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Pastors and Depression: Breaking the Silence

by | Mon, May 17 2021

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We all know that in these modern times there are pressures on this generation that are causing all sorts of anxieties and depression. We often talk about the effects on children or teenagers, marriages, and workers. But what might be happening to the leaders in our local churches?

We might not appreciate it if we’re not so close to the ministry activity and decision-making practices in our local church, but Pastors often carry a huge responsibility. It might appear that many Pastors hide their own dark times while navigating a very high pressure world. Blue Mountains based Pastor and author, David Barter has just written a new book about this issue entitled, ‘A Better Way’.

David has been very transparent in sharing his own emotional journey through anxiety, depression, and even burnout. For this discussion, he is granting us an insight into the high pressure world that an increasing number of Pastors face within ministry life.

David has had a 27 year journey with depression and anxiety that started when he was a teenager. “It’s been a long time trying to navigate and learn how to find freedom. I became a Christian 18 years ago and I was still struggling with all that when I got into ministry and became a Pastor. I’ve been in ministry for about 16 years now, and all the way through I really struggled. There were some very difficult times with depression and anxiety. I just kept pushing it away and trying not to show people that there was a weakness there.”

David Barter and his wife
David Barter and his wife.

David talks about what it feels like to have a major breakdown. “My second breakdown would have been probably the scariest moment of my life. Honestly, everything was different within 24 hours. I went from being on the top of the world to basically a complete mess. I was broken and couldn’t control anything or make decisions. I just lost the ability to do the normal things in life, and that was a massive wake up call to me. I had to start to think about how I was going to deal with this situation that I’d been ignoring for so long.”

David believes that one of the hardest things is opening up and telling others what is going on. “If I was to tell people, what would they think? What would the church think, and how would they interact with me after they knew? Would I lose my credentials? Would I still have a job? There’s a lot of crazy conversations you have with yourself,” says David. “It’s all out of self-preservation, because you’re not aware of just how much help is out there when you’re going through it. I know I personally wasn’t aware, so I was having a lot of fractured conversations and I was really concerned that if I did let this out of the bag, it could have a detrimental impact on my future.”

David continues that it was times of high energy output would often lead to depressive episodes. “If I ministered on Sunday, I would then experience an energy depletion. It was a constant battle to continually feel like I had to cover that weakness. I wrote in my book about Paul when he talks about the thorn in his side, and for a while I tried to make this my spiritual achievement and I thought that somehow I just had to tolerate this situation.”

But David goes on to say there is hope. “We can have these weird spiritual ideas, but the reality is God wants us to have freedom and we have to start removing those masks and opening up about it. It’s difficult when you’re going through depression and there is an expectation on you to turn up, to be involved, to be there in the moment with people. But you can only push your own emotional state aside so many times before it’s going to catch up with you.”

“Hope is found in the revelation of who God really is. Even though I was a Pastor, there were certain things about God I just didn’t understand. When God revealed to me that He was my father and started to talk to me about how a father interacts with his child, it really broke open the recovery process.

I remember I felt like God impressed on my heart this whole book, the whole outline, every chapter. He started to show me a progressive pathway forward of being able to come out of this darkness and depression that I was experiencing.”

God revealed to David the deep need he had on the inside for recognition and acknowledgment. “God invited me to follow Him and let Him lead me into this recovery, and He brought certain people into my world who opened up the recovery process. He started to show me steps forward of how to deal with my past and resolve old hurt and pain that had been buried for a long time. And then I had to reengage in the church environment and learn how to interact with other Pastors who I’d really disconnected from because of what I was experiencing.”

“God has really brought a lot of hope out of this. Even today on this show, and through my book, I know that there are people out there struggling but realising this is not the end. You can get through it. It’s possible. We’re all in need of a saviour and we’re all in need of Christ in our lives.

I think if we can start this conversation around mental health in the church, the reality is people don’t fake mental health, they fake being okay. And that’s what a lot of pastors do. My hope is that by sharing my story, it will empower others to start to reach out and maybe start sharing their stories too.”

If you would like to hear the rest of David’s conversation on mental health with Neil, listen below.

Tune into 20Twenty and join the conversation with Neil Johnson, weekdays on Vision Christian Radio. Click here for your local times.

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