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On Being A Sad Good News Shepherd (via Connor Gwin at Mockingbird)

A recent suicide by a US pastor whose ongoing struggles with his mental health were part of his public ministry has produced a lot of commentary on the subject of ministry, chronic depression, and how sufferers can live with both.

Connor Gwin writes from the perspective of his own life dealing with both of these areas, and how the church can stray into two unhelpful directions, both of which marginalise a situation that is anything but marginal.

Often, the Church floats between two extremes when it comes to mental health. On one side you have the folks that believe that mental health is a purely spiritual matter; that depression is a sign of spiritual weakness and the solution is prayer. On the other side, you have people that believe that mental illness is a purely physical issue caused by improper brain function and cured through therapy and medicine.
What both sides share is a firm commitment to silence. If your mental illness is a spiritual problem, you will (most likely) not discuss it in church. If your mental illness is only a physical problem, you will talk with your therapist but not your faith community.
What we are left with is a church that never speaks of mental illness. The problem is that mental illness affects everyone in our churches, including our pastors.

The deeper question Gwin wants to interact with is whether there is a place in pastoral ministry for those who suffer.

The mental health of the pastor can make or break a church when the pastor is the focus of the church, not Christ. Too often pastors are seen as “professional Christians” or moral exemplars that set the bar for the congregation.
Of course, there is some truth to this. A pastor should be a Christian on the path, but the thing about being on the Christian path is that you will stumble. You will fall into sin. You will miss the mark. You will be selfish and make bad choices. You will not have it all together. This is all true of pastors as well.
Should people with mental illness be disqualified from ministry? Perhaps some should, but this question raises the deeper question:
Who is qualified for ministry?
If scripture is our guide, we see that God has a special way of using the most broken for His purposes.

Read the rest of the post at Mockingbird.


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God Moves In A Mysterious Way – The Legacy Hymn Of William Cowper

Scott Hubbard writes about William Cowper, who on New Year’s Day 1773 was about to slip into a depression that would remain for the rest of his life.
Anticipating that descending darkness Cowper wrote the hymn God Moves In A Mysterious Way.
From Hubbard’s article:

… before night fell on Cowper’s soul, he sat in the light of his remaining sanity, took up his pen, and wrote a hymn that has strengthened generations of staggering saints through their various shadows.
Take Courage
Cowper’s hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is a song for every saint who sits on the edge. It is a guide for all who do not see fresh hopes rising over the horizon of the new year. It is a confession of faith in the face of darkness — one that flickers with enough light to carry us through whatever midnights this year brings.
At the heart of the hymn is a simple exhortation: “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.” Take courage. Take courage when the clouds come thundering toward you. Take courage when the coming days seem covered in shadow. Take courage when you cannot understand God’s ways.
But why, we ask in the valley, should we take courage? Throughout the rest of the hymn, Cowper gives his reasons.

Read the rest of the post at Desiring God.

Here’s Nathan Tasker’s rendition of the hymn.
I wanted a version that has the lyrics to the forefront.


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Experiencing Reality Through A Filter Of Sadness And Sorrow (via John Starke)

John Starke writes about pastoring during a season of depression.
And a source of encouragement through that time.

I began to notice that I wasn’t just sad or discouraged about my circumstances. Something was different. There was a darkness that had set in. My sorrow and discouragement began to wrap around me and squeeze. It was hard to not experience my entire reality (my family, work, rest, prayers) through the filter of sadness and sorrow.
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But the more I had opened up and talked about it, the more I heard from other pastors and colleagues that they had never experienced depression until they went into pastoral ministry or engaged some significant conflict or discouragement in their work. I wasn’t alone. What was remarkable was that while words of truth and encouragement often felt as effective as cough syrup for throat cancer, the abiding presence of a fellow sufferer was like the hand of God over my wounds. It helped enlarge my scope of reality. Depression was like being in a confusing, blindingly dark cavern, but the presence of someone who could give witness to my pain was like a voice in the dark, awakening some hope that there may be some direction out.

Read Stark’s post at 9marks.


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The Haunting Presence Of Depression (via Mike Cosper)

Mike Cosper attempts to write a sensitive and nuanced reflection on depression and suicide, prompted by the death of chef and food/travel documentary make Anthony Bourdain.

This is what’s monstrous about depression. It is not simply a bad day or even a bad few months. It is a haunting presence, a grayness that covers all of life. It insulates you from joy under even the best of circumstances, and it makes you feel as though joy has left forever.
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In times like these, I want simplistic narratives. If only he’d asked for help. If only he’d acknowledged his pain. If only he’d found a friend. If only he’d found the hope of the gospel. There may be some truth in each of these, but reality is always more complex and harsh.
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There may be any number of physical, biological, or neurological reasons that people find themselves trapped in a metaphorical burning building, and we’d be wise not to speak too glibly or simplistically to them or about them. Instead, we might offer them what God offers: a safe place to come and rest. A warm meal. The company of our presence. We might point them to the care of doctors and therapists, and we might work in our communities to remove the stigma that comes with the label “depression” so that we see it in the same way we see chicken pox or the flu. These things can happen to anyone. And they can kill you.
Of course, we can and should also point them to a Savior who is a “man of sorrows” and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). The world simply is not what it is meant to be, and its brokenness takes a toll on everyone. Some of us might just be more sensitive to it than others.
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I wish everyone who felt the plague of depression could feel seen and known, comforted by the fact that they aren’t alone. For those who know and love depressed persons, this is a holy calling, and a difficult one.
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I pray the promise of Christ’s redemptive, acquainted-with-sorrow presence would spread throughout our depressed and depressing culture. I pray Christians could work to be faithfully present to those around them. And today, as I should do every day, I pray that those who feel lost in a gray cloud or trapped in a burning building would know that there are people longing to help them and a God whose grace is real.
“Come to me,” Jesus said, “all who are weary and heavy burdened . . . and I will give you rest for your soul.”

The whole post is at the Gospel Coalition.


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Ten Types Of Thinking That Undergird Depression (via ERLC)

This is an article by Brad Hambrick, published by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
These ten types of thinking are described as fuelling the depressive-anxious experience.
From personal experience they certainly resonate.
It would be helpful to understand that this is not a matter of identifying these in others and tell them to stop it.
Rather it is a self-diagnostic tool to help individuals recognise that which is unhelpful and unproductive in recovery and self-management.
It is also helpful for those who support sufferers about what sort of thought patterns not to encourage.

The list.
There are expanded explanations and ‘pay attention’ descriptions to help diagnose practical explanations of the thinking at work in the article itself:

1. Idealistic: Ideals are good goals without a sense of time.
2. Impossibly high goals: Impossible goals are either super-human or lack achievable pieces.
3. Personalization: Everything is not “about you.”
4. Emotional reasoning: When we believe our emotions are true in spite of facts to the contrary, this is emotional reasoning.
5. Catastrophisizing: This style of worst-case scenario thinking (i.e., “I’m going to die, fail out of school, be single forever, etc.) is very frequent at the onset of a panic attack.
6. Dichotomous thinking: “It is either great or terrible. It is clearly not great, so it must be terrible.”
7. Selective attention: We constantly filter our attention.
8. Superstitious thinking: In children or sports fans, superstitious thinking can be cute or entertaining.
9. Passivity: “If I can’t [blank], then I won’t do anything.” This is a pattern of thought that often causes people to cycle between depression and anxiety.
10. Equating worth with performance: This mindset requires “salvation by works alone” for you while allowing “salvation by grace” for everyone else.

Read the whole article here.


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What If I Never Change? (via Stephanie Phillips at Mockingbird)

A reflective article about life with chronic illness and trust in God by Stephanie Phillips.
An excerpt:

I had the thought the other day: what if I never change? I don’t remember what I was doing: making yet another dinner, folding some more laundry, mediating another child-fight, battling another impulse to emit a primal scream. I felt hopeless: after all, shouldn’t I, as a Christian, believe in change? Shouldn’t I hold the promise of it close like a small kitten, relying on its surety to keep me warm at night and positive during the day? “Personal transformation!” shout the majority of preachers. NO! The cynic in me counters. Consider this: what if you NEVER change?
And almost as quickly, from outside of myself, came an answer, which I believe may be the answer: you’ll still be loved. I considered it. Really? I thought. I know I’m a student of grace and all, but surely there are limits? I mean, you’ve got to show at least some effort in this game, some evidence of achievement?
Sanctification has, to be honest, always left me mystified. What does it mean? It’s just a fancy word for change, right? Of what happens after we believe? Which, of course, is spirit-directed, but let’s be honest again, is aided by my spiritual disciplines? By my own commitment? There’s certainly a multi-billion dollar industry out there that says so.
But what if I never change?
You’ll still be loved.
Preposterous. Offensive. So not me-centric. The alliteratively-outlined sermons of my childhood would be horrified.
But you know what? Trying-to-prove-myself-me? “Hey-everyone-I’m-so-OK” me? Is the worst version of me.

Read the whole post at Mockingbird.