Pastors and Suicide

pastors suicide

This isn’t what I had planned to write about today. Not at all. I had other thoughts, even a cool graphic to include, but then I went on facebook and saw this from a writer friend, Jim Watkins:

Three well-known pastors have committed suicide in the past 30 days!

November 12, 2013
(ChristianPost.com) A Georgia pastor and father of two who once confessed that sometimes “I don’t feel like God is hearing me” killed himself outside his home while his wife, kids and 800 member congregation waited for him to show up for church on Sunday. According to 13 WMAZ, Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., 42, of Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., was discovered by his wife, Larrinecia Parker, 38, in the driveway of their Warner Robins house with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

December 6, 2013
(ChristianPost.com) Apostle Ron Wilson, founder and lead pastor of the Full Gospel Christian Assemblies International church in Hazel Crest, Ill., says his church has been “devastated” by the news that one of their pastors died after he shot himself in the head while grieving over his wife, who died suddenly last December.

December 10, 2013
(ChristianPost.com) Isaac Hunter, 36, founder and former pastor of Summit Church in Orlando, Fla., died Tuesday of an apparent suicide, according to local news reports. Hunter wrote [in a suicide note], “I fear I will love them better in my absence. As I have become what I never wished to be, a burden on those I love the most.”

I cannot tell you how much this breaks my heart. What’s worse is that these three cases are not some cataclysmic anomaly. These things happen all the time. Go ahead. Do a quick google search on “pastors suicide.” I did it to verify the facts above and received over 2.3 million results in 0.26 seconds.

This is a real problem and we have to do something about it.

This past Sunday our pastor spoke from 1 Thessalonians 5. The sermon centered on unity, on respecting leaders and supporting those in authority within the church. Click here to listen to it online. It was a great sermon, one people don’t hear often. At least not within the churches I’ve known.

Pastors never want to appear weak. They rarely ask for prayer or reveal their doubts or vulnerable spots, but they need our prayers. Preaching about it likely feels or appears self-serving, but the truth behind a sermon like that cannot be ignored. We all need prayers, but those who are in full-time ministry need them more. They are visible. They are openly criticized. Their jobs depend on what people think of them and how they live their lives.

What other profession is so holistic, so all-encompassing? Everyone gets to go home eventually. Everyone gets to “shut off” work, at least for a time … except for parents and pastors.

They are open to attacks we know nothing about. Emotional. Spiritual. Physical. And to whom may they confess all this? To whom may they seek refuge? Sure, they have God and He is all-sufficient, but when was the last time you were fully content to talk to God about your problems and no one else? Our leaders are human.

God is God and He is all that we need. This is true. However, it is also true that God created us as relational beings who thrive in community. Leadership is a very lonely position. We cannot abandon our leaders there.

What can we do?

1: PRAY.

Pray for your pastors. Pray for your church leaders. Pray for your missionaries. Pray for one another.

2: TALK.

We need to create safe places to share and be real and talk about the tough issues. Divorce. Abuse. Addiction. Depression. Sexuality. Pornography. Suicide. These are critical issues that the church must address with sincerity, vulnerability and Truth.

Listen, I know it’s scary and we all would rather pretend these (and other) things don’t exist, but THEY DO. Here’s the good news: Our God is bigger than all these issues. He is bigger than all the things we fear. He is bigger and He is greater and He’s not afraid for us to talk about them.

“One great remedy against all manner of temptation, great or small, is to open the heart and lay bare its suggestions, likings, and dislikings to some spiritual adviser; for … the first condition which the Evil One makes with a soul, when he wants to seduce it, is silence.”

— Francis de Sales (France/1567–1622)

3: BE INFORMED.

When you talk, do not talk out of ignorance. Listen first, observe, learn, and then talk.

4: ENCOURAGE.

We’re all very, very good at being critical and voicing our complaints. Let’s try to voice encouragement more. Send a note or an email thanking your church leaders for all that they do. Treat them to lunch once in a while. Drop off fresh coffee or gift cards for no specific reason. Let them know what you like in what they’re doing and saying. Assure them that you’ve got their backs.

What else is there?

I am no expert on suicide or mental illness. I know my personal experiences with abuse and self-destructive thought patterns, but little else. Others, however, have much more to say. Here are a few links worth the read.

YOUR TURN: What did I miss? How else may we support one another and, specifically, those in leadership within our churches?

 

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