Thursday, November 19, 2009

A question

Why are British ministers so depressed? So low? So negative? So sure nothing much is going to happen? It may not be true of all (I hope not); but it seems to be 'the general tone' amongst the Reformed.

It came home to me with some power when I was at a well-known ministers' conference earlier in the year. I asked one friend - young, at the beginning of his ministry - what he thought to the conference and as far as I remember his answer was 'It's great to be among so many men who are as depressed as I am!' He wasn't joking.

So perhaps it's Calvinism? Perhaps it has a depressing effect?

Hardly: Spurgeon suffered from depression triggered by gout, but was not by nature (or grace) an unhappy individual. Nor, for that matter, is Piper. Ah, Piper - yes, he's American.

In fact, reading 'Young, restless and reformed' suggested to me that it's only British Calvinists who're so miserable. Across the Pond, Calvinists have great conferences, joyous conferences, with thousands in attendance and a vision of the glory of God that virtually forbids misery. Nobody there would say 'It's great to meet so many depressed people.'

So - it's a serious question. Why are British Calvinistic ministers so depressed? And what can we do about it?


Jonathan Hunt said...

1. I hope it wasn't me who said that when we met recently!!

2. The problem purely from my perspective, is leading from the front, charging forwards, trying to exhort and encourage folk to raise their heads, pray more, try and reach out and do gospel work joyfully, only to look back and see that nobody has followed you, and everyone has bowed their head and is shuffling their feet mumbling something about a 'day of small things'...

Timothy Edwards said...

Is it perhaps just the fact the the British generally - whether Reformed or not, whether believing or not - are miserable and pessimistic.

Gary Benfold said...

No, Jonathan, wasn't you.

Timothy - nah!

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a pastor of only a year or so, I can tell you why I might be tempted to be depressed.

The situation is depressing. The people are unspiritual and unbiblical in their thinking. They are unwilling to do anything or even pray for anything! No one has been saved or even joined the church for many years.

All of a sudden there is an influx of new members, evanglistic work is restarted, the prayer meetings actually pray for something, visitors start to come in and not just one offs either. People are showing genuine interest in the Gospel and trying to invite others to hear the message.

And what is the result of all this? The Pastor gets it in the neck from the old timers. We shouldn't be doing the work for the Lord, he doesn't need our help! Or, don't tell us what to pray for, shopping lists are unspiritual; or, you can't remove that person from membership for disagreeing with all of our basis of faith, they run the spring bar-be-que!: or, when you applied that text this morning, you sounded as though you were getting at me! or, you can't apply that Scripture to our church because our rules say....
You preach about Christian love and humility and the authority of Scripture and they say oh yes Pastor, a lovely sermon, agreed with every word of it. But the first time they get a chance to demonstrate any of these character traits or beliefs you see that they haven't understood at all.

All this and Heaven to come!!!

You will understand if I post this comment anonymously brothers!

Gary Benfold said...

Dear Anonymous brother,
Thank you for your heart-felt contribution. Please allow a heart-felt response:
1. Be careful of thinking about the church as 'them'. They are either the elect of the Living God, sheep for whom Christ died, the bride of Christ and very precious to him OR they are lost sinners, helpless and needing God's grace and your pity. Christ's sheep will respond to his word and his Spirit; and the lost may yet, by word and Spirit, turn out to be his sheep.
2. Remember that though the flock has many faults, so has the shepherd. If my people knew my own heart they would never let me serve them; what they do know, and tolerate, in me is a sign of much grace on their part.
3. Be patient. It is so easy to assume that we come riding into a church like the Magnificent 7 into town: one quick gun-battle (or maybe two) and we're victorious. Not so: Paul says to Timothy 'correct, rebuke and encourage - WITH GREAT PATIENCE.'
4. Be realistic (1): look how bad the churches at Corinth, or Galatia, were - or five of the seven in Revelation. Anyone who is called to the pastorate has to be prepared for that.
5. Be realistic (2): the situation you describe seems to me to have ENORMOUS grounds for encouragement: you've been there 'only a year or so' but there is a sudden influx of new members, evangelistic work is restarted, the prayer meetings actually pray, visitors are coming in, people are showing genuine interest. Wow! After only a year! What may five years see - or ten?
6. Cultivate a thankful attitude before God - see 5, above. And tell your people, in the sermon, what you are thankful about them. Praising them for the graces you see may have more effect than scolding them for their faults: more flies are won with honey than vinegar.
7. Pray for me, that I learn the lessons I try to teach you - 'not that I have already obtained all this' but rather 'I believe, and therefore I speak.'
8. If I can help you directly and personally, please contact me via the Moordown Baptist Church website - it will find me quickly and I'll respond as soon as I can.

Dear brother, go on: the work is hard, the battle is long, the Captain glorious, the rest eternal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for you comments Gary. My answer was off the cuff and in response to the question 'why should Pastors be depressed'. If you were to ask why should we be joyful the answer would have been even longer!

I fully agree with and take on board your comments. I would say that the first year has gone wonderfully well with tokens of the Lord's blessing almost every week. We have seen people coming in from the door to door, an old Sunday School kid coming back as a converted adult, new families coming to worship with us, extraordinary opportunities to show Christian love.

And all of this in a church which had gone down to three old ladies a few years back and had less than ten members a year ago.

Yes I have been discouraged a little because so many things that we should have done in the first couple of months have still not been achieved, the work has been more'clearing the ground' than 'laying the foundations'. But we simply follow the Lord's clear instructions and He sends the blessing.

It is of course entirely to be expected that the devil will try and send sharp trials and spoil all of this, but even this is a blessing. If it was too easy I wouldn't spend enough time on my knees and I would grow proud and self-reliant.

I would say one thing though, if I depended on the church to earn a living I'm not sure I could have coped. If the church threw me out for being obedient to the Word I would have no practical difficulties because I work full time in secular employment. Being obedient to God's Word even if it meant losing home and income would be a real trial.