Still Hanging in There, Part 3
Like many other posts in this web site, the one from Brien in Illinois deeply touched me. I can relate to his struggles.
About 20 years ago I was in my first pastorate and the experience nearly ruined me and just about drove me right out of the ministry. A more hateful, vengeful, and arrogant group of people I have never met. I lasted three years at that church and the first two were hell on earth. A faction within the church hated me from the day I got there. One influential church member accused me of putting my family before the church. When I told him this was true he cursed me, called me a string of ugly names, and threatened to beat me up. I could write pages about what a nightmare experience that church was. The aforementioned church member led a movement to have me fired, but failed to garner enough votes. I had done nothing wrong, so this faction had no formal charges to bring against me. Eventually, the ringleader and about 20 others left the church, which was long overdue. Following this, the church enjoyed a time of peace and growth. I stayed on another year before coming to be pastor at my present church where I have been ever since. Overall, it has been a good church with pretty good people. However, that horrible experience at the other church still haunts me.
I have wondered if this explains in part why I fell into a dark depression a few years later. Perhaps it was a sort of adjusting to the aftershocks. The combined stresses of ministry and family became too much. I did not become catatonic as Brien described, but I was close. I underwent therapy, counseling, and medication with anti-depressants. All the while I continued to pastor the church and somehow place one foot in front of the other. For a time I was actually suicidal. Fortunately, through faith, prayer, determination, and raw courage I eventually climbed out of depression. Since then I have developed strategies to keep myself going forward lest I fall back into that terrible pit. These strategies involve a disciplined lifestyle of daily prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, diet, exercise, and a more positive attitude. I have lately included in my coping strategies this web site, which is a great help. Sharing my experiences and reading yours is proving to be very therapeutic.
For those of you going through rough times please know you are not alone. Pastors everywhere share the struggles you are facing. This explains why they are leaving the ministry in droves. It is sad that the secular world treats us better than the church. I have thought of leaving many times. However, God has called me to preach, so I persevere – but I will seek to lighten up and enjoy life as best as I can. "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 118:6)."
Brien, my brother, I hope you are reading this. What you do next is seek with God’s help to rise up and move forward, even if a few small steps at a time. Take a day off each week and go hike through the woods (provided there is a park or countryside where this is possible). Be careful not to take your frustrations out on your wife and kids. Make sure you are working on your marriage, for this is top priority. I know this will seem like climbing Mt. Everest, but try some form of vigorous exercise. Are you overweight? If so, go on a high protein diet. Try rising earlier each day for prayer and meditation on the Word. Obtain some comedy DVD’s (Seinfeld, Friends, the Three Stooges - anything that makes you laugh) and watch them often. The fact that you are reaching out tells me there is hope. You can and you will overcome. Do not give up. I have been where you are and I am still hanging in there, and you know something? I am learning to laugh and relax in ways I did not imagine possible. The fact that the leaders in your church apologized is huge – a very encouraging sign.
The days may look dark, but a brighter day is coming. I am still hanging in there and I pray you will too.