When I start counseling a depressed person, I’m looking for answers to five questions at an early stage in the conversation. I don’t ask them in a checklist or condemning manner, but I try to probe sympathetically to get a sense of where they are at.
1. Do you accept you have a problem?
Don’t assume that just because a person has come for counseling, that he accepts he has a problem. Family pressure rather than personal choice may have put him there. It is very common for a depressed person to be in denial about the existence, the nature, or the extent of the problem. Sometimes this denial is wilful pride, but sometimes it is because depression can creep over a person so slowly that they do not realize that it has happened. And, of course, part of depression is an inability to see oneself in a true and realistic light.
2. Are you willing to explore all the possible dimensions of this problem?
Once a person has accepted that he has a problem, I want to know how open they are to looking at the problem from a number of angles. Some people will only want to look at the spiritual dimension, and are looking for bible verses; others only want to talk about the physical dimension, and are looking for a pill; still others are only interested in looking back to find all the people and events that have contributed to their problems. But, unless a person is willing to explore all the possible dimensions of depression – physical, spiritual, mental, social, etc., – most counseling effort will be frustratingly handicapped.
3. Do you want to be made whole?
This was the question Jesus asked of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:6). At first glance it may seem like a silly question. Surely every sick person wants to be made whole! Surely everyone with problems wants them solved! However, Christ’s challenging question seems to imply that this man had settled into the role of “victim” and no longer wanted to get better. Sometimes a depressed person can also adopt this mindset. Perhaps they are frightened of all the responsibilities of life that might come upon them should they be viewed as well again. Perhaps they would miss the attention and sympathy that being ill often generates. So, we gently ask, “Do you really want to be made whole?” And that leads us to the next question.
4. Are you willing to do what you can to contribute to the healing process
Doctors and pastors are often faced with the frustrating situation of people who need their help, yet are not taking the steps required to benefit from this help: practical suggestions are not followed through, Scripture is not read, necessary medication is not taken, friendships are shunned, etc. Depressed people often need to be encouraged out of passivity and into taking some responsibility.
5. Do you trust me when I tell you that you have good hope of recovery?
As hope is such an important part of recovering from depression, I’d like to ask “Do you have hope of getting better?” However, as depression usually involves a general sense of hopelessness, initially I ask them to trust me that there is hope, rather than have that hope themselves. I encourage them with statistics (the vast majority of depressed people do eventually recover), and with stories of other people I’ve seen get better. After a few meetings I usually see people beginning to adopt the hope themselves, and that is such an accelerator of healing.
Again, I want to emphasize that this questioning is to be done in a caring and compassionate way. And I’m not saying, “Unless you get the right answers right away, you might as well not even start.” However, I’ve found that these questions usually reveal enough to indicate how fruitful any future counseling will be.
Christians get depressed too at Reformation Heritage Books, Ligonier, and Amazon.
Tim Challies and I are doing a Q&A podcast tomorrow. Do you have any questions you’d like to test us on?
I am a huge, huge, huge believer in the need for pastors (and, in fact, every Christian) to schedule regular intentional solitude or “alone time.” It’s been difficult for me to explain why I feel that this is so important, but now I find a study that clothes my subjective feelings with objective scientific proof.
In a survey of solitude studies, Leon Neyfakh of the Boston Globe explains that although many of us don’t feel happy when alone, it results in better thinking, stronger memories, happier moods, boosted creativity, more balanced personalities, and improved friendships.
And, apparently, all that is especially true for that most connected and social of breeds – the teenager. Reed Larson, a professor of human development at the University of Illinois, conducted a study on how teenagers react to being alone. His conclusion?
The teenagers weren’t necessarily happier when they were alone; adolescence, after all, can be a particularly tough time to be separated from the group. But Larson found something interesting: On average, the kids in his sample felt better after they spent some time alone than they did before. Furthermore, he found that kids who spent between 25 and 45 percent of their nonclass time alone tended to have more positive emotions over the course of the weeklong study than their more socially active peers, were more successful in school and were less likely to self-report depression.
However, for maximum benefit, the solitude has to be a choice and it’s length must be tailored to each person’s personality.
“Time is money” goes the old saying. But if we are spending all our precious time in social networking, digital friendships, and even church activity, then we are going to bankrupt ourselves and ruin our relationships with God and others.
And it’s not just science. The Bible also encourages us to believe that if we invest in intentional solitude we will enjoy an immeasurable return (Ps. 46:10; Matt. 14:23).
Further to previous posts about the financial stewardship in pastoral ministry (here and here), let me round up with a few guidelines for the relationship between pastors and their congregation’s finances. And if you have any more advice on this subject, please add them in the comments.
1. Avoid fundraising
The ideal is clearly that the pastor should have minimal involvement in his congregation’s financial administration (Acts 6:2). In smaller churches the pastor may have to get more involved than he would wish. However, even then, he should try to avoid becoming the chief fundraiser. If the pastor is always making appeals for money, it looks too much like the pastor just wants more money himself. Much better to get a deacon or an elder to speak about the financial needs of a congregation.
2. Do not handle money gifts
The pastor should avoid handling cash gifts to the congregation, especially large cash gifts. Ask people to send the money to a treasurer. Or ask them if someone else can come round and collect it. If it is practically impossible to arrange any of this, make sure that you get an independent person to count the money and give a receipt directly to the donor.
3. Do not co-sign for a church loan or put your name on church title deeds
This can cause nightmares if conflict ever threatens to divide your church.
4. Do not use church checking accounts or credit cards for personal purchases
Even if you intend to pay it back immediately, it confuses accounting procedures, and opens the door for suspicion and accusation.
5. Do not become personally obliged to donors
There may be people in your congregation who wish to bless you and your family with personal gifts. I’m not saying that you should never accept, but bear in mind that receiving such gifts can influence your judgment and result in favoritism. You have to be a wise judge of character (Is this the kind of person that will “call in a favor” down the line?). And you have to be sure that you have the moral character to treat this person no different from anyone else in the congregation (Will accepting this gift make me hesitant to discipline this person, should the need ever arise?).
6. Set up an annual financial review for all church salaries
Here’s a helpful article from Crown Financial Ministries on whether and how a pastor should ask for a raise. It should not be left to the pastor to ask for an increase (or decrease?) of salary. Early in a pastorate (or even before arriving), the pastor should set in place an annual review of all church salaries, honoraria, expense limits, etc. There should be an agreed formula for annual raises along the lines of the rate of inflation, or a percentage of the local average salary, plus a small increment for each year of service. And while the pastor may contribute a report to the elders/deacons/board about his finances, he should absent himself from the discussion and the decision about his salary.
In conclusion, consider how in Matthew 25:21 the Lord rewarded His servants that were faithful with money (the “few things”) with greater spiritual opportunity and responsibility (the “many things”). As Crown Financial Ministries puts it:
If pastors prove their honesty and integrity in temporal things—things that do not last, such as money—God then can trust them with the more important things, such as the spiritual well-being of people. However, if ministers prove to be lacking in financial integrity, it is unlikely that they will have a consistent or spiritually auspicious ministry. If God cannot trust them with the lesser things of money, how can He trust them with the greater things of spiritually influencing the direction of people’s eternal lives?
In a world of “easy” credit, “interest-free” credit, and “free” overdrafts, it is very tempting for pastors to join the “buy now and pay later” gang. However, the statistics of such lifestyles are frightening. People spend 47% more when using credit cards than when using cash. 88% of “Ninety days interest-free credit” offers are turned into high interest loans. Almost all “free” overdrafts exceed free limits and start accruing interest.
As we saw last week, patient contentment is so vital for the pastor. In many cases, a pastor will be paid less than the average salary in the congregation, sometimes very much less. A pastor and his wife can get bitter when they see other families taking vacations, buying new cars, and clothing their kids in the latest fashions. That root of bitterness can spring up and cause a lot of trouble and pain (Heb. 12:15).
- Bitterness about personal shortage compared to others can sometimes spill into their family life, infecting the children with resentment against the church and its officers.
- Sometimes the pastor (or pastor’s wife) can let his bitterness or frustration spill over into more public arenas in personal conversation with members or complaining in church courts and meetings. This rarely works out well, as some people will gladly and speedily portray the pastor as greedy and worldly.
- A pastor may be tempted to leave a congregation purely for financial reasons. Finance may sometimes come into a decision to leave, but it should never be the determining or even major factor.
- Sometimes a man may cultivate special friendships with the richer members of his congregation in order to benefit from their generosity. It is very rarely a wise move for a pastor to become obligated to or dependent upon richer members. It will also be noticed by the less wealthy, especially if it begins to affect your judgment.
- It is increasingly common today for a pastor’s wife to take on work to supplement her husband’s income. In most congregations, there will be few objections to a limited amount of this. However, the danger comes when the wife’s work begins to interfere with the congregational work of her husband. There is a delicate balance to find here. One question to ask: “Is my wife working to help us live or to help us live well?”
See Spiritual Weedkiller for how to kill covetousness and discontent. But let’s also use these further strategies to actively cultivate contentment:
- Remember past ministers and the far less support they had
- Consider present missionaries and the sacrifices they are making
- Get to know the persecuted church and their present sufferings
- Meditate on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
I’m breaking my own rule here about using social media on the Lord’s Day. However, in my defense, with my conference involvement yesterday, I simply forgot all about preparing the Bible Study notes. Anyway, here are the morning and evening notes; single use here. Get past notes by clicking on Bible Reading Plan tag below. And for those who use these with their children, sorry for the delay in posting.