Jul 31, 2023 | The Rev. Steven Morton

David took the lyre and played it with his hand. Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.”  (I Samuel 16:23b)

“‘You know you’re in trouble when your colleague recommends their antidepressants,’ begins one pastor, as he shares his tale of struggle against burnout, isolation and fatigue.” (Christian Century magazine, June 2023). 

Feelings of exhaustion or cynicism related to leadership in ministry are as old as King Saul, who found comfort in soothing music–as many of us do! But these days, secular publications are awash in conversations about practices of self-care for leaders.

My favorite may be this Philadelphia Inquirer headline: “Take me out to the ballgame? It’s healthy” (April 9, 2023). Research published by Frontiers in Public Health suggests that viewing live sporting events (like Phillies games!) can promote higher levels of life-satisfaction and lower levels of loneliness. Over the years, the Phillies have often made me crazy. But apparently, in the big picture, my evenings at the ballpark help to keep me centered and sane. 

What works for you? The stress produced by the Covid pandemic only exacerbated pre-existing conditions of anxiety among many churches—anxiety caused by membership decline, aging congregations and church facilities, political divides, dissent over church law and homosexuality, and racial inequity. Meanwhile, many alienated churches have been “socially distanced” from their communities long before it became a health practice to limit Covid infection. Consider these reports:

  • New research suggests that the pandemic has changed our personalities, and not for the better. Between 2020 and 2022, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness all declined across the population….especially among younger adults.”  (National Public Radio, Oct ’22)
  • A top panel of experts has said for the first time that [all] adults up to age 64 should routinely get screened for anxiety.”  (AARP Bulletin, Nov ’22)
  • [Coming out of Covid], what seems clear is that many, many pastors came close to the edge, experiencing some [significant] level of spiritual & emotional fatigue and vocational burnout.”  (Christian Century, June ’23)

Baseball and soothing music aside, the good news here is that the church does have much to offer to a society in need of connection, centeredness, and refreshment.  Our clergy ought to model the age-old spiritual disciplines of Methodism which, among other benefits, also help to produce calm: solitude, prayer and meditation, scripture-reading, benevolent generosity, community service, communal worship and play. (I urge pastors to consider attending the one-day spiritual retreat EPA’s Cabinet will offer September 20 at scenic Daylesford Abbey.) 

‘Greatest concern’ among young adults and Gen Z

And a new facet to the conversation is this: The Barna research team recently learned that the “greatest concern” (second only to “racial injustice”) expressed among young adults and the Gen Z folks is the urgent need to address mental health issues (Christian Century, April 2023). Thus, young people may likely avoid our churches if we avoid talking about personal and social anxiety and their remedies.  That might explain something…. 

A pastor, youth ministry leader, or conference staff member who relies on antidepressants may be more common than you think!  But short-term medical solutions are not our only resource in promoting mental health. 

The Scriptures promise us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).   Let’s be that church which is honest and compassionate about the challenges that face us all. And then let’s teach and model proven, lasting, best practices of finding mental and spiritual health and healing.  


  1. What are some ways your church promotes to help people deal with the struggles of mental health?
  2. What biblical leaders or practices do you recognize as providing best practices of restoring calm, clarity of thought and emotional centeredness?
  3. How might your church resource its community to help it deal with mental health challenges?