As I have said many times, I truly enjoy what it is I do. Each time I have done an interview or sent questions for my Point of View series, I feel like I am getting a sacred and blessed glimpse into someone’s treasured life. When I decided to speak to Pastor Steve Vanderwest, I was blown away by how honest he was about not only the importance of integrating psychology and spirituality, but he highlighted the mental health struggles of pastors.
Imagine this, a small-town boy who is a devoted dairy farmer gets called to be a pastor. Although still attached to being a farmer, he went back to school and has now been a resident pastor at his current location for ten years. When I asked him about the integration of psychology and spirituality, he first noted that he was raised in a very traditional and conservative Christian home. There was very little mention of “grace” in the sermons at the church he grew up in. Over time, he began to learn how grace has become the foundation of his Christian faith. He noted that they use to have a sign out front that read, “church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners” and this is to indicate that Churches should welcome the broken and those in need of the truth of God’s grace.
Pastor Steve: We had a sign out front, which I love that sign, the church is not a hotel for Saints, but a hospital for sinners. I love that sign. You know our goal is to be healed and to move on and get better whatever that means, I'm using some terms that might not be exact terms, but - just improve in our lives and then realize that God has given us an opportunity to live a more abundant life. That's what Jesus says, and He doesn't want us to go through life like this, in depression but we just do. I look at the Bible and Jeremiah was depressed, Moses was depressed, Elijah was depressed, and you know Moses said, "if you find any favor in your sight lord just kill me now". Jeremiah was in the cistern. Elijah went off by himself by Kerith Brook and just wanted to die. So, it's not like we're failing God, I think that's important. We're not failing because we're depressed, we're addressing an issue that we have in our lives. God made us complex beings: we're physical, we’re spiritual, we're psychological and all those things together. You know that already, but all those things together play at different places in our lives. I think for me my diet makes a difference in how depressed I am. If I eat more sugar, I can tell I'm not doing as well as when I eat less carbs. I think it certainly is connected, so I don't if that answers your questions or not. I believe we need to address issues in the church and not put them under the rug. Some of those issues aren't favorable today in our culture, you know the biblical stance on abortion and homosexual marriages are not favorable in our culture today. That doesn't mean we don't live that way, it doesn't mean we don't love those people. It doesn't mean that those people aren’t forgiven, but it does mean that this is how God calls us to live.
Sara: I think it's interesting to me because there's some aspects where when the church does address things it’s in terms of, we need to repent-
Pastor Steve: Morality
Pastor Steve: Yeah and that’s part of the salvation story that we realize we need a center and we're living the wrong way. God wants us to change our lives, but that's all-in response to what He's done for us. In Paul, and I am so glad that Paul writes in chapter 7 in Romans, "the things I want to do I don't do, the things I don't want to do, those are the things I continue to do" and what a blessing that that's in there. Just like I talked about, I think it was this past Sunday, but I was talking about being so glad that Thomas asked that question "we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?" What a great question, if he wouldn't have said that we wouldn't have Jesus' response. Paul's a lot better Christian than I am, well a lot better follower of Jesus, a lot more dedicated and he still struggled with sin. Halleluiah, thank God for Paul!
Sara: Yeah it was funny, Mary Jo was asking what one of my favorite verses was and that was one of my favorite verses from Paul.
Pastor Steve: oh, was it?
Sara: Well, working with addiction population and the Christian program that I work with and when I do public speaking, I want them to understand that just because you're a Christian doesn't mean that we're perfect.
Pastor Steve: We're not, anything but, we realize we're not and we need a savior. I believe, you know it's a lifelong process to become what God wants us to be.
Sara: When did you first have any inkling, you know that you had depression?
Pastor Steve: Well, I think it was certainly after I had cancer, after I had cancer surgery. I think your metabolism all changes after prostate cancer surgery and your outlook on life changes. Then it was a few other things that came at the same time. I had prostate cancer and I had to get it taken care of right then, the doctor said we need to do this before the next six weeks. So, I got it “taken care of”. I had been scheduled to go on a mission project with a whole bunch of high school kids and I love those kids, that's what that was probably 50 to 60 percent of my position at my former church. I work with high school kids and I think we were going to the east coast to work in some of the poor communities. I didn't go because I was recovering from surgery. It was when my kids were in high school. It was the first time I had ever experienced it before (if you want to know what it is that Pastor Steve experienced then please check out his sermon below as he explains his story) but it didn't go away.
It goes up and down. I can feel It coming. I shared a couple things on Sunday (here I will respectfully not share what our pastor shared because it was shared between pastor and parishioner). Being a pastor you're more prone to depression, so that's part of it, I think. Not now, but I was in a group of about seven pastors, when one guy shared, he was kind of coming out of the closet about taking anti-depressants. We went around the room and all of us was on some form of anti-depressant and that was a uniting thing that all of us were in this together.
Sara: Did you hear about the pastor that committed suicide? Have you got a chance to read about that?
Steve: No, I didn’t. It happens though, I mean the guy that I spoke about before, Phil Tuttle. He used to be just a small-town guy, he talked about how he would go by the big oak trees and that felt the voices say "you should just slam your car into it and finish it now. You know and he said, I try not to hear those voices. It can overflow into your family life and into your marriage. You don't get to leave it at work very often. You know we still discuss it at home, I mean like last night we got a couple phone calls and my wife wants to know what's going on. You don't get to leave that at work, so I think that's part of that. There are so many things in my life that has changed, to pick out one that's causes the depression would be hard for me to do. I think there's a confluence of things, different points and different things that come upon me. Like getting older, that discourages me. It does, though, it discourages me, I can't work like I used to work.
Pastor Steve and I continue to talk about what affects him as a pastor and how his mental health is affected. As a proxy for God, pastors are often those who get the brunt of anger from parishioners. It may not be a healthy transference of emotions, but it happens, nonetheless. Pastor Steve also admits that there are times when he speaks off his notes from the pulpit that he can have moments of doubt, leaving him to question why he says the things he does. Sometimes he will over think things and get down on himself about speaking off the cuff. We have to remember that not only are our pastor’s human, but in a profession that often asks so much of their lives. We look to our pastors for permission, we look to our pastors for rules and regulations, we look to our pastors to help guide our lives, we hold our pastors up to a higher standard than we do our police officers and they return home, never leaving us behind. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Pastor Steve Vanderwest, an honest and funny man who feels more comfortable alone in the woods than in a crowd of people. He remains as open and honest with me as he does on the pulpit with his parishioners.