In a church of 100 people, 20 people will likely experience an episode of depression at some stage in their life. If you are in a church of that size, there are probably 5-10 people struggling with anxiety or depression right now. But instead of finding comfort and consolation in the preaching of God’s Word, these suffering souls often find themselves battered and bruised by insensitive preaching.

What kind of sermons harm depressed and anxious Christians?

Sermons that over-stress the moral evils of the day. They are anxious enough through hearing the daily news without every church service ramping up the “we’re doomed” rhetoric. A steady diet of gloomy sermons is not going to lift up the head or heart of the cast down.

Sermons that include graphic descriptions of violence. They are deeply traumatized by preachers reciting the gory details of shooting massacres, abortion procedures, persecution of Christians, child murders, etc.

Sermons that extol constant happiness as the only valid and virtuous Christian experience. The deep pain of depression is multiplied when a depressed person is repeatedly told that sadness is a sin.

Sermons that question the faith of anyone who doubts. A lack of assurance is not necessarily a lack of faith. Believers who hang on to God despite feeling no assurance sometimes have the greatest faith.

Sermons that demand, demand, and demand.The depressed person already feels like an inadequate failure. To be regularly berated for not doing this ministry, or failing to engage in that Christian service, only crushes what’s left of their spirit.

Sermons that are too loud for too long. When a preacher pours out high-decibel words with hardly a breath between them for 45 minutes, it’s not just the nerves of the depressed that are frayed.

Sermons that condemn anyone for using meds to treat depression or anxiety. These are often preached by pastors whose medicine cabinets are overflowing with pills and potions for every other condition under the sun!

Sermons that overdo the subjective side of Christian experience. Depressed people need to focus most on the objective facts of Christianity, the historic doctrines of the faith. Facts first and feelings follow. There’s a place for careful self-examination, but remember McCheyne’s rule: “For every look inside, take ten looks to Christ.”

And that really brings me to the best way to preach to the depressed, and that’s to preach Christ. Preach His suffering and sympathizing humanity. Preach His gentle and tender dealings with trembling and timid sinners. Preach His gracious and merciful words. Preach His beautiful meekness. Preach His miracles to demonstrate His power to heal. Preach His finished work on Calvary. Preach His offer of rest to the weary. Preach the power of His resurrection-life. Preach His precious promises: ”A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”

Preach Christ! Preach Him winningly and winsomely. Preach Him near and ready to help. Preach Him from the heart to the heart. Preach Him again, and again, and again. Until the day dawn and the shadows flee away.


In what other ways can preachers inadvertently damage the depressed? And how can preachers better minister to them?

  • http://gospelsunshine.wordpress.com Cat

    Yes! Wonderful stuff. Thank you for this- I want to hear more of Christ in sermons instead of all the other stuff. More of Him please!!!!

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  • http://sailingforhome.com CAVanTil

    Thank you for these words of wisdom. I own your book “Christians Get Depressed Too” and have found it very helpful.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Delighted to hear that!

  • http://www.housewifetheologian.com Aimee Byrd

    Amen.

  • Bob Kuo

    Two more things immediately come to mind: the first is to never mention depression. I think this unintentional neglect further isolates the depressed. It is freeing to know that there are other Christians who struggle with depression.

    The second is to confuse Law and Gospel in the application. We want to spur people on to love and good works because of what Christ has done and not as a condition of Christ’s love. We must make that absolutely clear whenever a moral or spiritual imperative leaves our mouths. Leave no room for anyone to misconstrue how the Christian is fueled by the promises of God.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Two great points, Bob. Thanks!

  • http://www.nowuntohim.posterous.com Reuben Huffman

    Until the day dawn and the shadows flee away…David, what a Word to end on! Great article, whets the appetite to preach Jesus today.

  • Foppe VanderZwaag

    Thank you, David, for this excellent post. Very true & convicting, and therefore very helpful.
    PS Bob Kuo, thank you to for the additional points.

  • http://doxologypress.org Scott Doherty

    1. I think that not distinguishing your kinds of hearers in the sermon can be harmful. Not everyone is a Scribe and Pharisee, some are bruised reeds, so ‘Woe to you Scribes and…’ ought to be carefully aimed. Some weak ones will hear that and be unneedfully crushed. Spurgeon was good at addressing different kinds of hearers.
    2. Recognizing that there are different tools in your tool box. Not every sermon needs to be a hammer, and not every sermon applies equally and in the same way to all the hearers. Do not serve only a steady diet of ‘strong preaching’. There is more than one way to motivate, move, and change a church.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Another two great points. Wish I could re-write!

  • http://www.scripturezealot.com ScriptureZealot

    This is not what I expected in a good way. I write a lot about suffering and will incorporate some of this into a post, or at least link to it. Thank you.

    I can personally identify with all of these.
    Jeff

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Glad to hear it met a need.

  • Bruce McKenzie

    Preachers are able to help the depressed by showing how the Psalmist in Psalms 42 and 43 preaches to himself. He is feeling sad while Satan tempts him to doubt God. Yet in Psalm 43:3 he asks God for His light and truth and this will lead him to think about God’s wonders of old (Psalm 77:11) and all His work (Psalm 77:12). God’s work includes His gracious dealings with us. God who in the past has helped us will not forsake us. Thus the Psalmist is able to lift his head.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I agree Bruce. The Psalms are such great models of preaching to the depressed.

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  • Christine Grew

    Amen to that brother! Spot on. How do I share to my facebook wall?

    • Christine Grew

      Oh! It’s OK! I worked it out!

  • Emily

    I can’t think you enough for this. I was once a bruised reed that got plowed under. Years ago, I was having intrusive thoughts about harming my newborn. Wanting support and understanding from my church, I went right to my pastor for prayer. I couldn’t bear to explain to him how bad it really was, but I did tell him I was severely depressed and could not stop crying. His first response to me was that I needed to examine myself and consider that I might have something to repent of. He went on to remind me about another member’s tremendous suffering and how anything I was going through must pale in comparison. I was reaching out for help, instead of hiding, and I got kicked in the stomach. My husband was with me and his jaw dropped. We were both so weak that we just took that and then finally left, with polite thank-yous on the way out the door. Latter on I was able to ask my husband if it really happened that way. He has confirmed that I’m remembering it correctly.

  • Charlie Turner

    I agree with most of the article, and I find it encouraging except for one point. Point seven, I believe, is a false characterization of pastors who speak against meds. Thank you for the thought provoking article.

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  • http://thegospelman.com Harvey K

    I found this on facebook, and I wanted to thank you so very much.
    This is just a wonderful, gospelicious tonic for often, not always, but too often what hurts both the pastor and the sheep !
    So grateful and will pass on.
    His grace to you,
    Harvey

  • Mike

    I have been a pastor for 53 years. I am coming down to the end of a great ride. I was saved at the age of 10 and called to preach the Gospel at 17. I have had ups and downs in life as has everyone else. I can honestly say that being a preacher and shepherd has been the greatest honor, and the greatest pleasure of my life.
    First of all, I want to say that I am in complete agreement with what David has said in this article. I have always tried to find a balance in my preaching between the negatives of the Gospel and the positives. I also know I am going against the overwhelming trend in church life for what I am going to say. At the same time that I know what the article laid out is correct, it also gives me a queasy feeling. I have always believed that the most important thing a pastor does is not his preaching, and I am not denigrating the sermon at all. It is very important. But I have labored to make my personal contact with the folks a priority. I’ve always loved visiting in the homes of families, and to find out their spiritual situation. I have made myself available to people without limit. I have prayed with folks, read Scripture with them, and bawled with them when they were going through incredible hurts and pains. I know there are people dealing with depression in our churches all the time, and I have been one of those who have been depressed. The late Dr. N.A. Woychuk, the founder of Scripture Memory Association, was a dear friend. He came to be our speaker at a Homecoming Celebration several years ago. As we were eating together at the noon meal, I said, “Chuk, you travel all over the country and visit in many different churches. What, in your opinion, is the state of preaching in America?” His reply was one word–”Pathetic.” Many churches today advertise as places that are “non-judgmental.” I think I know what they mean, but, my brothers, there has to come a time when folks are told, with all the love that you have got in your heart, that their lives are full of sin, and that they are where they are because of the lousy choices they have made in life. Yes, tell them of the precious Jesus, tell them of His beauty, tell them of His tenderness. Yes, Yes, Yes, tell them that! But speak sweetly to them that they are sinners, even those who are depressed, and take medications, and feel like their lives have no meaning. Tell them and stand by them as the blessed Holy Spirit begins to transform their lives from the inside out. I often feel nowadays that I really know nothing about being a pastor. I have watched as our churches have become mainly places of coolness and entertainment. And at a time when, supposedly, the church is really growing, the power of our congregations to change the culture is non-existent. I am thankful for every God-called man out there whose heart is filled with the glory of Christ, but I am saddened by the numbers of pastors who are afraid to speak the full truth because people might leave and go to the church down the street. Forgive me for not jumping on the bandwagon, I have seen too much and lived too long. Yours For Souls.

    • Ronnie Rowe

      Great word. Thank you.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Congratulations, Mike, on 53 years of faithful service. I agree with you also on the vital importance of pastoring the flock one-to-one. I agree too that we need to preach about sin. Gospel doesn’t make sense without it.

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