Mental health affects a large majority of the population, and pastors are no exception.
What’s more, mental health challenges can be one of the largest barriers standing in the way of pastors both serving well and finishing well. In light of Mental Health Awareness Month, churches have the opportunity to empower pastors to continue serving and advancing God’s Kingdom by normalizing conversations about mental health.
As pastors, serving well requires having the strength to do so. The weight of a pastor’s call to lead both his congregation and his family is rewarding but can be exhausting without adequate support from multiple different sources, including strong staff, close friends and time off. These days, churches can also lighten the load by empowering pastors to seek professional help. This includes answering the call of 64% of pastors who need support in order to consistently practice Sabbath rest.
Since 2020, mental health claims by pastors that GuideStone® serves have gone up by 40%. This trend is a promising sign that more pastors feel validated to access this important resource in their benefits package. And we are hopeful that continued access to mental health services will play a strong role in reducing burnout and turnover in the churches we serve.
Ministry fatigue is real, and it can stop some pastors in their tracks. I know this first-hand because it happened to me 15 years ago in the middle of my 20th year of pastoring churches. During that time, I was walking through a heavy fog of exhaustion and undiagnosed clinical depression that nearly caused me to walk away from serving my congregation.
Instead, I was able to seek help from a mental health professional and began attending monthly therapy sessions. By receiving this support, I was not only able to continue pastoring my church, but eventually doors would open to helping other pastors who needed the same help.
More pastors may be refreshed and feel supported if they, too, have access to the help they need. Our country now spends over $200 billion annually on mental health care, providing increased resources for the 1 in 5 Americans who experience mental illnesses.
Pastors must know these resources are available and — more importantly — feel comfortable accessing them. That’s why it is essential to continue normalizing mental health services for ministers and remove barriers to access by extending insurance coverage for mental health care.
Severe burnout, at least the type I experienced, can be prevented, but not if the topic of mental health remains taboo in the Church. And not if pastors feel discouraged from seeking help in the midst of their darkest seasons. I speak from experience in saying that receiving mental health support can be the game changer pastors need to continue serving the Lord, their families, and congregants well.
Removing barriers to mental health access for pastors empowers them to finish their race well, both in their personal life and in their ministry. In doing so, we not only strengthen pastors’ personal well-being but also protect the future of churches for years to come.
For more resources on mental health, visit GuideStone.org/MentalHealth.
Dr. Mark Dance is the Director of Pastoral Wellness at GuideStone. Prior to joining GuideStone, he served as an Associate Vice President at Lifeway and a lead pastor for 27 years.