Discouragement is real, both for pastors and non-pastors. I don’t think pastors deal with it more severely or more often than others, but I do know by experience how spiritually challenging (and even spiritually dangerous) “the day after” can be. I’ve been there—yesterday, in fact. I joke about “Monday hangovers,” caused by nothing more than a busy weekend of ministry. Spurgeon wrote famously about “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” Others have jested that their family members hide all sharp objects every Sunday evening.
It’s not that bad, but there’s a definite temptation after the Lord’s Day to allow discouragement to shape your mood and thinking: to feel like your ministry of the Word was a failure, to focus on those who weren’t there on Sunday rather than those who were, to run through the mental list of people who have left the church and visitors who haven’t returned, to wonder if you’re making any difference at all in the world. Such thoughts may very well reflect a preoccupation with self and success. I’m not saying they’re right; I’m just saying they’re real. Especially on Mondays. Thus, when I came across the following article, I thought the readers of MTC—both those who are pastors and those who have pastors—would benefit from it as I did. I post it here with Scott’s permission.
Scott Bashoor and I were classmates at Bob Jones University. He is the pastor of Bible Church of Buena Park. He has an M.Div. and Th.M. from The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on the adjunct faculty.
Monday Morning Blues: The Pastor’s Weekly Wreck
M. Scott Bashoor (March 7, 2011)
As a pastor of 11 years I’ve often had to wrestle with the Sunday Night Blues. Many pastors get the Monday Morning Blues, but I guess my body clock runs on Jewish reckoning. On Sunday evenings I sometimes feel a palpably big drop in emotion and energy which often continues into Monday. When I was a single pastor, it would hit me much harder and more often than it does now that I’m married. It still comes, but more intermittently than before and usually with less intensity—one of the blessings of an encouraging wife. These blues and blahs are very common for ministers, but most lay people have no idea about the emotional roller coaster their pastor might be riding each week. I write the following not just for those who want to understand their pastor better, but also for fellow pastors who might not know what to make of these forceful feelings that face them. In the Monday Blues, emotional, spiritual, and physical factors all collide in an internally dramatic little wreck, and the physical dimension, in particular, is often the initial cause.
Sunday is truly a week-END for me. Many hours of preparation and prayer from the previous days all lead up to a few intense hours. On Sunday I teach/preach three times, and I lead the musical side of our worship as well (not uncommon for solo pastors). After the grueling day is over, I head home with the family and crash. Everything goes into slow motion. There are no more people to talk with, problems to sort through, or sermons to deliver. The big day is done, and it’s time to reflect on what’s taken place. That’s where the trouble often starts.
Much physical, emotional, and spiritual investment goes into each Sunday, and it comes with a price on the back end, too. Physiologically, there’s a hidden dynamic at work of which many pastors aren’t aware. It’s called PAD: Post-Adrenalin Depression. It’s not a chronic clinical depression, just a scientific name for what often strikes people in professions which have intense periods of exertion followed by lulls. Some might object that a Spirit-filled pastor wouldn’t need adrenalin to do his work, but that overlooks the fact that the Message always gets carried about in clay pots. Basically, the body is trying to reset itself to a more regular pace. All that adrenalin has to be dealt with somehow, and there are emotional spinoffs as its being processed. Just knowing that goes a long in sorting through the Blues.
The Blues is like a phantom that freely passes through all sorts of emotional doors. Because preaching has so much personal investment attached to it, it’s easy for the preacher’s mind to wonder and worry about what’s been accomplished. It’s often very difficult to gauge whether the effort was “successful” or not. Did people understand what was shared? Were they helped by it? Were they convicted, corrected, encouraged, instructed, or whatever else was needed? My wife is very helpful in giving me feedback, but she’s blessedly biased. I don’t like to fish for compliments, but I’m helped as a preacher when I know what’s been helpful in what I’ve preached.
These uncertainties often entangle themselves with other uncertainties, insecurities, and expectations: “Am I really accomplishing anything here? Am I succeeding as a leader? Should I be doing something different with this ministry? Is there some larger piece of the puzzle that I’m missing?” These are not invalid questions in and of themselves, and any Christ-honoring pastor should often engage in healthy self-evaluation. But when the Blues have blown in, my internal self-evaluator gives off very unusual meter readings. Add to this any of the current church crises and troubles of the day, and you’ve got a nasty recipe for doubt and discouragement. And, by the way, very “successful” pastors of all theological stripes wrestle with the same sort of feelings.
It’s at this point where the spiritual dimension comes to the fore. Some pastors blog about Satan trying to eat their lunch by sending them the blues. While I have no doubt that enemy powers love to take advantage of the pastor’s perplexities, Satan himself isn’t to blame for each cycle of depression. Rather, these natural lows can become occasions for supernatural opposition. Emotional low points aren’t the Devils devices. They’re just the valleys in which fiery darts fly. It’s an unwanted time for battle when you’re worn out and tired, but thankfully the defensive weapons of the Gospel furnish the mind with armor that works even in times of rest.
It’s at these times that the promises of God’s Word prove their overpowering effect. My work has to be done in cycles. I can’t work non-stop to address every ministerial worry, and I don’t need more adrenalin to get through the emotional downturn–not even “spiritual” adrenalin. What I need most of all is rest—physical rest to unwind the body, and spiritual rest in the work of God who never slumbers or sleeps.
In conclusion I offer the following points of counsel in dealing with the Monday Blues. Some of these summarize the discussion above and others are practical pointers. Other pastors and helpful counselors have produced longer lists, but I offer these as starting points that are helpful to me (when I follow them).
1) Pray. It’s easy to think that enough prayer has been said throughout the Lord’s day, but it’s extremely helpful for the pastor’s soul to turn the efforts and uncertainties of the day over to the Lord. Prayer doesn’t always need to be an emotionally draining time of intercession. Resting in the Lord in prayer is no less spiritual than pouring out one’s heart before Him.
2) Eat wisely & exercise. Don’t overload on caffeine and fatty foods right after. A little caffeine and food often help me, but I want my body to unwind, not ratchet up. If you can get in a work out the next day, all the better.
3) Avoid watching tele-ministries. Watching the big and “successful” ministries on television at the end of the day can be really deflating, especially if the message being proclaimed is a far cry from faithful preaching of the Word. If you need to do research on what’s being taught in the larger Christian world, do it at a time when you’re not trying to decompress.
4) Know yourself. Just knowing the physical dynamics at work in you and being honest with your own insecurities and uncertainties goes along way. Of course, that is no answer in itself. If you only come to “know yourself,” you’ll be left more depressed. But knowing your insufficiencies should lead you to lean more on the Lord’s sufficiency.
5) Rest without guilt. God built rest into the creative order and ordained it for our good. Maybe Monday isn’t your day off, but a change of pace is good. Some pastors do low-grade office work on Monday’s to keep their heads, and the same often take a different day off where they’re not so spent. (That way their families don’t feel like they’re getting the dregs of his time.) If you’re a bi-vocational pastor, you’ll need to be creative to create a sense of rhythm and change, but even little things can go a long way. Whether Monday is your day off or a day for a different pace, don’t feel guilty about it. God ordained the world to run in cycles, and our bodies and souls are part of that creative order.
6) Ask for feedback. By that I don’t mean that you should fish for compliments. Proverbs warns that a fool searches out his own glory. But when someone comments that he appreciated your message, ask him what about it helped him the most.
7) Keep a God-ward focus. In the end what matters most is what Christ thinks of us. We preach in HIS presence whether the congregation is large or small, receptive or resistant, affirming or unresponsive. A clear conscience about one’s stewardship of the Word is invaluable.
I wish I could tell you that following all these steps will immediately blow the Blues away, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s really more about the stewardship of a trial in which we wait on the Lord to renew us.
M. Scott Bashoor