Handling Post-Sermon Blues
It’s Monday, and though it may come as a surprise to our non-pastor listeners, many pastors will know that Mondays can be the darkest days of the week for them. Steve, a pastor, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, how do you cope, battle, and overcome Post Sermon Depression? Every Monday seems like a dark cloud of depression looming over my head.” What do you say Pastor John?
I don’t want to give the impression that there are simple and quick fixes for deep and complex emotional conditions. I don’t know what Steve is dealing with in any depth or complexity, but we are deep people, and we are complex people, and there probably are a hundred streams feeding into the “slough of despond,” as John Bunyan calls it. So, I am hesitant to make decisive pronouncements about all of his therapies. It would be good for him to talk to somebody who knows him better.
But having said that, there are things that we share in common. I am one of those people like Steve. I know what he is talking about. I think I mention in one of the chapters in Desiring God about a period of deep discouragement for me. When I wrote that book, I was approaching my forties. And in those days, there were days of discouragement so deep my mind could scarcely recall my children’s names. I think I wrote that.
“Every pastor is a sheep on Monday. He needs green grass and still water. He needs a shepherd.”
So, I have a little bit of empathy at least with Steve’s struggle. He doesn’t tell me his age. (By the way. I wish I knew). But I do want to say there is something about midlife issues for men that is real. The turning point of forty (you know, those years on either side of forty) can be a crisis for men for reasons I don’t think we fully understand physically and psychologically. It certainly was for me.
So, beware all you men between thirty-five and forty-five. You are in a season that you will get through. Don’t leave your wife, and buy a sailboat or a motorcycle, and find another woman. That is a stupid way to solve a problem. Stay faithful to your ministry. Stay faithful to her.
So here are some of my warfare strategies for Mondays when the plague of discouragement descends on a pastor.
First, go out to pasture. Every pastor is a sheep on Monday. He needs green grass and still water. He needs a shepherd. And when I say he needs a shepherd, here is what I mean. I mean Jesus ministering through a dead shepherd. I am talking about Puritans. I mean, it may not be Puritans for Steve, but it was for me.
What I mean is find the kinds of books, poems, or whatever. Find the kind that feed your weary soul. This is different from wrestling with some exegetical issue. This is lounging in a field of incredibly nourishing grass and lounging by a stream of crystal-pure, refreshing water with a veteran lover of God and knower of men.
There aren’t any better than Burrows, Owen, Boston, Brooks, Bunyan, Sibbes, Edwards, and I will add Newton (a latter day Puritan). There are nourishing writers, who aren’t into controversy. They are into soul food. So that is number one. Go out to pastor. Know who your shepherds are, your dead shepherds, and let them feed you.
Written in a Book
Second, recall the words of Jesus. “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). We can put so much of our emotional stakes in the success of our ministry that we forget that Jesus said, “Look, even if demons are coming out every Sunday morning, don’t get up on Monday and feel great about that, mainly. Get up Monday morning and feel great that my name is written there.”
“My name is written there” means you are safe with Jesus. Cultivate an amazement that he knows you, and you know him. Make that relationship the place of wonder and a place of joy and let ministry successes rise and fall as they will, but keep your heart staked right in Jesus and your name being written in heaven.
Third one, get a prayer team to support you. Put them to work on Monday morning. We required a prayer team, a support team, for all the pastors. These are lay people in the church who love the pastor, maybe five or ten of them. They were committed to pray for you every time you write to them or any other time.
My prayer team has been with me for years, and I credit them with many rescues and much fruit and much joy and a lot of survival. So, get one of those teams. Find those who you know pray for you. Get on a list. Put them on a group mailing address. Then Sunday night, as you feel it coming on, write to them and say, “Fight for me tomorrow morning in prayer.” I think you will feel the difference.
Fourth, hammer your body with whatever exercise works for you. Don’t become a couch potato. It is deadly. God made muscles for work, and he made the heart to sustain it. He made the brain to produce antidepressants in response to vigorous exercise.
Don’t spare yourself in this. Get a bike. Ride twenty miles as hard as you can on Monday morning or run or swim or do weights or dig in the garden. But don’t fool yourself that you are exercising when you are not panting. I mean, a lot of people think, “I am exercising.” You are not exercising. You are lolling. Make it happen. You will be surprised. You will be surprised how closely connected are the body and the soul.
One last thing, trust the promises of God relating to your Sunday work that just passed. Your preaching was not in vain (Isaiah 55:10–11). It is not going to come back vain. It is not going to be in vain. Your suffering on Monday is not in vain. All pastors suffer because God ordains to turn their suffering and their comfort into the good of his people.
According to 2 Corinthians 1, your darkness is not too dark for God. Psalm 139:11–12 says, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” So, no darkness is dark to God. And your season of weeping will change. Stay at it.
Psalm 126:6 says, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” What that says pretty plainly is farming is just plain hard work, and you can’t not go to the field when you feel miserable. You have got to go plant seed while your heart is breaking, and the promise is it won’t stay broke. There will come another season.
So I want to say: Don’t give up. Stay with it. Fight the good fight. Finish your course. Keep the faith (see 2 Timothy 4:7).