While Depression is a rarely-mentioned side-effect to the Ministry, the hours and days after Sunday can be particularly acute. Our Lord suffered His crucible on Friday afternoon. On that same day many pastors are prepping and getting the adrenaline flowing for Sunday. Yet pastors regularly “hit the wall” around Sunday afternoon and this can last until just around the time that one gears up for Wednesday services.
I was first made aware of this in seminary when my Old Testament professor confessed that in his own Ministry Sunday afternoon is one of the hardest things to deal with. He likened it to Elijah coming from his conflict with the Baal prophets, perhaps his greatest victory (or the Lord’s victory through Elijah’s ministry), and immediately falling down into depression (I Kings 19). Yes, I imagine Elijah in a fetal position under a Juniper tree, unable to eat, wishing to die. I can imagine it because I’ve been there. Was all of this because Jezebel wished him dead? Or was it because when we realize that it is the Lord Who is working “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20) God becomes very real indeed and we just can’t credit ourselves, and is it this which hurts our pride and depresses us? In this instance, it couldn’t have been the attendance numbers that depressed Elijah or the lack of God’s power in the preaching or the worship. No. It was the opposite. Counterintuitively, it was the fact that God was working that may very well have depressed Elijah.
Sure, sometimes a pastor gets depressed on Sunday afternoons because of the nit picking, the backbiting, the petty comments, the lack of responsiveness and the numbers. Yet, even when God is working, “the journey is too great for thee” and for me (I Kings 19:7). No pastor can be the conduit of God’s power and not be left feeling drained occasionally. A Sabbath rest is one thing and an essential thing. Nevertheless, before taking a Sabbath rest, try the following things to diminish the Post-Preaching Depression.
Don’t take a Sabbath rest – not yet. Make sure that Monday is not your day off, and if it is make it a very constructive day off. Don’t just sit on the couch watching reruns. Talk to a colleague on the phone (if your conscience will allow you not to consider that work). Go golfing, bike riding, and walking in a park. Better yet, wait to make Tuesday your day off or some other day. Make Monday a light day. Some pastors do their sermon prep on Monday, that is, they spend the day in a library, away from people. Some get some minor things done or some immediate things but don’t let it get intense.
Do something on Sunday evening. You can’t just go from high intensity to low intensity. You don’t do it at the gym; you walk after you run. Don’t try it in the Ministry either. This is why Sunday evening services can be so fabulous. It is rarely as stressful as the Sunday morning service and it allows you to wind down slowly instead of going from service to fellowship to brunch to crash. Even better, consider going to somebody else’s Sunday evening service if there is a place where you are comfortable or can remain anonymous. You need to worship too. You have put out the Word, now you need to fill up again. The journey is too great for thee.
Have a post-game ritual. In one church where I was assisting while attending Grad school, I needed to work midnight shift as a security guard on Friday and Saturday night. This meant little to no sleep before Sunday services. Oddly enough, I would often go out for brunch with members of the congregation anyway. I would sleep from about 3 pm until dinner. After dinner I would watch Masterpiece Theater or Masterpiece Mystery. I would snooze the whole time. I am blessed by never being able to remember “who done it” with any particular mystery so it always seems new, but I definitely didn’t remember any of the ones from that time in my life! Yet, come Monday morning, I was actually more refreshed than at any other time I can recall. Many people have “pizza night” on Friday or Saturday night. Because of indigestion, this might be ill-advised before Sunday morning. Try making Sunday night pizza night. It can work wonders. (Growing up in a pastor’s home, we had tuna fish salad sandwiches nearly every Sunday afternoon because it was easy to make after services. I never really liked tuna fish salad sandwiches. I would have preferred pizza.)
Get better sleep on Saturday night. It is very hard for many pastors to sleep on Saturday night. Any professional minister will tell you need to take it easy that evening. Really take it easy. One Anglican priest in England told another colleague that one should be in bed on Saturday night by 8 p.m. listening to the London Opera. It doesn’t mean you have to sleep. But it does mean you will be more likely to. Don’t watch TV on Saturday night but read a book. Reading is more likely to allow you to go to sleep when you need to, not when you are done staring at the blinking blue light. Eat something easy to digest. When I was boarding with an elderly pastor’s widow and her housekeeper at one point my ministry, they had “Breakfast for Dinner” every Saturday night. I always liked that.
In conclusion, try to avoid Evangelizing when you are tired. If we are upset with the attendance on Sunday, we might feel tempted to make up for it sooner than we should. One prominent pastor I knew would have a sandwich on Sunday afternoon and then go out and visit every congregant who was not in church (assuming that they must have been ill if they had not been at worship). With his personality, he could pull it off. Most probably couldn’t. But he considered this part of the normal Sunday activities and no doubt crashed later. However, when we are tired and worn out, we make mistakes and can undo all the good work of the week by not respecting the physical limitations that God knew about when He gave us bodies.
There is a line from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in which Rebecca the Jewess says to Sir Ivanhoe, “thy weakness and thy grief, Sir Knight, make thee miscalculate the purposes of Heaven.” At the time, Ivanhoe was wounded from a tournament and captured in a castle. These words sum up why it is that one should be careful evangelizing when tired. One’s perspective is skewed. The statements that flow from the mouth are not accurate as to how God really is working with power in “your” Ministry – because He is! When we come out of Sunday services, we are often not ourselves and there is nothing wrong with choosing the better part of valor when possible and not presenting ourselves in public until reasonably well-rested.
Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican Way, Christ & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on High. He manages Traditional Anglican Resources.