Sick Pastors

Calling in sick on a Sunday morning isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when the sickness is mental. It takes courage for preachers to admit to themselves and to others that they are not up to the task of sharing the good news. It takes grace for a church to accept that their pastor has a mental illness and needs support to get better.

As the national mental health crisis continues, it’s taking a toll on clergy mental health. Pastors and chaplains are being impacted by the mental health crisis in ways not yet fully understood. The church is not prepared.

Here are five things churches can do to support their sick pastor when the sickness is related to mental health:

1) In addition to providing sick leave, include additional time off for mental health days, including at least one Sunday. It’s got to be ok for pastors to not be ok.

2) Honor the privacy of the pastor and allow them to determine how, when, and if to disclose about their mental health challenge.

3) If they choose to disclose their mental health challenge, remember that the diagnosis does not define them. They are more than their illness.

4) Volunteer to help lighten the work load and brainstorm ways to delegate ministry tasks to help decrease stress.

5) Ask the pastor what would be most supportive to them. Do they want meals delivered? Do they want prayer? Do they need financial assistance to access mental health resources? Do they want to take a medical leave?

When the pastor gets sick, whether it is a mental sickness or other sickness, like cancer or diabetes or heart disease, it is an opportunity for the church to share the love of God with the pastor and their loved ones. Churches can be better prepared to support their pastors through times of mental illness by accepting the fact that pastors are fully human. Pastors get depression. Pastors get eating disorders. Pastors get addictions. Pastors go to psych wards as patients.

Loving God does not protect pastors from getting mental illness. Mental illness and mental health challenges can tear down a pastor’s sense of purpose and calling. Pastors are fearful of being judged by God’s people.

There is a real need for the church to hold the mental well-being of pastors in prayer. The ministry of pastors, preachers, chaplains, and spiritual leaders can be sources of hope for society. But what happens when the hope-bearers are themselves barren?

Who will preach the good news then?

Sick pastors are a sign. The system is broken. For the love of God, what will we do?

Published by Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

2 thoughts on “Sick Pastors

  1. I agree with you. I have a mental illness, and have had to tell my employers when I have needed to step back because I wasn’t well. On a previous job, I suffered a psychotic episode while at work, and was basically forced to disclose. So now, I let them know up front, so they can support my efforts to be the best I can be. Though not a pastor, the same rules apply. You are human, like everyone else, and have your limits. I get that not everyone understands, but there are more that do, and can offer assistance as needed. There is stigma, and I won’t say there isn’t, but showing our vulnerability shouldn’t be a crime, and you are entitled to the same consideration as your parishioners when they have this happen. Just wanted to share.

  2. Yes,pastors get sick…really sick as their jobs are too enormous even to comprehend by a layperson thank you so much for this

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