Archibald Hart, the longtime Dean of the Graduate School of Psychology of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, said that he thought that depression was an occupational hazard of ministry. In his 1984 book Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions (Word), Dr. Hart explained –
The work of ministry, when it is undertaken with great sincerity and earnestness, is bound to open the way to attacks of despondency. The weightiness of feeling responsible for the souls of others and of longing to see others experience the fullness of God’s gift; the disappointment of seeing believers turn cold and pull away; the heartbreak of watching a married couple destroy each other, unable to utilize love and the grace of God in repairing the broken relationships – all will take their toll on sensitive and dedicated ministers. (17)
In a really insightful essay on ministry that he wrote back in 2011, Kevin DeYoung, one of the leaders of the “young, restless and Reformed” Movement in the church today, wrote about Paul’s “Apostolic Anxiety” (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/apostolic-anxiety/). He began it by saying that 2 Corinthians 11:28 had always been one of the stranger Bible verses to him, that is, until he became a minister himself. This verse is preceded in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 by Paul’s recital of the very real and tangible threats to his life that he had faced as a minister –
24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
And then, at the zenith of his list comes this –
28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
And Kevin writes –
Ever since I became a pastor, I have found unusual comfort in this verse… I’m not surprised that Paul felt daily pressure for the churches… every earnest minister feels this burden for the church… Ask any pastor who really takes his work seriously and he will tell you of the pressures he feels in ministry — people in crisis, people leaving, people coming, people disappointed by him, people disappointing to him… And most pastors feel a burden for all those other things that they could be doing: more evangelism, more for the poor, more for missions, more to address global concerns, and more to address social concerns. There are pastors reading this who wonder if the church is still responsive to their preaching; if the leadership will ever be responsive to their leading; and if the congregation will ever grow like the churches they hear so much about. On top of all this, every pastor has his own personal hurts, his own personal mistakes, and his own spiritual health to attend to. We are all weak.
Some say that the primary theme of 2 Corinthians – one of Paul’s most personal and heartfelt letters – is about how easy it is for us to “lose heart” as people of faith. It’s not just ministers who suffer from this “Apostolic Anxiety,” it’s everyone who loves Christ, belongs to the church, knows the Great Commission and is trying to reach their world. 2 Corinthians 4:1 reads like the letter’s thesis statement, and the bedrock of a Christian’s assurance –
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
To this end, throughout 2 Corinthians Paul spoke encouragement into the lives and ministries of Christians who were growing discouraged in the struggle of faithfulness –
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant.. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Recently, in a moment of my own “Apostolic Anxiety” and ministerial despondency, in my devotional readings I stumbled across a pastoral word “to a discouraged minister” from a ministerial colleague of a previous generation, Friedrich Zündel (1827–1891). His counsel has provided me with some solid handholds of encouragement on the steep climb and sharp winds of ministry in the church today, and so, with hope that they will help you as they have helped me, I offer them now to you knowing just how hard this life can be. DBS +
“To a Discouraged Minister”
Friedrich Zündel (1827–1891
When difficulties pile up before you like insurmountable mountains… When behind you, you see nothing but failures. When before you, you see nothing but trouble . . .
- Do what is at hand to do. Consider each single day to be your appointed task. Leave to God the care of the future.
- Don’t desire to harvest. You are only a sower.
- Remember that on the island of Nias the missionaries prayed for 25 years for an awakening.
- If you can be comfort and strength to even one single person, then even fifty years of no success have not been in vain.
- It is no help to a struggling person for you to be annoyed with him or her. What he or she needs is seeking love.
- Even for Paul, the “thorn in the flesh” remained. His grace is sufficient . . .
- Christ can fight his battles even with broken swords.
- It is not ability but faithfulness that counts (I Corinthians 4:2). “He dared to believe his way through the deepest gloom.”