Over the past year I've done a ton of speaking, preaching, teaching, and writing about grief, suffering, and hardship. I did not choose this; it chose me. I had a member commit suicide in September of 2010. Then, in January of 2011 my father committed suicide. One year later, I travelled back to visit the family and celebrate survival and recovery, only to find that my dad's brother had committed suicide. So in January of 2012, they held the funeral; almost exactly a year to the day of my father's funeral. I started speaking out about suicide and depression, and every time I did I'd get more and more people coming to me to tell me their stories.
People are hurting, broken, wounded, and grappling for some semblance of help and hope. It can truly be overwhelming. Shepherding is difficult enough when the sheep are healthy, it's nearly impossible when the sheep aren't well. It's terribly difficult to lead the flock to green pastures when many of them are crippled by depression and despair. Thus, I have learned, It's very important that the minister does not become consumed with sickness and despondency.
I'll assume that as a minister, you sincerely care for those who hurt, and that you seek God in prayer for their prosperity. Yet, here are three simple keys to effective ministry to the depressed.
- Provide specific life-work assignments.
- Urge them to seek professional help.
- DO NOT enable.
Now that you have the general idea of the keys, let's go back and take a bit of a closer look at each of them.
1. Provide specific life-work assignments.
Depressed people are blinded by circumstance and drained dry of energy. They need encouragement and direction. Litter your counsel with bible promises and encouragement, but be specific and intentional about coaching them towards specific projects and goals. Pain, loss, grief, and suffering is transition time, and transition time is the perfect time to start a ministry, write a book, go back to school, and just do something new and different. Without specific goals and objectives things continue to fester and spoil. They have to get up, get out, and do something.
2. Urge them to seek professional help.
Often times the depression and hardship is so severe that not even the most charismatic character can encourage them. They need an environment and professional that is geared and trained to deal with these types of issues...and you are NOT it. Look for warning signs (i.e. suicide-speak, excessive drinking/drug use, etc.) that they need professional therapeutic care and do not hesitate to refer them. You are not God. Don't try to play hero with people's fragile lives.
3. Do NOT enable.
I recently heard an SDA chaplain say that God is extremely co-dependent. I wondered what made him say that. I'll ask him later. However, If it just so happened that God ever actually did become co-dependent...I'm sure it's because He can handle it. We can't. We cannot enable others because of our own insecurities and weakness. If a person refuses to pursue their goals, and they refuse to seek out help, then I for sure cannot help them. I must move on to those sheep who relish the leading of the shepherd.
There it is. Do this, and you will pour new life into the broken bodies of many ailing souls. There is no shortage of depressed people, but there is also no shortage of divine grace and power that can lift the weakest believer out of the doldrums of depression, despondency, and despair. For that's what he does. "He heals the brokenhearted and he binds up their wounds" (Ps. 147:3).