Depression and Leadership in Special Needs Ministry

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2013 has not provided the most refreshing Summer for my family.  In fact, since May I have dealt with 2 hospitalizations, shuttling kids to 1 pediatrician and 6 specialists, my eldest being diagnosed with a new chronic illness, and even a dog that had issues.  At the same time, God has been doing incredible things in and through the ministry I have the privilege of leading.  Couple all of this together with a woman who fights chronic depression, and it can be hard to get out of bed some days.

In pondering my current status, I wonder what sort of leader a mess like me can really be in such an important area of ministry.  After all, I think special needs ministry can be far more intensive than some other areas of service because we often meet people at a place of isolation, grief, challenge or brokenness.  Programs or services can be much more unpredictable when participants might have to skip attendance at the last minute due to an ER visit or autism meltdown.  This field of ministry calls us not only to be accepting and inclusive, but also highly adaptable.  How flexible is a leader like me, if I so frequently fall into an emotional slump?

Yet, in doing some digging on this topic, I found some encouraging news.  While many church leadership articles point to warning signs for depression or how to recover from burn-out, a secular article in the Wall Street Journal I uncovered took a different approach.  In his July 30, 2011 article entitled Depression in Command, Nassir Ghaemi profiles 4 great leaders in history that battled depression.  He details how the very affliction I think could disqualify me from being a “good” leader, might actually equip me to be an excellent leader.  Ghaemi notes that depression tends to make individuals much more empathetic and realistic in their view.  If this is true, disability ministry leadership could quite possibly be the perfect vocation for a person like me.

Do you ever struggle with depression as a leader?  Even if it isn’t a chronic illness for you, we all get discouraged and frustrated from time to time.  How does that affect your view of yourself in your leadership role?  Maybe, like me, you are living out the truth of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “…For when I am weak, I am strong.”

Image courtesy of:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. #1 by Ann Holmes on July 25, 2013 - 6:16 am

    Well done, Barb! I particularly like the 2nd paragraph!!! It is SO true that special needs ministry is unique! Your observation about the unpredictable nature of this ministry focus is so right on! When you write, “I think special needs ministry can be far more intensive than some other areas of service because we often meet people at a place of isolation, grief, challenge or brokenness. … This field of ministry calls us not only to be accepting and inclusive, but also highly adaptable.” and flexible you give me great encouragement this morning! It is so easy to be discouraged and weary “with the battle” when there are so many times we as leaders look at the effort we’re expending and feel surrounded by failure. It is depressing! Just another call to keep our focus on the One who called us and who also enables us!

  2. #2 by Rebecca on July 25, 2013 - 7:30 am

    Beautiful post, Barb.

  3. #3 by drgrcevich on July 25, 2013 - 9:44 am

    Barb…I’d say you’re in pretty good company. It’s probably harder to find great leaders in the Bible who DIDN’T struggle with feelings of depression and hopelessness. I suspect it’s one way God strips us of our self-sufficiency.

    Here’s a link with a number of examples…

    http://drgrcevich.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/depression-and-faith/

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