Your Mental Health Matters in Ministry | Episode 100

Bart Blair Leave a Comment

One misconception in ministry is the idea that you shouldn’t struggle with mental health. Celebrating 100 episodes the Missional Marketing team dispels that myth and discusses how your Mental Health Matters in Ministry! If you are struggling with self harm or suicidal thoughts please dial 988 to get help.

Podcast Transcription


Well, welcome to the 100th episode of our podcast. We are so excited to be at number 100. And so Bart and I’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve had a lot of different guests, we’ve had a lot of different topics, and so we’ve kind of reached a milestone, we’re excited about it. And I’m really excited about today’s topic, it’s one that I guess I’m not excited about it, but I am excited to talk and educate and get into some dialog about it because it’s an issue that is all over the place and it affects everybody and we’re going to dive into it.

Today, we’ve brought two amazing guys, I love these guys, they’re our dudes. Zac, who’s on our Missional Marketing team, and David, who’s on our Missional Marketing team. And these guys are both coaches of ours, and Zac does a ton with our comms con stuff, and David does a ton with our research and development. But they’re both coaches, so they get to work with churches as well, just like Bart and I get to do. And so we invited them to talk today about an issue that you probably have dealt with this, or you definitely know somebody who’s dealt with this, and that’s mental health. And it’s obviously in the church it affects everybody and anybody, and so we just want to kind of dive in today, and I know we’re going to have a really good topic of conversation here. I hope through our conversations you’ll learn something, maybe about yourself or certainly, you know, a coworker or a friend or family member who’s going through these kinds of issues and it’ll give you some good information, maybe you could share this podcast with them and that’ll help them. And so let’s dive in, let’s first introduce our guys, let them take a minute to introduce themselves. So, Zac, why don’t you go first, and then we’ll have David go?

Yeah, my name is Zac Bernauer, I’m a coach, along with working with Comms Communication, and working to grow that product within us. Currently, I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just hot off the heels of moving from St Louis, Missouri. So just out here living life, and trying to build Missional Marketing along with the Kingdom of God.

Yeah. And you also, you’re involved in churches and I mean, you went out to St Louis to help kind of plant a church, right, and do that kind of thing? Now you’re back in good old Philly, the Eagles are doing pretty good.

Yeah, they are doing decent this year.

Yeah, they are. Yeah. So that’s really cool, man, and Zac’s a great, great team member of ours, we’re so excited to have him and all he brings to the table. David, introduce yourself, and if you want to go ahead and tell them where you live and who you cheer for, you can do that.

Well, where I live is exciting, that’s Cleveland, Ohio. Who I cheer for, it depends, I will tell you this, right now we have a really good baseball team and a really, really good basketball team, we also have a football team, I’ll let you know that. My wife, here about 12 years ago, and have been a part of a few church plants, and then I worked at a multiethnic church for a few years after that. And now, I work for Missional Marketing, and I work on a team that’s like the mad scientist team, we’re trying to think about what the church needs next and always trying to be on the cutting edge so we can offer the best, most amazing stuff to churches.

Yeah. Yeah. Both of you guys are awesome. Okay, all right, so…

I am going to pause you for just one second, David is actually a repeat guest on the podcast, and I just want to highlight that the last time that David was on the show, he had just finished his doctorate, so he is Doctor David Thorne. He had just finished his doctorate, and he came and shared about how to build volunteer teams for your communications department. We’ll link to that episode in the show notes because it’s actually one that I’ve referred a lot of churches to over the last year or so since we did that one. So, David, thanks for being on the show. Oh, and I should probably say this, even though David is a doctor and all of us have been on staff in churches and all of us have probably to some degree dealt with and wrestled with maybe some mental health challenges, we are not experts in this area. So here’s our disclaimer, we’re just here to share a little bit of stuff that we’ve learned along the way, and share a little bit from our own personal experience. And I would just, I think we’d be remiss not to say that beyond what you hear and what you learn from us today, from our story, and from our experience, we highly recommend that if you’re really challenged with stuff in this area, that you seek professional help. And I just wanted to make sure that we kind of put that out there because we want to be helpful in what we’re doing here today, but yeah, we’re amateurs at this, we’re just some dudes living life trying to follow Jesus and get the most out of it. So with that being said, let’s turn things over to David.

Yeah, thanks, for all of that. And so we’re talking about mental health, and we actually talked about this as a Missional Marketing staff the other week, and we just all came away from that saying, wow, we all needed to hear that. And so that’s kind of the heart with which we share this, we’re going to talk about the idea of mental health, but also specifically depression. And I know when it comes to like the winter, it’s a time when things like depression become more prevalent. For example, in Cleveland, that bright, shiny orb in the sky that many people enjoy disappears for about five months, and I’m in a place like Cleveland where people get a little down. And if you’re on a church staff, or work for a church, or connected with a church, or just a human being, it might be something you or someone you love might be dealing with right now, which is the heart with which we want to share with you stuff that we talked about as a staff.

What I would actually like to do to start with is, actually have us just share our stories a little bit and kind of why this topic matters to us. And I’m actually going to start with Zac. Zac and I have both experienced…

With that, I’d like to actually start with Zac sharing his story and sharing a little bit about his background when it comes to depression. So, Zac, I know you and I have talked, could you share a little about your story when it comes to depression?

Yeah, I think depression is something that I remember dealing with even as a young kid. And I think I lived by the impression that once you get saved, the depression kind of goes away. But if it doesn’t go away when you get saved, it’s definitely going to go away when you start ministry because, you know, pastors can’t be depressed, pastors can’t have anxiety or hardships. So I remember being about seven, or eight years old and just being very sad all the time, most of the other kids around me were very happy and seemed to have no cares, but I just felt like this, this deep sadness that really never seemed to alleviate. And then fast forward to my college years, I actually was in my sophomore year, I was high achieving, and I like to say I have high functioning depression. I was taking overload classes, I was doing the whole ministry thing, and I was traveling with a traveling choir. And it was one morning I was getting up and getting ready to go to class and it felt like a lightning bolt just hit my body, and I collapsed in the shower, and that’s the start of what I thought was probably a mental breakdown. I spent probably a year and a half in counseling, the school was gracious to give me about a month in that semester to go back home and kind of recoup, and I kind of put the pieces back together.

And then a few years later, I go into ministry and I start as a student pastor in a small town called Lavonia, Georgia, right outside of Atlanta. And if you know me in any capacity, you know that I am not a farm boy, I’m not even a Southern boy, and I was living in the chicken farming capital of the world. And so automatically there was already this disconnect, and being 22 years old and a youth pastor and trying to navigate basically digital media within our church, in addition to having a very fast-growing youth group, really took its toll on me, and so over the next few years, I really felt depression kick in. And then ministry is hard, you deal with the criticisms and the rejections, and being about 15 hours away from my family, it was a really kind of difficult season of life. And then COVID happened, and now instead of going into an office, I’m now living by myself and having to completely take our church online and work hours and sleepless nights trying to do that, and I just really felt my mental health really deteriorating. And so it was through that process, I saw a doctor and realized there are some chemical imbalances that I deal with, in addition to seeking out counseling, which allowed me to process through some things. And it’s kind of something even now I try to keep on top of with making sure that my mental health is in top condition, because if it’s not, sometimes I can find myself in a low place.

Yeah. And I was actually going to share a little bit about, for me personally, of even my church story, because it plays into this, is there have been times when I’ve actually taken medicine for depression. Seminary was actually one of those times, I said it kind of felt like if you’re on a roller coaster and there are low emotions and high emotions, I could like, I knew there were high emotions, but I couldn’t touch them, it just felt like they were out of reach. And another time that I really experienced some low times is I was working at the church plant that I loved, and I mean, I worked really hard every single day for eight years. But I really started to get burnt out, and I had the realization that I had worked for two years and had only missed one Sunday out of those two years, and I had not taken very much time off. And it was partially on me that I just wanted to prove that I could work really hard, and I cared about it so much, and I wanted to do a good job for our lead pastor, I was like the executive pastor


I was at a point working for the church that I loved, where the thought of staying at that church made me feel depressed, but the thought of leaving the church made me feel depressed. And I was at a very, very stuck point, and it happened where I got to a point where it would hurt my mental health to stay at the church more than it would hurt me to leave. Where it felt like I, for my mental health I needed to leave, so I made the difficult choice to leave, and it was really hard. I really did feel depressed and lost and lonely and missed my people, and it was hard. And that’s where fast forward, it’s been about six and a half years since then, and I’m now at a very different spot. But it just means, I share that story because of how many people are listening to this podcast who could be in a very similar spot, and this podcast is for you. so I wanted to mention that.

And with that, I kind of wanted to go more specifically into, how do we know what we’re experiencing actually is depression, and how do we know what we’re experiencing is just kind of like down times. So I want to talk about a few things here, and this is what I want us just to be aware of. If you’re feeling down right now, you’re not alone. Just so you know, like, overall in America and across the country, the median age when depression is diagnosed in somebody is 32. So that’s pretty old, I mean, it’s not super old, but, you know, there are a lot of people who are 32 years old.

It’s all about perspective.

Yes, oh, to be 32 again.

Oh, yeah.

Thirty-five percent of adults don’t receive treatment, so it’s just saying that there are a lot of people, and I bet the number of pastors is even higher because we feel like our problems aren’t as bad as other people’s, and the people that we talk to talk to out there. But the chances are they may need some outside help. It’s the number one, depression is the cause of disability in the United States. So there are a lot of people who are out there who are not treating or acknowledging or handling depression, and it becomes debilitating and a reason why you actually can’t work.

Fifty percent of people have a chance of having a second episode of depression. So if you’ve ever experienced it in the past, there’s a very good chance that maybe what you’re experiencing right now is actually depression. There are six major symptoms of depression. You feel down most of the time. You’re absolutely exhausted. Nothing feels fun anymore, you don’t feel those high notes. Your current status is couch potato. Your weight is way up or way down. And then lastly, the guilt won’t go away.

It’s worth kind of noting, how do we know whether what we’re experiencing is actually depression or it’s just winter blues? So winter blues, maybe you feel a little bit down. Depression, you feel very down. If you feel the winter blues, you’re able to bounce back. Maybe you’re down for a few days, but you bounce back. When you have depression, you don’t bounce back. Blues is somewhat disruptive to normal life, depression is very disruptive. With blues, you mostly continue with your normal work, sleep, and recreation patterns. When you’re experiencing depression, it’s going to interfere with work, sleep, and recreation, it’s going to impact your daily life. With blues, you might feel a little lethargic and unmotivated. With depression, lethargy and lack of motivation become a major part of your day. And then finally, blues, you may feel down here and there. With depression, you’re going to feel down most of the time.

Taking this actually a little bit deeper, I want to share something that I got from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Number Five, which is the most recent psychological diagnosis manual. Try saying diagnostic statistical manual a couple of times fast in your car or wherever it is you are listening to this. Go ahead and try, pause and just try a diagnostic statistical manual, say that five times fast. But it mentions there’s a whole list of things that are symptoms a person could experience, and the idea is that if you experience at least five of these for at least two weeks, then you may have a noticeable case of depression. It’s things like actually what we just mentioned, like a depressed mood most of the day, a diminished interest in the things you use to enjoy, significant weight loss or gain, slowing down of your physical activity, fatigue, loss of energy every day, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt coming from nowhere, a diminished ability to concentrate, recurrent thoughts of death, or recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, but just the idea of thinking about ending your life can be another symptom. And it’s just saying that the DSM-5 says if you experience any of those, or at least five of them for at least two weeks, then you may have a diagnosable depression.

And as I’m saying these things, if you’re like, that’s me, that’s me, that’s me, if you start saying that to me about three or four or five times, it might be worth pausing and chatting with someone, chatting with a friend, making an appointment with your doctor or counselor, especially if you are a pastor because you’re probably laying off how you’re feeling and saying it’s not as bad as it probably is. There are various causes of depression, and I think it’s worth just noting, it can be things like genetics, your body chemistry, a significant life event, trauma, unaddressed trauma, hormone changes, medicines you’re taking, substance abuse, seasons like in Cleveland when the bright orb in the sky disappears, everyone gets depressed, or it just happens sometimes. So this is saying that if you are experiencing depression, there can be all kinds of causes, and when you can think through what could be causing it, it can help you address what you do in response to those causes.

So let me just pause here, and the last thing that we talked about as a staff, and it could be something that we talk about here as just the four of us here, is what are ways, and Zac, I want to think about asking you this. Would you have any suggestions for when you’re working with somebody who has depression or you may think could be struggling with depression, how might you suggest we should work with someone who is struggling with that.

Yeah, I think a big part of it is, with us, we all work from home, so we’re kind of isolated from one another. So something that our staff kind of works to do is connect with one another on social media, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or BeReal. I know that a couple of our females, they use Marco Polo to talk to one another during the day. So they share updates from their family, their individual lives, maybe some work updates through video messaging that they can listen to almost like a podcast as they’re getting ready and then respond. And so I think making sure that everyone feels a sense of connectivity and feel seen, especially when we work from home, a lot of the times we’re just trying to get tasks done or move one project to the next project that we can kind of miss the individual that’s doing that. So take the time just to connect and check in with one another, being strategic in your schedule. And then another thing is a lot of people, especially in our company, we’re very high achieving, high working, it’s easy for us to miss those breaks and to kind of burn ourselves out. So if you’re noticing some of your coworkers aren’t taking time off or working late nights or you’re always seeing emails coming in way after work hours, checking in with them and saying, do you need some time off? Do you need rest? Do you need a break? How can we alleviate your workload so that you can feel a sense of relief and enjoyment coming to work rather than it being something that is a source of contention?

Yeah, I’d probably throw in there as well, you know, prayer works really well too, so always be mindful and then just ask somebody if you can pray with them and be a friend. Right? It doesn’t, you know, doesn’t matter if you’re a mile away or 1000 miles away, I think that’s pretty important. And if you take those nuggets that you just share with us, David, and thank you, by the way. We probably know somebody from time to time that might be struggling with something, or we hear about somebody losing a loved one or something like that, and that’s going to be a sign right there to pay attention.

Yeah. There’s a lot that goes into, you know, the colleague accountability or colleague support. You know, we’re very fortunate that we have worked intentionally or are working intentionally to have a corporate culture, a work culture that allows people to say, I’m not okay today, and we want that place to be safe. You know, if you’re a staff member in a church, we recognize that not all, as much as we hate to say it, not all church staff environments are healthy environments. The four of us have all worked in churches and experienced very different things. You know, David shared that some of his experience, and I know more of David’s story than he actually told, than he was sharing, and, you know, some of it was a result of David being a high achiever and wanting to do well, and some of it was not being in the healthiest work environment. And I would say, you know, in my own personal experiences of depression and anxiety that came as a result of ministry work, I was actually working in very healthy environments. I just put so much stinking pressure on myself that I drove myself to a place of not being healthy. But if you’re a staff member in a church, maybe it’s not a safe place for you to share with your colleagues or your coworkers, which is a shame, and you definitely need to look for help outside of the work environment. If you’re a solo pastor or a pastor with a small staff, it might not necessarily be the right thing to do to share within your team. But we hope that if you are a leader of a staff, that you are working to create safety in your work environment so people can share when they’re not doing well, because the first step in getting better is always admitting that you need help to get better.

Yeah, I know it’s obviously a very growing concern inside the church staff because I think it used to be kind of taboo to talk about it years ago. But these days, no, you need to address it. One of my good friends runs a ministry called Full Strength Network, Marty Sawyers. And Marty and I are good friends, I probably need to have him on the podcast, Bart. But Full Strength Network, you should check that out and have your leadership team check it out, they offer churches a subscription where the church staff now has access, private access, to a counselor, a certified licensed counselor. And so that doesn’t get reported back to the church, they don’t share numbers like, oh, we had David here, he’s had five sessions. No, they don’t do any of that, right, it’s private. But the fact that the church knows that now the staff has a resource and an outlet to talk to somebody on a very confidential private level is growing. Marty has brought on, he’s the CEO of the company, he’s brought on just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of churches, and he’s only been there for like a year. Because lead pastors and executive pastors understand that this is a real issue, and I need my staff. And I’m the same way, I need these guys healthy, I want them healthy for their families, I want them right with God. Because when that’s right, then they’re going to do the best they can here at Missional Marketing, so it’s both, I really, really want them to get the kind of help they need. And a pastor has the same mentality, or they should, I hope they would have that same mentality, that I want my staff thriving. You know, and I know they work hard. We understand how hard ministry is, right, we’ve all worked in ministries and we wear like a bunch of hats and it never stops, the show must go on and on and on. And you really have to take that minute, you’ve got to take that time to seek the help that you need. So Full Strength Network is one of them, and then, Bart, you want to explain another one that you know of.

Yeah, our friend Dale Sellers and the folks over at the 95Network have actually, I think just this year, launched a component of the support that they provide for churches called Soul Care Essentials. And if you just Google 95Network, I think their website is There’s a button on the home page that says Soul Care Essentials, they exist to help the normal-sized church in America, they’re called 95Network because 95% of the churches in the country are under 500 people. Those are the churches that they are aiming to serve, and they want to help church leaders be healthy. They have committed so much time, energy, and resources to help churches get healthy, but have come to the conclusion that a church cannot be healthy if the leader is not healthy, so they have a concerted effort to help leaders get healthy. And the last thing that I want to mention, and then I’ll pass things back over to David and Zac for their parting shots, is if you are listening to this and you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, or self-harm, 988 is the number you dial, and you should dial it right now. For someone whose life has been forever changed by suicide, it’s not worth it, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So 988 is the number that you dial. David.

Were you going to say something, Jason?

Nope, go ahead.

Yeah. And just saying that, man, we love the church and that’s why we do what we do. And that’s where, my only thought is that if you’re in a church that isn’t healthy and it’s impacting your mental and spiritual health, it’s okay, to be honest with that. And that’s where I actually, mentioned to Bart that I was in a church that at a certain point it was pushing me to an unhealthy place. And there’s a day where I got yelled at for no reason, and I just kind of snapped and drove directly to a counselor and realized that I could not handle being treated the way I was for one more day in my life, that it was not worth being in a negative spot for even one more day. And that’s just for some people out there just understanding that if you’re in an unhealthy place, with an unhealthy church situation, understand that not every place is unhealthy and that you deserve to be in a place that treats you well, where you are cared for, where your family is cared for, where your mental health is cared for, and you deserve that.

You, Zac?

Yeah, I would echo that. I think for me, I came to a place where ministry was causing more harm than good in my life. I wasn’t set up in a place, even internally, to continue to handle those pressures. And all of us pastors, we joke that we’re good, everything’s fine, we’re blessed, highly favored, all of that. But the reality is, is that a lot of us never get to take off the hat. We go on vacation, but if we’re missing a service, our mind knows exactly when the service starts and when the service ends, and we experience major extremes of emotions in a moment. I remember one time I went to a hospital and was visiting someone that was probably about to go into hospice, and then once I left that room, I walked down the hallway and visited someone that just had a baby in our congregation. And so the vastness of emotions that we experience of people’s lives that aren’t even ours, it doesn’t even begin to touch the complexity that we experience. And so there are points where you do have to make that leap of faith, for me, when I left full-time ministry, I didn’t have a job, I just knew I can’t be here and do this anymore. And it was one of those moments where I said, okay, God, we’re going to do this, and if this is the biggest mistake of my life, then fix it, you can fix it. And it actually wasn’t a week later, that I applied for Missional Marketing and then was able to begin working for Missional Marketing. When I left ministry, I had no idea what was next. I knew I enjoyed the online component of ministry. I thrived in that, that’s where I found my passion, and I knew I still loved the church. And I allowed myself to release what the expectation of what ministry is, and it really ended up being a saving grace in my life where I found my passion again, and to be able to have a stronger and further reach and influence in the Kingdom of God than what I did before.

Hmm. Wow. Yeah, guys, thank you very much for sharing your heart. I know it takes a lot to come on a podcast and talk about your issues, and so I really appreciate that. And I think everybody listening here would say the same thing. And you’ve blessed us with this information, and just some of the things you guys shared. So super, super grateful for both of you guys and you too Bart. I want to go back, though, my parting shot here would be kind of what David said was, hey, it’s okay, you know, it’s okay to say, is this not the most healthy spot for me to be in ministry right now? Does God have something else in mind? And so my words of wisdom are, it’s your relationship with God is number one in your life, number two is your family, and number three is I guess the church. But you can choose to cheat the church because if that interferes with one and two, that’s not healthy, that’s not healthy, and you got to address that and really pray about that. Because I know a lot of people who have had to struggle with that, and that’s always been my advice. My advice, so, Bart.

That’s it, man. Thank you, guys, we appreciate you a ton. And for those of you who are listening to the podcast, if you stuck it all the way out to the end, God bless you, we thank you for being along on this journey with us. 100 episodes, I recently heard a statistic that said something like 82% of all podcasts that get produced produce one episode and no more, so the fact that we’ve gotten to 100, that’s saying a lot. So Jason, thanks for doing the show with me for 100 episodes. And David and Zac, thank you guys for being a part of our team and for sharing with us today.

Thanks for having us.

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