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‘I Feel so Distant from God’: Popular D.C. Pastor Confesses He’s Weary, Announces Sabbatical

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After preaching more than 5,000 sermons, one popular D.C.-area megachurch pastor admitted he needs to take a break from his career in ministry.


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Tré Goins-Phillips

Preaching a sermon he titled Selah on Dec. 1, the Rev. Howard-John Wesley made the vulnerable admission: “I am tired in my soul.”

Wesley, who has served as pastor of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, for 11 years, told his congregation he would be “walking away from every responsibility I have as pastor” from Jan. 1 until April 1.

“There’s a weight a pastor bears in their soul and their emotions that is inescapable,” explained the 47-year-old preacher. “There’s not been a day in these past 11 years that I have not woken up and knew that there’s something I had to do for the church, that I have to be available for a call, that I journey with people through the highs and the lows of life, through the great moments of celebration and in the valley of death.”

Wesley went on to tell his 10,000 church members he is tired “in a way that one night of sleep ain’t gonna fix.”

The Virginia-based pastor argued it is biblically important to take time to rest.

“The enemy, in an attempt to block your holiness, wants to remove rest from your life and push you back into slavery,” he said. “And here is the greatest deception of the devil—to convince you that the busier you are the more important you are. That the more you got to do, the more high up on the food chain you are. That if you’re working yourself to the bone, somehow, you are glorifying God. And God says you are not being holy if you don’t know how to rest.”

Wesley’s words echo those of Texas megachurch pastor Robert Morris, who told Faithwire in November it’s important for every believer to follow God’s model in Scripture to take a weekly day of rest.

Morris noted acknowledging the Sabbath—a time of rest—is mandated by God in the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.

The enemy, in an attempt to block your holiness, wants to remove rest from your life and push you back into slavery.

“If we will follow his principles in Scripture,” Morris said of the Lord, “then he’ll provide for us. … If we live by the principles [in the Bible], there are blessings and there are benefits, and there are consequences if we don’t.”

For a while, Wesley didn’t recognize that principle. Instead, he admitted, “I fell prey to the satanic trick that busyness honors God.”

The passing of California pastor Jarrid Wilson, who died by suicide in September, has prompted a lot of people to reflect on the stress ministers face and the mental health issues that often impact their lives.

In fact, in mid-November, Wilson’s wife, Juli, held an event at Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The service, which was put together by Anthem of Hope, the nonprofit the Wilsons founded in 2016 to help those struggling with mental health, was the first such gathering since Wilson ended his life.

The purpose of the event, Juli Wilson told Faithwire, was to “share some hope” and remind people that pastors “are people, too.”

“We all have struggles we deal with, regardless of what our calling is or what we do for a living,” she said, arguing there’s “a stigma” surrounding pastors admitting they struggle with their mental health. “Just because you deal with depression or anxiety doesn’t mean you have a lack of faith and that you can’t be a solid believer and have everything in your heart right and your head can still have some issues.”

She added it is past time for Christians to “step up” and “get serious” about the way we address mental health in the church.