I’ve seen a number of comments about the ongoing anxiety of preaching. I know preachers who throw up before every service. I know preachers who haven’t loved it for years. Preaching, if it is done right, is profoundly self-exposing. Preachers who know their people must know themselves, the depths of their own sin. These who preach to their congregation best probably preach to (sometimes against) themselves first.
So what does this mean for the preacher who has a mental illness like generalized anxiety disorder or clinical depression? Therein lies the rub.
As I have indicated before, depression is the ultimate incurvatus se. You are turned inward, and emotions that are focused outward (like anger or love) are barely on the horizon. Everything is turned inward. So while the good preaches go through themselves in terms of understanding the human condition to preach the Gospel, the depressed person can’t go through themselves. They get stuck. They are in the black hole of their own doubts and fears, and rather than expressing them (theologically in confession, pastorally in preaching, and psychologically in counseling), they simply stew in their own juices so that nothing can come out.
I might also add that in dealing with depression, it is also incredibly hard to take anything in. Reading, meditating, discussing the texts of Holy Writ are almost impossible. So if the depressed pastor (DP? No, that’s already taken) is forced to continue preaching, in pretty short order he will be running on nothing, stuck saying words he doesn’t mean, recycling sermons or copying others words.
Now the good news about that is that God works through that kind of preaching just fine. It is, after all, His preaching and Word. We pastors place a lot of guilt on ourselves over things for which we are not responsible. As Martin Franzmann wrote:
Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow’rs and men shall be forgot (LSB #586)
We know how hard, O Lord, the task
Your servant bade us undertake:
To preach Your Word and never ask
What prideful profit it may make.
So for all of us preachers, we have to constantly confess that we want to control the outcome of our preaching, and at the same time guard against unfounded guilt.
Two words that are hard for those suffering from depression: control and guilt. I can’t control what I want, and I feel guilty for everything, even when it isn’t my fault.
But this is the gift which Christ gives to us preachers. It isn’t ours to control. That is a gift. It’s His Word, His preaching. Only He can accomplish what he will with His own Word. I know this is hard to remember, especially when you are under pressure to “preach” people to give more, come to church more, be more involved, or whatever the pet Law of the congregation is at that time. Your holy task is to give them Jesus and forgive their sins. It’s that simple.
Jesus can even use a recylced sermon, or a borrowed sermon from someone else. What may seem like nothing to you He can use to bring about the salvation of many. It is the way of preaching. It is how Jesus uses the weak to bring about the miraculous.
Having a break from preaching is a good thing, but it’s not always possible. So don’t feel like you’re a failure if you have to borrow more than usual. God will use it just the same.