A pastor died by suicide.
That’s a sentence that might cause us to look twice.
We don’t expect pastors to take their own lives. They help people with their lives.
They talk about new life. They don’t end their own.
And yet another tragedy happened. Yet another well-known pastor—Jarrid Wilson—died by suicide.
Every suicide shocks us, but when a well-known pastor (or any Christian public figure) takes his or her own life, it causes questions to arise.
Perhaps it should. Perhaps in some ways it brings us back to the reality of who pastors are and what they do. Perhaps the tragedy is compounded even more by the fact that so many of us are hearing about it on World Suicide Prevention Day.
World Suicide Prevention Day
When I woke up this morning, I hadn’t actually planned to write an article on suicide. I debated it, but decided simply to tweet later in the day about this important day.
But then I read about my friend Jarrid, a pastor and mental health advocate. So instead, I want to share some thoughts that, I hope, might be of some encouragement to pastors and church leaders.
Let me first say that many people have written many helpful things about suicide today, and they’re worthy of our reading and our attention. Some of them are by Christian leaders, and I often look to Rick and Kay Warren for what they might share. (See their comments here.)
I’ve written about the church and suicide before as well.
But there are countless resources out there written from outside the Christian community as well.
Regrettably, one of the realities of the evangelical community is our hesitancy to look outside of our community for help. But truth be told—and I can attest from this very reality in my own extended family—these are important resources that can help us as we deal with the growing issue of mental health. Notably, it is important that all of us know the number of the suicide prevention hotline, for at some point we may need to use it. (That number is 1-800-273-8255, by the way.)
We must recognize this is a very real issue for all of us, including us pastors. Pastors, after all, are people too. And sometimes there are unique reasons pastors struggle with depression (and other issues). Let me share some of those reasons.
Behind the Ministry Curtain
First, I think many times people in the church are unaware of what happens behind the curtain.
The reality is that pastors struggle psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. They struggle sometimes with physiological realities in and around depression, and becoming a follower of Jesus and becoming a pastor does not necessarily make those things disappear. Charles Spurgeon was well known for his deep bouts with suffering and depression. Wheaton College president, Philip Ryken, transparently shared about his own struggle with depression.
But the reality is, it’s hard for us to look behind the curtain. I will tell you that most Sundays I can get up in front of a group of people and speak “my best life.” But there are also Mondays and Fridays where my best life is far from my concern, and so it is with many of us.
Sometimes, the structure of church itself creates and perpetuates that very curtain that keeps pastors from being in true relationships and getting the help they need.
Not Sure Where to Turn
Second, pastors often don’t know where to turn.
As a former full-time pastor whose work now often focuses on pastors, I understand the calls in the midst of the struggle, but often I feel ill-equipped to deal with the calls that surround issues of mental illness or suicidal ideation. Like you, I partner with agencies and entities in my community that can offer pastors the help that they need. And hopefully, most communities where pastors serve have such services available.
Yet, I sometimes get calls from pastors a thousand miles away who have nobody—it seems—to help them. I wonder how this has happened. I also wonder about those who are ministry leaders who don’t make the call, who suffer in silence, afraid to reach out.
This is, in part, because pastors are often seen as those who do not need help. They’re the ones who provide the help, not the ones who need it. Yet the harsh reality is that behind that curtain are pastors who are struggling and don’t know where to turn.
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Source: Christianity Today