Why Do Pastors Hide Their Mental Illness
Updated: Apr 17
I. Pastors Hide Mental Illness Due to Bad Theology
II. Pastors Conceal Mental Illness out of Shame
III. Shepherds Suffer Mental Illness Through Disobedience
Pastors Hide Mental Illness Due to Bad Theology
Pastors and church leaders have grievous mental illness struggles because of bad theology. First, it is believed their faith is somehow less than they proclaimed it to be with such admissions. Well, this is true of every believer who has ever lived. Was Job the “perfect man of faith” in Christian theology? Hardly!
Next, leaders believe (and teach others) that mental illness is a “bad spirit” while nothing is ever said about physical illness. Where is is written that ADHD or Bi-Polar Disorder is worse (in God’s eyes) than cancer, high blood pressure, etc.? According to Scripture, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but this is a spiritual war! Both brands of illness are, in fact, only one (1): sin sickness.
I provided examples of the fallacy that mental illness in church is worse than physical ailments in other articles. This conversation does not need to be rehashed here. Nevertheless, to admit mental illness struggles, yet preach the “healing power of Jesus” produces feelings of shortcomings and hypocrisy.
I am not suggesting this is true because I was diagnosed with A.D.D. more than 40 years ago. In those days, especially in our community, this was a taboo subject.
Bad theology produces feelings of condemnation which is the desire of Satan. As was pointed out previous, one of the greatest biblical Prophets (Elijah) called down fire from heaven one (1) day and was suicidal the next. Another (Jeremiah) was a manic-depressive, while still another (Ezekiel) would’ve been accused of paranoid schizophrenia today.
Here are seven (7) reasons Pastors hide mental illness:
1. Not understanding Paul’s statement: “the Lord’s strength is perfected in our weakness”. According to this, admission of weakness is actually the greatest strength one (1) can possess. Wasn’t that the basis for your salvation experience (admission of inadequacy to save ourselves)?
2. Failure to understand differences between “acting” and “being (a Believer). The word Christian has been used for all sorts of demonic activity since the Book of Acts. A great example is the Roman Catholic “inquisition” which murdered people if they did not convert to Christianity. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’s command: “whatever city will not receive you in my name, kick the dust off your sandals as a witness against them.” Believers understand that following Christ is being like Him even in the midst of struggles.
3. Pleasing people instead of pleasing the Lord God. God's people earnestly expect Pastors to be “towers of strength” 24/7/365. God’s people only carry their burdens while we carry our own and everyone else’s as well. Their largest fear is not the Lord God’s anger – it is being thrown out of a church! Should they admit such a thing (mental struggles), they fear being fired and declared unworthy.
In summary, Pastors hide mental illness because they are expected to. Not by the Lord their God but by His people. I have been witness to how understanding God’s people can be on this issue. Church leaders underestimate the compassion of true Christians. Yes, there are hyenas in church but do you believe what we preach Sunday after Sunday?
Pastors Conceal Mental Illness out of Shame
Shame is at the heart of why church leaders conceal their mental struggles from others. During Covid 19, churches were closed and leaders were reduced to meeting on conference call software such as ZOOM. Our convention leadership hosted one (1) of these calls to fellowship one (1) with the other. There were approximately fifteen (15) Pastors who participated.
Out of these, only one (1) admitted to suffering mental health issues. It just so happens he, a few years later, was elected President of the state convention. Shame can be a powerful weapon against doing what we know we should not. However, shame often leads Preachers to something much more dangerous: deceit.
Here are other reasons (though not limited to) that Shepherds choose shame and deceit over truth:
1. Although dangerous, Pastors suffering from mental illness view “lying to themselves” more favorably than speaking “liberating truth”. We preach: “the truth shall set you free” when in reality, their actions indicate: “truth results in people mocking and laughing at you.” Church leaders who read that will manufacture some form of philosophical nonsense: to comfort themselves in their place of deceit. Philosophical nonsense is defined as: “statements that pose as biblical truth but are purely philosophical” (which is the “examination” of truth).
2. Fear of others “seeing behind the curtain”. Those of us God truly called, not the “hirelings” (80% of church leaders), know we are not anything close to awesome. Too often we hide, struggles, and allow people to exalt us to “pedestal” status. Pedestals are not just dangerous because one (1) can fall from them. The larger threat is on that mountaintop, we find ourselves alone knowing how devasting the fall will be. Worse, those believing they belong so high above other are the ”sickest” of all.
3. Fear not we will ultimately disappoint God. Although I did not list these in order, this is my hugest fear personally. I understand the Bible says: “God does not give us the spirit of fear but of sound mind unto all the saints”. But it also says: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. For my Bible students, I do not need to explain the difference between the two (2).
In summary, church Pastors who conceal mental illness do so to deceive others. Yes, it could be argued that pride is the primary motivator but that is inaccurate. The primary motivator is fear of not being everything that everyone expects.
Shepherds Suffer Mental Illness Through Disobedience
Let me be clear: I would never say, or suggest, that mentally ill people deserve it. However, if a shepherd comes into “the calling” healthy and then suffers mental illness, did we have a part in allowing it? Jesus the Christ suffered “mental anguish” the night of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Although I would never suggest Jesus was mentally ill, He struggled to remain obedient. Scripture says: “we do not have a high priest that is not tempted as are we but in all ways suffered temptation but yet was without sin”.
Further, Shepherds suffer mental illness because neglecting their “true call”. Many suppose that “service equals personal slavery to the whims of others”. Is that what Jesus modelled? Did Jesus meet every request or respond to every question? This leads to massive burnout among church leaders. If I hear another Pastor complain about how burned-out they are, I am literally going to throw up!
Mental illness is an aftereffect of burnout and refusing to submit to the Lord’s will. One (1) cannot submit to that which they are confused about. We preach: “God will put no more on us then we can barer” yet turnaround and suffer mental illness and nervous breakdowns. That sounds like confusion and either God is sufficient or He is not.
Here are other ways shepherds are disobedient and then suffer mental breakdown(s):
1. Ignoring Jesus’s example of getting away from people to be alone with God. I will not patronize the reader with examples of this from the text. However, Jesus understood there were times when He had to remove Himself from the crowd so why don’t His preachers?
2. Believing that shepherding God’s people means being everything they need. Not only are we not everything, we are nothing they need! Our job is not to stand as some “Christlike” figure but to raise our voices and point people to Jesus. Only the Lord can be everything they need. This is often an issue in Christian marriages as well – wives become disappointed because their pastoral husband sometimes don’t act as such.
3. Failure to prioritize what is important. For those God truly called, 1st Timothy 3 provides a list of priorities, and in Holy Ghost order. I have never heard a shepherd say their families have “burned them out”. It is always, and without exception, the people they lead at a local church. As our first priority, it would stand to reason that our families would have the greatest emotional toll. However, that is not true. Does anybody else see anything wrong?
In summary, shepherds are disobedient in their calling because it is not possible for them to be everything to everybody. Church leaders are burned-out because they are disobedient to God and put themselves in a place Jesus never did personally.
Brother shepherds should start believing God, and grabbing onto His promises. He did not create US to be “supermen”. To continue doing so is, in effect, claiming to be greater than our master. We remember what He said about that, correct?
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