Part One introduced writings on the subject by Charles Jefferson, pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City from 1898–1937. The first header was “The Character of Ministerial Depression: Complaint”, excerpted from a book called Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers. Though written to pastors, Jefferson’s words can benefit anybody.
A Common Cause of Ministerial Depression: Criticism
Sometimes it is not the world in general but a man’s own sphere of influence which causes him to wince and quail. A newspaper gets on his track and misreports him. His sermons are garbled and his actions are misjudged, and the mangled son of thunder goes about bleeding at every pore. A man too thin-skinned to stand newspaper criticism is not a fit man to lead the Lord’s army. A newspaper is frequently the most unprincipled and merciless of antagonists, and when controlled by men who are hostile to the church it may make the clergyman the target for continuous abuse; but a minister who is wise will never enter into a controversy with a newspaper. To be beaten with a few stinging sentences is not so painful as to be beaten with a Roman scourge, and it was after being whipped with a Roman scourge that Paul and Silas sang. If a minister cannot sing after being trounced by the most merciless reporter who ever poured bad blood into ink, he should get out of the pulpit and seek a position where thin skin is not a hindrance to duty.
Or the anonymous coward instead of attacking him in a newspaper may stab him through the mail. Two or three anonymous letters will cause some men to swell up as though they had been bitten by tarantulas. For days afterward they smart and moan, and try they never so hard to hold it back, more or less of their hurt feeling trickles into their next Sunday’s discourses.
The criticism may not be written but spoken. It may float through the atmosphere in the shape of poisonous rumors. A set of liars by attending strictly to business can fill an entire community with hints of their personality, and a minister who is disposed to take notice of every word spoken against him will be kept in a state of chronic resentment.
Men may resist him not only by their words but by their actions. This opposition may come from members of his own church. All Christians are called to be saints, but in many of them the saintship has not passed beyond the germinal stages. Even church officials may surpass the heathen Chinese for ways that are dark and tricks that are vain, and the luckless preacher repeatedly outwitted and imposed upon by men whose moral development is as yet embryonic may have such a budget of wrongs to talk about that these wrongs are more frequently on his lips than the truths in which he is supposed to live. Nothing is more nauseating than a grown baby forever dwelling on his wrongs. A minister who constantly appeals for sympathy is a minister whom everybody wants to get away from. One instinctively shrinks from the man who as soon as he gets you alone proceeds to take off the poultices with which he has bandaged his soul that you may see how badly he has been hurt.
How can a man who snivels preach the gospel? Clouds and darkness are round most men and it is the preacher’s business to let the sunlight in. A congregation needs nothing so much as sun. Melancholy is a disease both contagious and deadly. One man may poison with the virus of his despondency an entire community.
Therefore, O man of God, quit your pining. Stop your moping. Put an end to your brooding. Get out of the slough of despond. Cut down your cypresses and willows. Burn up your sermons with sobs in them. “Be converted.” “Be not afraid.” “Be of good cheer.” “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.” This is the language of Christ and his apostles.
to be continued…
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2001. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)