UPDATE 9/11/2019 – In light of yet another high profile pastoral suicide this week, I thought it appropriate to repost this article with a couple updates and revisions. Also, I’d like to note that I’m not directly implying that pastoral ministry within itself is a cause of suicide, or that people’s treatment of their pastor somehow creates suicidal tendencies. This is not a rebuke of parishioners, neither am I blaming people for a pastor’s own decision. I simply believe that some of the unhealthy trends in pastoral culture today can exacerbate preexisting internal struggles with suicide. That is what this article is meant to address.
I just got word of a young, fellow senior pastor who committed suicide on Friday (Update: Another young pastor, Jarrid Wilson of Harvest Christian Fellowship, committed suicide this week on 9/10/19). This breaks my heart for so many reasons. I don’t know the source of this man’s pain or the reasons for his actions, but it has brought to mind something that I have been long burdened by.
Our culture has created a celebrity pastor model that no human being can effectively measure up to (for more on that, please see my more recent article on pastoral culture). While pastoral pressures were probably not the sole factor in these suicides, they certainly may have added unnecessary extra weights to already plagued minds. Christian, please remember that your pastors are just people. They too are sheep that are part of the same flock as you. They are men who are being sanctified and are doing their best, by God’s grace, to shepherd the flock of God and be an honorable example of Jesus. Unfortunately, pastors also make human mistakes. They fight with their spouse, they aren’t always great fathers, they battle with temptation and pride… and they are afraid of vulnerability. They fear being eaten alive by the sheep if they disappoint them in any way. Instead of dealing with the criticisms of nonunderstanding people, they instead put on a face and press through their struggle… alone and isolated. This is unhealthy and often ends in tragedy. I’m not excusing the blatant sin of some pastors, hypocrisy from the pulpit, or the responsibility of a pastor to be honest and maintain his integrity. There are certainly high biblical standards for the office of overseer that must be taken seriously. I will say, however, that the Instagram, success-driven, celebrity culture in addition to unrealistic human expectations that have been laid upon pastors today are heavier than what many are able to carry.
If we are honest, we can clearly see that there has been an unbiblical precedent set for today’s ministers. Yes, pastors need to take heed to their character and doctrine, but people need to pray for, support, submit to, and show grace toward their pastors. As a pastor, it’s time to speak up. Not merely for my own sake, but for the sake of those who have given their lives to the calling of leading, teaching, and shepherding God’s people. It’s a hard job and not for the faint of heart. There are unspoken battles, intense spiritual warfare, and unbelievable mental and emotional weights that every pastor carries. The culture has to change both internally within a pastors heart, and externally within our churches.
Instead of idolizing your pastor, support him. Instead of criticizing his every move, pray for him. Instead of demanding from him, empathize with Him. Instead of assuming the worst, have a conversation with him. To those reading, please don’t hear my words as a harsh rebuke or blame. I merely say these things to bring light to an important issue, and offer encouragement and insight on how you can be a blessing to those who lead, teach, and shepherd you. And to my fellow pastors, don’t hide in the shadows. You need accountability, and you need friends. Face it, you need the body of Christ just as much as they need you.
Fellow Christians, please join me in praying for and encouraging your pastors as I also pray for the pastors in my life. And please pray for the families, friends, and churches of these young pastors. The ripple effects are many on will be ongoing. If you made it this far, I ask you to share this and help encourage pastors everywhere. #Pray4Pastors