As an adjunct psychology professor with a master's degree in Counseling, the concept of depression is no foreign thing to me. I know the subject matter well. I know the theories of its cause. I know the researched-based clinical models of therapy. I can provide a thorough lecture on risk-factors that can lead to Major Depressive disorder and the symptoms involved.
Experiencing those symptoms is a different story.
There is a certain prevailing symptom of depression that, up until this point, had remained a subject matter I could teach from a book, but not from experience. A symptom that is common when, like me, you are circumstantially thrust into the role of Lead Pastor before your 30th birthday without warning, without desire, and without assurance. A symptom that will cripple a young pastor if gone unchecked.
That symptom? Inadequacy.
Through my formative years, I often imagined myself in various roles. Doing so was helpful in preparing me for many of the roles that I eventually held. Student, husband, father, teacher, youth leader, counselor — these were all opportunities I highly anticipated and have equally enjoyed. I felt assured in God's call on my life in each of these facets.
But being a pastor? The idea was crippling. How could I possibly lead a church consisting mostly of members with more life experience than me? How could God possibly expect me to be responsible for the spiritual well-being of a body of His believers? On top of that, I could never shoulder the administrative and executive responsibility that comes with the pastorate.
Whether your path to the pulpit was like mine, or you are one that desired and anticipated the role and calling, struggling with some degree of inadequacy is inevitable. For me, depression was knocking on the door. I needed to get a grip on the matter, or I was going to be devoured.
The Misguided Solution of People-Pleasing
People-pleasing is a snare of the enemy that is not foreign to young pastors. It's a quick default for many of us and fits well into the model in which we raise young men in America. When we feel like we've let others down, we are taught to please them and make them happy. Often this is down by bending to the will of man and all its subjectivity. For many, people-pleasing is a strong temptation to remedy feelings of inadequacy. Young Pastors are no exception.
As individuals find themselves at the mercy of people-pleasing, they start to hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of performance. They want to make sure everyone is happy. Specifically, they strive to ensure that everyone is happy with them. I was no exception. In just about every role I had found myself, I relied heavily on my skills of humor, confidence, adaptability, and general intelligence to ensure those around me were satisfied with me and with the role I was asked to perform for them. For the most part, I had found success in my endeavors. I had mostly played it safe, or adapted quickly to any challenging situation. “Doing it on my own” had become my normal way of life. Why not? If I want to make people satisfied in myperformance, who better to bear that responsibility than me? I had made it almost 30 years with this mentality; surely it could continue.
You Feel Inadequate, Because You Are.
Our cultural context is organized in such a way that we are constantly at odds with our feelings of self-worth. The standards of this world are constantly putting a spotlight on our performances. Knowing that worthlessness and inadequacy are symptoms of depression, it should not be surprising to any of us that modern research indicates that it is the number one reason for individuals to seek therapy in America.
Pastors are not immune. We have an enemy who wants to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), and misunderstood feelings of inadequacy are a foothold where he can do unspeakable damage. I was there, and perhaps you are, too.
Young pastor, here's the reality of it all- you are inadequate, but that's okay. It's important that you embrace the brokenness of humanity within you and humbly accept that you actually are inadequate. The Apostle Paul provides rhetorical questions on the matter in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Again, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, he writes, “But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We are designed to please the Lord, not others. Even still, there is purpose in having others in our ministry.
We are surrounded by a fellowship of believers, each gifted in his or her own way in order to strive for the common goal of gospel ministry and the glorification of the Lord (1 Corinthians 12). The church is not designed to be led by an individual who is not Christ, expected to be perfectly adequate in every sense of the roles and responsibilities of ministry. Seek to know those who God has placed alongside you, and, together, you can be the body of Christ. This body isn't just limited to your local church, it is far reaching in both space and time.
We have an invaluable faith heritage in Scripture and throughout church history. The author of Hebrews wrote in reference to this: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Dive into this resource headfirst, never fully quenching the thirst of biblical and theological scholarship.
These feelings of inadequacy don't elicit pride. This is a weakness, which we are taught to bury behind ability and confidence. This is a thorn, which we are taught to ignore in hopes that it will resolve itself with experience. But as Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Am I adequate? Absolutely not, and that’s okay. We have a God that deals in the business of the inadequate and unworthy. Let the power of Christ rest upon you, young pastor.