Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Coping with Depression in the Church with Matt Rogers – Part IV

Losing GodA guest post by Matt Rogers, a good friend, an author, and pastor at [nlcf].

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE DEPRESSED

Depressed people in the church often feel isolated, as if no one in the world understands their pain. Quite often they also feel spiritually weak, or even sinful, for their lack of joy. And perhaps most tragically, few have any clue what great company they are in.

A great cloud of depressed witnesses
Church history is replete with famous disciples who wrestled terribly with their moods. We rarely talk about their suffering because we prefer to deify our heroes; we like to think of them as giants—as if giants can’t struggle too.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

For instance, did you know that Charles Spurgeon dealt with depression? In his day the diagnosis didn’t exist, but had Spurgeon lived in our time he likely would have been treated for bipolar disorder. Spurgeon had extraordinary highs, during which he wrote his famous sermons, followed by excruciating lows that required he withdraw from all human contact. He once said, “I have suffered to the extent and to the depths of which I hope none of you ever has to suffer.” Yet church history has largely forgotten Spurgeon’s pain, preferring instead to remember only his great, manic sermons. Easier to deify him that way.

William Cowper

William Cowper, remembered mainly for his many beautiful poems and hymns, also battled bipolar disorder. He tried several times to commit suicide, survived a couple of bouts with insanity, and feared he was eternally condemned to hell. Today we sing his hymns and read his poems largely unaware of the horror he lived every day.

Oswald Chambers

And then there’s Oswald Chambers, famous for the devotional My Utmost For His Highest, a classic that sadly says nothing about his four-year dark night. Biographer David McCasland recounts that after years of faithfully following Christ, and while leading a Bible college, Chambers fell without warning or apparent cause into a deep emotional pit. Chambers said of that time, “… nothing but the overruling grace of God and the kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum” (quoted in Oswald Chambers: Abandoned To God, by David McCasland).

Those of us who deal with depression can find a lot of hope in these examples: if God used them, he can use us too. So why do we gloss over our heroes’ struggles? And how could we help the modern-day strugglers all around us by being more honest about our own pains, and about those of the giants of church history?

Matt Rogers is co-pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship [nlcf] at Virginia Tech. He is the author of When Answers Aren’t Enough: Experiencing God as Good When Life Isn’t (Zondervan, 2008) and Losing God: Clinging to Faith Through Doubt and Depression (InterVarsity, 2008). Learn more about his writings and his blog at his website.


5 Responses to Coping with Depression in the Church with Matt Rogers – Part IV

  1. Scott says:

    When was the last time you saw a church promo video that wasn’t filled with joyful, vibrant, smiling, high energy, extroverted people, the band wailing and teacher/preacher speaking charismatically (personality)? Whenever I’ve been in a room filled with church leaders and the word “depression” begins to be mentioned, the entire room deeply resonates with emotion, walls are broken down and hearts are revealed… Many of these leaders are heroes in the faith – they grapple and wrestle with God in the midst of deep struggles and depression – I desire to imitate their faith because I’m there in the mudpit with them with my hand breaking the surface to grasp the hand of Christ who is the one who keeps me from drowning…

  2. Kristie says:

    Thanks for sharing those examples…they are encouraging to me…and I’m sure there are countless other stories of famous and not-so-famous saints who have struggled with this burden. I wish these stories would be higher-profile as opposed to something one finds more so by digging than by hearing…

  3. Sean says:

    Depression Takes, on many forms. For me, finally i got the real diagnosis of Bipolar 1. Pray for all those suffering. There are legitimate illness that require legitimate care. Its just now. Part of my walk. Everyone is different. Cool, that you discuss topics that matter best wishes.

  4. Matt Rogers says:

    Scott, Kristie, and Sean, thank you for your comments. I’m glad we can have this discussion. I, too, know church leaders and pastors who deal with depression, and I, too, wish hearing stories such as Chambers’ did not require digging. My hope is that by our speaking up and speaking out, we can bring hope to other hurting souls in the pew. Thanks for reading this series.

  5. Aaron says:

    I have heard it often said that Martin Luther was likely bipolar.

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