I will never forget the first pastor I knew of who committed suicide. He was the pastor of a small rural church in Fayette County and shot himself in his carport. Just out of high school, I could not fathom how a pastor – a God-called servant of the Lord Jesus – could take his own life. And then I became one and I have a little more insight.
Recently, there has been a rash of suicides from pastors. The most high profile one was in California, where Inland Hills Church Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein killed himself back in August after struggling with anxiety and depression, leaving behind his wife and three young children. His death was shocking to many, to say the least.
How can it be that a pastor could even consider suicide, much less attempt it? Aren’t pastors above such things? Pastors are supposed to have it all together and never have any problems, right?
I’m sorry to bust your bubble, but pastors are only human. They have hang-ups and hurts and heartbreak just like everyone else does. The true difference in a pastor and the rest of the population is that pastors have a very special calling from God on their lives. They are rightfully held to a high standard morally and Scripturally but are still redeemed sinners who are always in need of a savior. Without the grace of God leading them, they can and do commit awful sins and horrendous mistakes.
I know conventional wisdom says pastors only work a day and a half a week with golf games, social parties, and mani-pedis sprinkled in between but the truth is far less glamorous. Many pastors I know work between 60 to 80 hours a week with very little time for their families, hobbies and friends. They are on call 24 hours a day like a specially trained surgeon, but without that surgeon’s income and employment benefits. Pastors are each week praying over, developing and finishing multiple sermons and Bible studies to preach and teach to God’s people. They feel great pressure to lead their churches well and grow a church for the glory of God. They consistently deal with death, disease and discouragement among their congregations as well as their parishioners’ marital issues, disagreements with each other and life disappointments. Very few times does someone visit or call their pastor just to say they are having a great day!
Pastors are under constant – and I mean constant – spiritual attack from Satan and his minions. Imagine you had a powerful enemy with vast resources at his disposal whose one goal was to destroy your life and your family – this is the daily reality of every pastor. I could go on and on about how the pastor disciples believers, wears many hats in the church and coordinates ministries and meetings. In addition, most vacations are interrupted or skipped and days off are few and far between. To go further, almost every single pastor I have ever known has been betrayed and hurt by someone in the church who was considered a close friend. Truly, there is no end to the work and stress.
After reading the above paragraphs, you may now be wondering why anyone in their right mind would even consider being a pastor! But God’s call is strong and He gives his under-shepherds great blessings as well as massive burdens. It certainly isn’t all hardships and no hallelujahs. Pastors get to see people grow in the Lord, watch families and marriages heal, experience great miracles that defy imagination, proclaim God’s Word to God’s People and see lost people come to saving faith in Jesus among other glorious things.
But please don’t think your pastor has an easy life or a plush job. Most people have very little idea what pastors have to go through and can’t understand why the leader of a church would struggle at all, much less contemplate suicide.
I am very blessed to be the Pastor at FBC Carbon Hill. I have been the pastor to our wonderful church 11 and a half years. I am ever grateful for the love and kindness my Faith Family has showered upon me and my family for over a decade. But even in the midst of my tenure as a pastor of three churches over 18 plus years, I have had my times of great discouragement and difficulty. I have had times I wanted to quit and go do something – anything – else besides leading a church. I have had nights where I couldn’t sleep, wept bitterly and smiled in front of everyone when I was so hurting inside. Pastors, you know what I am talking about.
Church, lead and love your Pastor. Hold him to a high standard, but also embrace him and his family and follow his leadership as he leads biblically, morally, compassionately, and with vision. Bless his family and his ministry. He and his family are not perfect, but who is besides Jesus? Forgive him when he makes mistakes. Encourage him. Tell him you love him. Give him a gift every now and again letting him know how much you appreciate him. Write him a letter thanking him for serving. Love his family. Take care of him and his family financially. And most of all, pray for him! You want a better pastor? Pray for the one you have instead of running him off for a new one. He needs the prayers and you need the practice!
Pastor, lead your church. If you are discouraged and depressed, get some help. Just as you counsel others, you may need counseling yourself. There is no shame for the shepherd to need a shepherd. Don’t let the enemy isolate you. I know it is very, very hard to find friends as a pastor but you need them. So make time to develop friendships. Take a day off. The world won’t fall into chaos. Learn to say no. You can’t do everything and be everywhere. Don’t feel guilty about doing something special for yourself or your family. Take some time to spend with your wife and children. Develop the spiritual disciples in your life. They will keep you sane when the whole world around you seems crazy. Cry out to the Lord. He will hear you!
Pastor, above all, please don’t take your own life. You are not perfect and God never asked you to appear perfect in front of people either. You are never going to meet everyone’s expectations. Just live in God’s grace and follow after Him. Truly, there are great mental health professionals available to you. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes of Alabama has a great counseling service called Pathways Professional Counseling. You can contact them at 1-866-991-6864. If you need help, it is available. God bless you, Pastor. Never forget, you are loved and appreciated!
Scott McCullar is pastor at FBC Carbon Hill. The church website is www.firstbaptistcarbonhill.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205)924-4145.