Thursday, January 13, 2022

Chuck Swindoll on Depression

One of the things I appreciate most about Chuck Swindoll is the way he's become vulnerable in his older years. Not in a maundy sort of way that disguises a weak ego. But in a godly way, like King David of old in the Psalms. In his book The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal, we read these words on p. 9:

Why do I share all this with you?

What is Chuck referring to? He's referring, not to his successes in life and ministry, but to his failures and challenges. If you'd like an example, here's one:

It was not easy. In fact, those were the most difficult months of my five decades of ministry. Very challenging. Very stressful. Very painful. 

Or how about this:

There were difficult things that included tears, hurt feelings, tough decisions, sleepless nights, hard moments, and misunderstandings.

Or this:

I've never regretted the time I did not quit ... though at the time it was all I could do to stay.

Finally, referring to his marriage, he writes:

I'll be honest ... we almost broke apart those first ten years. We didn't, though, because she stayed with me and stuck it out.  

Did the Swindoll family ever struggle with heartache? With depression? With feelings of suicide? You bet they did. Of course, a pastor is "not supposed" to talk about his or his family's struggles. I think Chuck would disagree, as this amazing video shows us. 

I give Chuck and his daughter Colleen a lot of credit for this interview. Unreasonable expectations leave pastors and their families constantly depleted. Sometimes, like Chuck back in the 60s and 70s, pastors project authority while trying to figure things out for themselves. When a church does not allow its leaders to be human, they begin to act less like pastors and more like CEOs. Writes Chuck:

Entertaining churches with a shallow, superficial, feel-good message can never prepare you for the doctor's report that reveals cancer. Or the call from the policeman who says your son was in a head-on collision. Or the day your spouse abruptly walks out on your marriage. Suddenly, all of the Christian cliches, clever sermonettes, dazzling performances, and twisted Scriptures offer no help. Why? None of those are realistic. They lack depth. They are papier-mâché facades that crumble under the stress.

I won't belabor the point. I just find it incredibly encouraging when pastors like Chuck Swindoll are not afraid to admit that they deeply struggle. Again, it's easy to overdo this. But transparency can go a long way to helping your church members see that you understand their grief. Pastor Eugene Peterson writes (Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Ministry, pp. 1-2):

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries ....

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper's concerns -- how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the road, how to package the good so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it's still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs ....

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is his responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. 

I know of few pastors who are more committed to keeping the community "attentive to God" than pastor Chuck Swindoll. No, he does not use his weaknesses and his limitations as a means of excusing himself from diligent leadership. He has just never been into the pedestal thing, and it shows. 

Do watch the above video, then share it with someone you love. It is so basic and so lovely.