I look forward to hearing him speak at Higher Things in Bozeman in a few weeks. I expect it will be Lutheran, hold up Law and Gospel, and will put Jesus at the center of everything we are and everything we do. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

I would also point out that since the above article is unsigned and as listed as by “the editors,” one doesn’t know who wrote it. Have they attended Higher Things conferences? Spoken with any of the leadership? Actually had a two way dialogue with the Board of Directors, or for that matter with Dr. Voorhis or anyone from 1517 Legacy Project?

The BJS article isn’t courageous, a necessary corrective, or somehow bringing to light some deep and dark problem. All the BJS piece does is create division, foster mistrust, and make confessional Lutheranism look, again, like all it wants to do is make a small circle even smaller.

I want no part of that kind of confessional Lutheranism.

So if you want to find me, look for me with my youth at Higher Things in Bozeman. And at Tacoma next year, and wherever they go the year after that. I’ll be right there. I hope to see you there, too.

Rev. Todd Peperkorn, STM
Co-Founder, Higher Things
Magazine Editor, 2001-2006