Depression in the Clergy: How Could It Be?

How could it be? Any number of catchy headlines could capture the seeming incongruity of it.
• Bible Church Leader Sidelined
• Spiritual Giant Rendered Powerless
• Dallas Seminary Board Member Hit by Depression

Tommy Nelson, famed pastor of Denton Bible Church had to struggle with these contradictions between role and function. He has forgotten more Bible than most of us will ever know. He has helped more people in their authentic spiritual growth than any of us will ever realize. But two years ago, he found himself beset by such anxiety and depression that he had to shut down for several months and pull out from the ministry. One of the best known pastors in the North Texas area, he found himself very alone. He wrestled with many questions which defy easy answers:
• Is the Bible alone sufficient for every human condition?
• Can a person work too much within the will of God?
• Should a spiritual person seek help from psychiatry (for medication) and from a psychologist (for counseling)?

I just spent a couple of hours in Tommy Nelson’s office planning his presentation on September 26 at our Dallas/Fort Worth local CAPS meeting. He’ll team up with psychologist, David Nicholson, to address these questions. James Dobson will air his two half-hour segments with Pastor Nelson this summer on Focus on the Family. We’ll have 3½ hours to interact with him on September 26, 2008!

I think every pastor in the area could benefit from seeing how this could happen to the best of us. I think every clinician could benefit from seeing how to serve these servants of the Lord more effectively. In other words, we need a bridge to connect differing ideologies that tend to polarize in spite of the fact that there is much overlap holding common ground.

Now some personal reflections from being with a “celebrity” person for a time: (1) He’s the real deal. Genuine. Authentic. Congruent. (2) He’s an example of how we can be more effective in our weakness than in our strength and more effective in sharing our struggles than our virtues. I think Tommy has more to say to more people now than he ever has. (3) It can happen to me! Balance rest with work, even when the work is exhilarating.


3 Responses to Depression in the Clergy: How Could It Be?

  1. Adam says:

    Dr Jagers

    I’m really excited that you got to hang with Tommy Nelson. What a privilege to work together on a project. Tommy Nelson is strong physically in appearance and spiritually in regards to teaching the Bible. This testimony is such an encouraging example of faith in Christ through rest. How easy it is to lose sight of that when there is so much to do.

    I suppose another wrestle with this issue lies with the Bible being the only sufficient book to handle the deep issues regarding humans. Obviously to me the Bible is largely literary, historical, and instructive (plus some I probably didn’t mention!). I guess I don’t understand people’s thinking when they make the claim the Bible is the only book sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17 is where this is “backed” up) to deal with “our” issues. But don’t we as humans operate historically (from the past), literally (reality), by instruction (learning), and by literary means (stories)? I know for a fact my life story is not printed in the Bible, but I know the story of my life now fits with the story in print.

    Maybe I miss this issue completely but I think the “bible only” people may only be reading a portion of the whole story.

  2. leejagers says:

    Adam, thanks for your visit and comment. Yeah, on the one hand, I think the “Bible only” folks need to embrace a clearer picture of the purpose of the Bible with a necessary implication that there are somethings the Bible doesn’t try to address with as much thoroughness. On the other hand, I think the “All-truth-is-God’s-truth” folks (which would include me) need to constantly come back to the ultimate transforming power of God’s word and of the Holy Spirit. I used to think that God would take over after I did all I could. Now I’m more inclined to think that the best of what I can do is pretty useless apart from it being a fruit of my abiding in Him.

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Unsparingness

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