Learning to preach, evangilize, mobilize volunteers, encourage staff, is a huge party of being a pastor and planting a church. However, one aspect of church planting I didn’t account for was the emotional and spiritual toll that it was going to take. Zach Eswine wrote a short book tackling the subject of depression and offering hope: Spurgeons Sorrows, Realistic hope for those suffering from depression. However, he chose to do it in a fascinating unique way.
Charles Spurgeon has been one of my favorite pastors since I became a Christian. I’ve read most of his books, sermons, and almost anything else I can get my hands on. By all accounts Spurgeon was doing what most of us church planters want to see happen. He had a mega-church, wrote books, spoke at conferences, and in many regards was a celebrity pastor. However, even with all the “successes” Spurgeon had in ministry, one of the most consistent threads of his life was depression. Consistently , or occasionally, most church partners will deal with depression and that is why Eswine’s look at how Spurgeon dealt with depression is important.
I would encourage every planter, potential planter, or pastor in general to read Eswine’s book. It is not only going to be a helpful resource for you and your own personal life but, It will also be invaluable for you as you minister to people in your church who are going through despair. I want to highlight three aspects of the book that were insightful and helpful for me.
1. Depression and despair comes even when there is “nothing” bad happening in life: Most people associate depression with traumatic experiences . Which to be sure can be a cause of depression. Yet, that is not always the case. Surgeon says this: “Quite involuntarily, unhappiness of mind, depression of spirit, and sorrow of heart will come upon you. You may be without any real reason for grief, and yet may become among the most unhappy of men because, for the time, your body has conquered your soul.” Andrew Solomon in his book The Noonday Demon, “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance, while depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” Therefore do not discount in yourself or your congregation that despite everything going well you may still be afflicted with despair and depression.
2. Spiritual depression is real and powerful: Spurgeon says “Spiritual sorrows are the worst of mental miseries.” Eswine says this on the subject, “We feel in our heart that He is angry with us, or we have done something to forfeit His love, or He has toyed with us and left us on a whim. Either way, He exists for others, but not for us. He punishes us with silent treatment. He laughs at our pain when he gossips to others about us. The irony of desertion is that God’s absence feels overwhelmingly close to us. We stare the void in the face. According to Charles, when a person knows that God is with them, he or she may bear great depression of spirit, but if we believe God has left us in our miseries and hardships, there is a torment within the breast which I can only liken, Charles says, to the prelude of hell.”
3. Jesus suffered from depression: Spurgeon says this, “Personally, I also bear witness that it has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comforting to know that in every pang which racks His people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of man walks the furnace with us.” Later in the chapter Eswine says this, “…Instead, what we need to know for ourselves in our hearts is that Jesus is ‘the Chief Mourner’ who above all others could say, ‘I am the man that hath seen affliction.’ To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.”
This is a fantastically helpful book that will encourage you, give you hope, and like for me, give vocabulary to what I have been feeling but unable to articulate. There is hope to be had even in the worst of times. We must as pastors passionately provide that hope to ourselves and to those who we have the honor of ministering to.