Category Archives: ministry


Once again, it is the day.  The anniversary of when I was ready to end my life in the pit of despair and depression.  Last year I wrote about it HERE.  You can follow the links there if you’re interested.

Somehow this day has kind of become a day of self-evaulation for me.  I suppose that makes sense, it being Good Friday and all.  It is sort of a “take stock” day for me, as I reflect on God’s richest mercies in giving His Son and in giving me life.

Things are pretty dramatically different today than they were a year ago.  We now live in California.  I am the senior pastor at a small to mid sized confessional congregation near Sacramento.  There are lots of great people here, who love me and my family.  It is a great blessing, to be sure.

But it is also really strange.  I still feel like they don’t know my story, our history, and our life.  I don’t like talking about myself (ok, not that much), but I do occasionally want to stand up in bible class and say something like,

“Are you people crazy!  I am wounded and broken.  I’m a mess, barely hanging on by a thread.  Why would you want us here?  Surely you could find someone cheaper that isn’t always on the edge?”

Then I remember people like Paul, or Elijah, or Augustine, or Luther, or Herberger, Gergardt, and the many thousands of shepherds God has provided His sheep with over the millennia.  If there is one thing that this history should teach, it is that the Ministry is about God’s service to us in His Son, not about the man.  They are a strange and messed up lot.  In that regard I guess I fit right in.

All things are new, yet all things are the same.  Wounded and broken, but healed by the blood of Christ, we go on despite what our heart and mind might say to us (Psalm 73:26).

We rest in Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith.  So, friends, do not despair.  Christ cares for you with an everlasting love.  From Bach’s St. John’s Passion:

Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Rest in peace, you sacred limbs,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
I shall weep for you no more,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
rest in peace, and bring me also to rest.
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
The grave that is allotted to you
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
and contains no further suffering,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.
opens heaven for me and shuts off hell.


Speaking at the mother ship

I just returned from speaking at the Fort Wayne seminary.  The topic, of course, was clinical depression.  It was really a two part visit.  The first part was speaking to a deaconess practicum class, and the second part was doing a “fireside” chat in the Commons with about fifty students and (if they had one) their wives.

I always feel like it is returning to the mother ship when I go home.  No matter how much I like (or dislike) what is going on at the place, it is home in many respects for me.  I feel the same way about Seward.  I don’t really have many ties to Seward anymore, but it is still my school.

The visit itself was good.  I got to catch up with some friends, etc. More importantly, I was able to speak to about fifty members of the student body (and their wives) about depression.  It was basically the same schtick I have done elsewhere (if you want to order the talk, CLICK HERE).

What do you say to a group of men who are studying to be pastors about mental illness and depression?  There’s a lot to say but I tried to keep it to a description of depression, why pastors are at risk, and ways to address it (either preventatively or in the midst of it).  I don’t know if they liked it.  Can you “like” a talk about clinical depression?  But I believe it was and is important for them to hear, and pray that there are more opportunities to do the same.

What would you tell a soon-to-be-pastor about clinical depression?  Why?



On the Ministry: Tasks Verses Relationships

One doesn’t have to serve as a pastor for very long to come to the realization that the Holy Ministry in America is in more than a little bit of crisis. Some of the competing models for the Pastoral Office include: shepherd, maintenance man, leader, enabler, facilitator, therapist, evangelist, social worker, community worker/activist, and the like. I’m sure there are another dozen or more titles or job descriptions which could be used. It is no wonder that pastors don’t know who they are or what they are given to do!

As I have tried to think through what it means to be a pastor, I always come down to the tension between tasks and relationships. Pastors are given certain tasks that they are to do day in, day out. Preach, teach, administer the sacraments, judge doctrine, perform acts of mercy on behalf of the body of Christ, etc. I can sit down in any given week and map out all of my time in terms of the tasks that I am to do as a pastor. Of course, I just listed the nice and easy and obvious list of tasks. There is also the other, unspoken list. Things like editing the bulletin, going through the mail, preparing for and going to meetings, newsletters, correspondence, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, nearly every one of those primary tasks of the Office only have their purpose when they are given out to the flock. My work as a pastor is about people. It is about delivering Christ to them, in season and out of season. While this again may seem obvious, it is incredibly easy as a pastor to forget it. I can get so wrapped up in getting things done that I forget who I am doing them for in the first place! Yet if I spend all my energies simply and only working on relationships, I can just as quickly lose sight that I am here to deliver Christ and not myself.

Most pastors that I know fall off this wagon on one side or another. Me, I’m much more inclined to get wrapped up in the tasks that I lose sight of the relationships. I think this is the tendency of more academic type pastors. Obviously there are many others who focus more on the relationships. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it certainly makes it so we don’t understand each other very well.

So how does one maintain the healthy balance between what we are given to do and to whom we are given to do it? Here are some of my ideas, but I’d like to hear yours as well:

1. Be aware of the tension. Lots of good things happen as a result of tension. Being mindful of it can make it a blessing and not a source of stress.

2. Pray about it. Pray that God would make you productive in the sense of getting things off of your plate AND of bringing Christ into the lives of your people. They go together. Be deliberate in your prayers.

3. Think in very concrete terms about both tasks and people interaction. Schedule it. Put it on your “next action” list. However you need to do it to make it work. But don’t just allow the water to find its own level. If that is the case, you will simply gravitate toward your own interests.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?


On Rats and the Holy Ministry


Here’s something a little off the beaten path for you:

Reciprocal Affiliation Among Adolescent Rats During a Mild Group Stressor Predicts Mammary Tumors and Lifespan

I’ll allow the more medically inclined in our midst to verify this for me, but as I read this, what it is saying is that when leaders have a support group, they tend to live longer. But if the leaders are isolated, that has a negative impact on their health/lifespan, even if they continue to play their leadership role.

Now what does this have to do with the Holy Ministry? Let me count the ways:

1. Don’t get bent out of shape over the “leader” language. Just run with me on this.

2. Leaders may be effective in their role to some detriment to their own health and well being.

3. A leader is ineffective if they are dead, on disability, incapacitated due to stress or other external factors.

4. Pastors serve as care givers but rarely are care-receivers. This is the pastoral corollary to “doctors make the worst patients.”

5. We pastors would do well to tend to our own house (including the temple which is our body/soul/mind) if we wish to be of service to the household of faith.

6. Sometimes being a pastor feels like being a rat…no that’s not right!

Thanks to Rebellious Pastor’s Wife for pointing this article out to me!


Why Pastors Hide Their Depression


I’ve had a lot of conversations this week with the release of the book. They have been online, telephone, email, wherever. The contacts have been from pastors, teachers, spouses, friends from college, and pretty much across the board. I’ll comment on some of those at another time.

One theme that resonates through so many of the conversations is that pastors don’t want to reveal that they are depressed. This is also true generally, and especially in other service fields. But it seems particularly true with pastors. They mask their illness.

I know I did. I worked my tail off to put on a happy face, a “game face” with my congregation and family. It took incredible amounts of energy, and really made things worse.

But if possible what is even sadder than our self-inflicted super-pastor mindset, is that we are afraid of reprisals. I am afraid that I might lose my job, be kicked out of my congregation, that my district president won’t support me. So the very people who can and should and generally would try to help, are the ones who are kept in the dark.

Why? Why do we hide? And what will happen if we reveal to our families (Who probably already know), our congregation, and our brother pastors what is going on?

aka Todd Peperkorn

Why Pastors are Less Than Human



I am increasingly amazed at how pastors are depicted or considered less than human. It seems to me like every week I hear of some story about how pastors don’t have this problem or that problem because they have such a better understanding of the Gospel.

I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. If that offends your piety, too bad. IF you think that is a sign of weak faith, I’ll leave that judgment to Christ and not to you. The fact is that pastors get tired, stressed, burned out, depressed, and everything else that flows from nearly every other vocation. It is a part of our fallenness as human beings. We are not robots. I don’t have some secret gnosis or special insight into the Gospel that insulates me from the world. Far from me. In many respects as a pastor, I believe we are more susceptible to the trials and problems of the world. There is an expectation that everyone gets tired, stressed, burned out, bored, or whatever with work. We all go through it from time to time. But not pastors. Pastors don’t go through these things, because they have Jesus (and the rest of the baptized don’t?).

Fortunately, Christ uses our weakness even more than he uses our strengths. I can get tired, stressed, depressed. It’s okay. Christ is with me, forgives me, and draws me into himself.



Always on my mind….

Been real busy lately.  I know I have a few emails to reply to and other things.  This is kind of a nutso time of year for pastors.  But know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers, as we long for the coming of our Savior.  I’ve got a few things to talk about, but they will have to wait for a bit right now.


The Clergy and Mental Illness via Cyberstones

Rev. David Petersen on his blog, Cyberstones, has a nice post about clergy and mental illness. Check it out here:

The Clergy and Mental Illness

He makes some good points that are well worth considering. However, I do disagree with him on a couple things. Please read the following:

2. The Office of the Holy Ministry is so stressful it causes clinical depression, etc.

The other fallacy [the one I’ve listed above] is usually picked up by those who are suffering, whether the actual sick person or by his family and parishoners. They are looking for someone or something to blame. It is mostly false. The Office of the Holy Ministry is no more stressful than any other vocation or job in this fallen world. It does not cause mental illness. But being mentally ill and trying to deal with suffering people is difficult and the feelings of being a hypocrite are immense. So it certainly feels at times to those who are ill as if the Office is the root of their problem.

Obviously Rev. Petersen has a good point. It is easy for those who are sick or for the family of those who are sick to blame the Holy Ministry for depression or some other mental illness. We like to have something or someone to blame. In this sense Rev. Petersen is right.

In this sense he is wrong. The Office of the Holy Ministry is more stressful than other vocations. Not always, and not universally, but there is no question that the pressures put on a man who serves as a pastor is far greater than what one will find in many, even most other vocations (other than father and mother). We deal with the eternal. Heaven and hell. Life and death. We are forced to try and answer some of the toughest questions human beings ever face: why did my mother die? Why did my wife abandon me? How do I know my son will go to heaven? The questions which we seek to answer are deep and abiding, and cannot simply be shed with your winter coat in the closet when you come home.

There is a great deal of evidence that generally speaking, individual serving in service fields (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc) have a much higher incident of clinical depression. The same is true for clergy. I don’t have the exact statistics in front of my right now, but I know that roughly 10% of the general population in America struggle with clinical depression, and that the number is closer to 30% for clergy. That’s a pretty big difference.

Now I don’t say this to provide a scape goat. I say it because one of the key elements in healing is understanding why you are sick. What are the causes. Heredity, situation, family life, lifestyle in general, and good old chemical makeup all play a factor.

I’m not saying this to hold up pastors as the great saints who sacrifice more than anyone else. That is nonsense and I don’t believe it. There has to be an honest understanding on the part of the pastor of how the Office affects him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That mindfulness of who we are and how things shape us is a part of what can make a great pastor. It’s also what can contribute to the utter downfall of a pastor who things he has everything under control.

Thanks for your thoughts, Rev. Petersen. I appreciate what you have to say.