He appears to have it all together, with his smile and happy personality. As he strolls through the church he is very careful not to leave out a single person with his good morning greetings. But inside his heart looms sadness. Who is this man?
He could be your pastor. Perhaps the loneliest person in the church.
My friend, Ed Underwood says, I don’t think Jesus ever meant for His under shepherds to be the loneliest person in church on a Sunday morning. The truth of the matter is… statistics from several reliable sources tell us that at least 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy.
In late August, Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church (Chino, Ca) took his own life. He was a young, successful and a beloved pastor and it rocked the Christian community. Paul Valo, Sr. Pastor at Christ Church of Orlando wrote on his facebook…….
“My heart is broken for his wife and three children, as well as for his church family and community. Depression is real and pastors are not exempt or defective who experience it…In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation at any given moment, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Wow! We have reduced the ministry to star ratings on Google! Let me recommend that you pray for your pastor and support your church faithfully! You’ll probably never realize what they walk through privately.”
Underwood continues…. Many reasons contribute to the jarring statistics on pastoral discouragement, depression, and even suicide. We’ve created such a pastor-as-superstar culture that there’s little room for failure.
In November, a Georgia pastor killed himself in between Sunday services. Larrinecia Sims Parker, the wife of the Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., found the pastor in the driveway of their home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. How sad.
Pastors continually tell us that leading a congregation is difficult and very lonely at times. It’s hard to have genuine friends that you can be honest without fear of being judged.
Frank Page of the Southern Baptist Convention says, “Suicide and mental health are real, and they cross all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are cultures who struggle to talk about it. We need churches that are places with people who are extra sources of grace.”
As my wife Betty and I discussed the issue of pastoral suicide, she said, “why don’t you ask your closest pastor friends if they have ever entertained the thought of suicide?” ………so, I texted and messaged about 10 of my close friends and I was literally blown away with the responses.
My phone started ringing immediately and texts and messages were quick in response. Most of them very transparently shared their own stories as well as others with whom they knew who were going through what some refer to as “the dark night of the soul.” Here are some of their comments:
There were certain times when dying would have been easier than living because of my loneliness and overwhelming pastoral problems.
I was one hour from ending it all and even had written my 12-page letter of escape……. only by God’s grace am I alive today.
There have been times over the years I have felt inadequate in my calling….
I have battled depression for years, unknowingly, including thoughts of suicide…. thanking God for intervention each time.
Another pastor friend said, don’t know if it was spiritual warfare or vocational ministry, suicide became an option…
No, not suicide but definitely considered leaving ministry.
No, never considered it but I do believe in situational depression.
Yes, never to the point of action, but to the despair that I could see it lurking down the road.
I too can say that there was a two-year period of time in my own life where I hit the bottom in discouragement and depression. I was very conscious of my condition……in my mind I continually heard that voice from Jerry Falwell Sr. proclaiming, “I have never known God to use a discouraged person” so I fought it, but the truth of the matter is: I WAS discouraged, and very lonely. I was able to escape it principally because I had a loving wife and three adult kids who were closely monitoring my day to day attitude and had noticed a downward spirit.
How can we help our Pastors?
- If its mental health (and sometimes it is) medical attention needs to be sought.
- We must diligently pray every day for our pastor (Spiritual warfare is real and alive).
- Pastors must have a group or at least one person with whom he can trust and bear his struggles and the stuff in his heart. Becoming open, real, transparent and vulnerable are his ways to fight this battle. Pastors must not become isolated and do life alone.
- Congregations must make sure their pastors are protected and encouraged, and well rested by allowing them to take ample time away from the church.
- Let me encourage you to check on your pastor.
- Read additional article Suicide: Churches awaken to persistent crisis