So, how can we support pastors silently navigating their valleys of despair? Like the prophet Elijah, they often face anguishing times unknown to us but in great need of our fervent prayers.

September 27, 2023

Caring for Those Who Care

The weight of pastoral responsibilities often goes unnoticed, hidden beneath the facade of strength that ministers project. However, acknowledging and addressing pastors' mental health is essential for sustaining their well-being and effectiveness.

Several years ago, I read a book by Lucille Lavender titled: "They Cry, Too: What You Always Wanted to Know About Your Minister but Didn't Know Whom to Ask," shedding light on pastors' emotional challenges. It revealed that ministers, like anyone else, grapple with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, stress and even depression. These struggles arise from the immense pressure of offering spiritual guidance while maintaining balance in their own lives. Pastors, the book emphasized, are human, susceptible to the same emotional turmoil as those they serve. Consider how ministers, entrusted with shepherding souls, often share messages of hope even when they carry silent anguish. It's clear that pastors worldwide, at times, journey through what I term "The Valleys of the Prophets." This highlights that spiritual leaders also experience emotional challenges in times of hardship. 

Recently, I came across a heartbreaking article written by Bill Gaultiere, titled "Pastor Stress Statistics.” He presented distressing statistics gathered from surveys of Protestant pastors across North America. The statistics are sobering.  

While mental health research in the Adventist pastoral community continues, a noteworthy General Conference study, "The Adventist Pastor: A World Survey," engaged pastors globally. Although not primarily focused on mental health, it revealed impactful insights. Surprisingly, 23 percent of Adventist pastors considered leaving pastoral roles, akin to a 2021 Barna Group study's 38 percent contemplating leaving full-time ministry. The General Conference survey revealed more concerning facts: 25 percent felt discouraged, 51 percent sought greater support from local conferences, and 50 percent desired increased backing from their very own congregations. 

During my tenure in the North American Division, I attended ministerial gatherings across North America and globally. In these sacred pastoral retreats, I engaged in private conversations, discovering the profound pain and struggles many pastors face. Severe depression was widespread, mirroring the challenges seen by their counterparts in other Protestant denominations. A recent survey by Faith Life, creators of LOGOS Bible software, underscores this issue. Shockingly, over 10 percent of pastors contemplated suicide in the past year per the 2021 Pastoral Mental Health Report. It's crucial to acknowledge that Adventist pastors, despite their spiritual roles, aren't immune to such trials. Tragically, just last month, I learned of an Adventist pastor's heartbreaking suicide, leaving a grieving family behind. 

So, how can we support pastors silently navigating their valleys of despair? Like the prophet Elijah, they often face anguishing times unknown to us but in great need of our fervent prayers. Therefore, I urge every congregation to create prayer partner groups for pastors and their families. Throughout history, figures like patriarchs, prophets, disciples and apostles found comfort in fervent prayer during challenging times. Scripture reminds us that even the strongest need fellow believers' prayers to persevere. The apostle Paul, for instance, often asks for others’ prayers. In Romans 15:30–32, we see his genuine concern as he faces relentless hostility from religious leaders who wanted him dead. Faced with this threat, he appealed to the Christian believers in Rome, recognizing that without their prayers before the Lord, he felt death was imminent. His appeal for prayers is evident throughout his letters. 

In closing, let us remember the words of Ellen G. White from "Testimonies for the Church 5:162," emphasizing the importance of our prayers for our pastors: "Brethren and sisters, have you forgotten that your prayers should go out, like sharp sickles, with the laborers in the great harvest field? As young men go forth to preach the truth, you should have seasons of prayer for them. Pray that God will connect them with Himself and give them wisdom, grace, and knowledge. Pray that they may be guarded from the snares of Satan and kept pure in thought and holy in heart. I entreat you who fear the Lord to waste no time in unprofitable talk or in needless labor to gratify pride or to indulge the appetite. Let the time thus gained be spent in wrestling with God for your ministers. Hold up their hands as did Aaron and Hur the hands of Moses." 

Elden Ramirez is executive secretary and ministerial director for the Lake Union Conference.