Home News Why Are Pastors Depressed? A Look at the Research

Why Are Pastors Depressed? A Look at the Research

Lack of Personal Community

A sad truth lies in the feeling many pastors have that they lack real community or deep friendships with those they live and work among. The survey found close to half of respondents could only identify two or less close friends. A stunning 18 percent could not identify a single close friend (the survey defined a close friend as “someone with whom you felt comfortable sharing personal/intimate issues”). This is ironic considering pastors feel the need to develop a community for their congregants in which people feel they can be vulnerable with one another. Pastors often strive to build a community in their churches where deep friendships can thrive. And yet, many pastors overwhelmingly feel they cannot themselves have meaningful relationships in their own churches. 

While many pastors form meaningful friendships during their time in seminary, oftentimes those relationships don’t grow or continue once the pastor has been placed in his or her own church assignment. Pastors become distant—sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, oftentimes both—from the friends they made in seminary. 

Additionally, it appears clergy have a hard time turning their work lives “off” so to speak, and this contributes to their feelings of isolation. “Some 60 percent indicated that social evenings with friends usually involved ‘church talk’ and some 55 percent indicated that sometimes they felt very lonely,” the study states.

Marital strain

A lack of close friends can put a strain on a pastor’s marriage, as his or her spouse sometimes becomes the sole support for the pastor. It doesn’t take statistics to know that marriage is hard regardless of one’s occupation, but marriage with the added stressors of ministry can prove overwhelming for many couples. (Perhaps a whole different study could be done on the stressors inherent in the role of the pastor’s wife.)

The survey indicated many couples struggle with the irregularity in schedule a pastor’s job entails. Since ministry requires being available during church members’ life events such as unexpected hospital visits, funerals, and impromptu counseling sessions, it’s hard to maintain a regular schedule for things like date nights or dinner with the family. In addition, many pastors’ families feel as if they live in a glasshouse, with their lifestyle being scrutinized by church members and the community at large. Pastor life is really a calling for the whole family—not just the family member who works for a church. 

Signing Up for Ministry but Feeling More Like a CEO Than a Pastor

The analysis of the survey places a heavy emphasis on the disconnect between what those training to be pastors expect when they complete seminary and the day-to-day reality of being employed by a church. The study indicates most people going into seminary do so because of the personal aspect of discipleship training, yet many don’t experience that once they start working in a church. Measurable things such as budgets and membership numbers take precedence over less-measurable things like spiritual growth among congregants and the growth of the Kingdom. In fact, the majority (83 percent) of respondents agreed with the statement, “My church wants a CEO rather than a pastor.”

Most felt that ministers entered ministry as a response to the Call and with the expectations of what that meant to be in the church as spiritual mentor/leader. Reality sets in, however, as persons in the church seem more concerned about the survival of the church and its fiscal operation. The measures of success become those things that are measurable; budget size, bottom line and membership size. This again ties into the sense of competition that exists between ministers.

And while most pastors experience extensive training in things like biblical interpretation and administering the Sacraments, this is not what they spend the majority of their time doing once the realities of leading a church set in. 

They indicated that their training was as ministers of Word and Sacrament, but that the church valued more and expected more from them as administrators, or chief executive officers within the church. There was evident a real sense of loss as matters of spirituality seemed secondary to survival.

The study mentions in some seminaries, the focus of training a person to be a pastor has shifted from pastoral care to evangelism and church growth. This is reflected in the fact that in some seminaries, courses in evangelism and church growth are mandatory, while courses in pastoral care are optional. 

For some, who might have an idealized notion of what ministry entails, taking that first job in a church can feel like a bait and switch. 

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.