On depression, anxiety and ministry

by Joanne Kwok // September 14, 2018, 12:26 pm

Outlook on depression

Recently, a young pastor of an emerging church tragically took his life after battling depression and anxiety.

He left behind his wife and three children, breaking his congregation’s heart and stunning Christian communities around the world. For in the weeks leading up to the tragedy, he was in the midst of a sermon series on depression and anxiety where he openly shared about his condition.

What issues was the young pastor facing? We know he had been coping with the loss of his father and the demands of ministry. Was there any support for him? He had an amazing family and probably an amazing circle of people … But I imagine he still felt lonely in some battles.

I can only wonder where it all went wrong for that dear brother of ours.

To those of us who struggle beneath the surface, but wear bright smiles every week in church – I know how pretentious it feels.

I can only imagine the pressure pastors are under, given their vocation comes with the silent expectation that they must be strong in faith even when the worst trials and tribulations come.

Imagine for a moment that young pastor was your own: A tired shepherd who had to constantly believe that there was hope in his life, so he could tell you that there’s hope for yours as well.

What if I tell you that – as I read the Bible – I think that maybe Jesus was in the same situation? In the Gospels, it almost feels like Jesus grieved more than He was happy. He was aggrieved at our impending doom because of sin and shame. And so He spent most of His time in solitude before the Father concerning us and His work that would save us all.

What kept Jesus going? It was because of the task that He had to fulfill on our behalf so that we would not have to face an eternal death. He died on the cross for us. God planned all these things from the start because of what had we become – sinners awash in shame.

The irony of me writing this is … I’m in a somewhat similar place as that young pastor was in. Bipolar Disorder at 14. Major Depressive Disorder at 19. Attempted suicide 5 years ago …

Jesus’ death on the cross for us and resurrection is the answer to our grief.

What joy to know we have been spared from impending doom! Death no longer has the authority to tempt us that it is pointless to live another day.

When God calls His people to walk a thousand miles into the unknown, the journey will not be comfortable. No matter how faithful we are, there may be pain or suffering along the way. No one is fully sheltered this side of eternity. But the good news is that nothing can thwart God’s plans or destroy the people who walk in them!

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

In Philippians 4, Paul was in prison and had been oppressed by various principalities. Some theologians argued that he might have gone through bouts of depression in his years of ministry.

But Paul knew that the love of God was always sufficient for him no matter what. He constantly reached out to God as his strength and remembered the Holy Spirit was in him. He knew God would ensure that His name would be preached and glorified around the world – that people would rejoice for the freedom found in Jesus.

That is the heart behind Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength.”

The irony of me writing this is … I’m in a somewhat similar place as that young pastor was in.

Bipolar Disorder at 14. Major Depressive Disorder at 19. Attempted suicide 5 years ago – but it didn’t happen because of divine intervention.

Am I healed? Honestly, no. Worse still, I’m a final-year seminarian and I’m attached to an emerging church in Kuala Lumpur – hoping that I’ll do something great in Borneo.

Life has always been tough: I came from a higher class family, yet we struggled financially. My parents were partially absent, I faced childhood abuse, I was racially sidelined in school. Academically, I was often compared to my siblings, and I’m a middle child in the family. I mixed with the wrong crowd and did wrong things. I got involved in toxic relationships and dated women who were either unfaithful or uncommitted.

… the answer in my heart is that He has always been a great sustainer of life and faith.

After high-school graduation, my dream of being a politician was shattered. So, I pursued another interest: Multimedia Design. In my second year of college, my grandfather died. Upon graduation from the college, I started a media company, only to see it fail a year later. That got me a bad reputation in the local media industry.

Is God cruel?
At times, I am tempted to believe so, but the answer in my heart is that He has always been a great sustainer of life and faith. Whenever I remember that, I find there is always something new to learn and I become stronger than before.

Strength is found when we search for Him.

So in my search for strength in God, I’ve found a few practical handles to be helpful personally.


1. Go for a check-up.

I know it sucks, but do it! Psychiatrists are aware that not every condition are treatable with prescriptions. So a psychologist or a counselling session will help keep your head up in life while dealing with your issues.

2. Join a depression survivor group.

These groups are comprised of people with the same condition who encourage each other to press on. They are called “survivors” not because they are cured, but because they’ve previously survived attempted suicide and now survive each new day!

Virtual ones are available on Facebook, while other groups organise a weekly session to listen to fellow survivors and to express themselves. Trust me, no one is going to show off how insightful they are in this group!

3. Let it out by any means!

Scream your lungs out! Punch a pillow, throw something, or express your feelings in an artistic manner. Being artistic is one of the good ways to let things out. Play a music instrument or get a pen, paintbrush or graphic tablet and sketch or write something!

4. Talk about it!

Get someone who can intercede for you, or who would make time to hang out with you, consistently speaking life into you so you won’t have to live through these struggles by yourself.

5. Do good outside of the church!

What better ways to preach to yourself and to others about the unconditional love of Christ than to do an outreach? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

Ken Costa, former investment banker and author of God At Work writes that the love of Christ is manifested when we choose to give more to others. Ministry may threaten to be mechanical at times, which is where an outreach like serving in soup kitchens, orphanage visits or sponsoring a child may break us out of being stuck in a routine!

An outreach is not only missional – it is also a platform where God reminds us of the reason we do what we do.


Whether you’re a minister in the church, working in a Christian organisation or you happen to have family members in full-time ministry … it’s okay to acknowledge or speak out that you are depressed or anxious.

It doesn’t mean God can use you any less – God can use anyone He wants. God can use all people and all things for His glory, and having or being the right support can help others or yourself turn it all around for the best life!

So yes, it sounds like a cliché – but get help!

In my experience, there are people who care and there are people who don’t really care. Now the people who really care are the ones who do it quietly – slow to speak any insights, always praying and sharing your burdens. They don’t tell the whole world what you’re going through, but they make every effort to stay by your side without any expectations.

And when the time is right, they challenge you to make decisions that honour God. It took me a while to find these right people, but God is always gracious.

He is my comfort.

About the author

Joanne Kwok

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.