On the route I take to work every morning, I pass by Crescent Avenue United Methodist Church, and on the church marquee this month are the words, “Thanks Pastor Mark. We Appreciate You.” Here’s a church publicly expressing gratitude for its pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month. And I trust Pastor Mark is thankful he serves a church that appreciates him.
How is your church showing love and appreciation to your pastor this month? Maybe as individual members of the congregation, you will give your pastor a card expressing personal gratitude toward him or her. Perhaps inside that card will be a gift card (or monetary gift) to enjoy dinner out. And maybe (my wife and I always loved this when our children were small) you include an offer to watch their children for the evening while your pastor and spouse enjoy a date night together.
Or, maybe as a church, the congregation has taken up a collection to give your pastor and spouse the gift of a long weekend away, all expenses paid, to Florida sometime in January or February! To be honest, there are numerous ways for you personally, or for your church together, to express thankfulness to your pastor during this month.
SUPPORT and ACCEPTANCE
But here’s another suggestion, how about being a church that gives acceptance and permission for your pastor to address whatever mental health issues he or she may be living with without judgment or criticism. Clearly not every pastor is living with mental health struggles; however, in the general population, 1 in 5 adults are living with a mental illness. We should not be surprised if the same is true for pastors. In fact, in a survey of Protestant clergy, 23 percent report living with a form of mental illness.
As I read the article “I’m a Pastor with Depression,” the impression I have of University Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, MI is that this is a church that shows support for its pastor to address his own mental wellness. For Pastor Gabe Kasper to openly share his journey with depression with such transparency and vulnerability, his congregation is supportive of him in the face of his mental health struggle. What a blessing for him, and kudos to his congregation!
STIGMA PREVENTS ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH
In this month’s issue of the Lutheran Witness magazine, Dr. Beverly Yahnke, executive director of DOXOLOGY, The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, reports over 70 percent of the pastors she has talked with clinically admit to not having talked to anyone about their psychological and spiritual needs. Why? The reason may be two-fold.
First, too many pastors feel there is a sense of personal and spiritual defeat by not being able to handle psychological issues on their own. “I’m the pastor. I should be able to handle this,” is often the feeling. Pastor Kasper shares that sentiment in the article referenced above. But secondly, all too often pastors feel they will be judged negatively by their parishioners if they admit to having a mental illness. Such judgment would not be there if they were dealing with cancer or heart disease or diabetes. But the stigma related to mental illness in the church often prevents even pastors from openly addressing their own issues.
Not every pastor faces such things as burnout or depression. Not every pastor needs psychological or therapeutic counseling or needs to take medication to treat their symptoms of mental illness. But for any pastor who does, to serve a congregation that expresses acceptance, no judgment, and loving support is one of the greatest expressions of appreciation a pastor can receive.
Written by The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs at The Lutheran Foundation.
For more articles related to mental health and the church, visit the Faith Community Topic page.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949.
If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.
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