"I think you’re depressed,” my wife gently confronted me.
“I don’t get depressed,” I retorted, quickly and defensively.
My wife responded by patiently listing the symptoms of depression that she had witnessed since my health problems began. Several months earlier, I had discovered bull’s-eye lesions on my body. After several visits to the dermatologist and too many biopsies, I still didn’t have an accurate diagnosis. I was getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. And now I got an unsolicited comment from my wife about depression! After some moments of quiet reflection. I had to admit that she was right. I was depressed. It would have been easy to minimize my problem by asserting that my depression was not that serious, but the stressors in my life were clearly pushing me in an unhealthy direction.
We all have times in life and ministry when we face intense physical, emotional, or spiritual challenges. During those difficult times it is particularly important to have a healthy support network.
This valuable network will not create itself and is not handed to you with your first paycheck. You need to take responsibility to build your own support system. Don’t wait until the storm breaks. Now is the time to recognize the value of such a group and act upon it.
What are some important points to consider when intentionally assembling a network of caring colleagues?
• Look for individuals who honor God in their personal and professional lives.
• Select group members whom you care about personally and who are not in a supervisory or supervised relationship with you.
• Avoid those who are unable to maintain confidence.
• Choose participants who are firm in their commitment to meet regularly.
Begin with the commitment to become the helpful and caring colleague you are seeking for yourself. The rule of Jesus applies here as in every other area of life: “‘Treat others the same way you want them to treat you’ ” (Luke 6:31, NASB).
Take a moment to reflect on your current support system. Does it exist? How well does it function? What changes should be made in order to make the network more effective? Have you applied the rule of Jesus to your conduct within the group? What are some ways you can affirm and nurture your valued colleagues who have covenanted to meet with you on a regular basis?
I vividly remember the day when a trusted member of my support network asked me, “How are things going between you and the Lord?” No one had ever posed that question to me before. I was both startled and blessed. Colleagues should be granted permission to move beyond superficial conversation and ask pointed questions. Since there is a commitment both to follow the rule of Jesus and also to maintain complete confidentiality, participants are free to answer any question candidly.
We should also be free to speak about our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, since we can learn valuable lessons from the ups and downs of life and ministry. Recently, I heard a tragic story of a young pastor who got involved in an adulterous relationship. When his infidelity was exposed, he sank into a deep depression and eventually took his own life. Many families in the church were devastated, including his own. Would a support group have helped him to avoid such a tragedy? No one knows for sure. But what if a trusted friend had challenged him when he started to act in inappropriate ways? What if a caring colleague had taken the risk of sending up a warning flare?
Our lead article in this issue of Ministry addresses the challenge of ministering to hurting people. Losses in life lead to grief and may result in clinical depression. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others, and we must also be alert and honest with ourselves, recognizing our own needs. That’s where a healthy support system is so valuable.
The wise man, Solomon, reminds us that “though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12, NKJV). That is particularly true when two or three are seeking the will of God together and praying for guidance and direction. “‘For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’” (Matt. 18:20, NKJV).
I’m thankful today for a loving and committed support network. It’s my prayer for you to have the same experience.