This week I want to draw everyone’s attention to an issue that many have likely not considered. Last week, Andrew Stoecklein, a pastor in Chico, California, committed suicide. You can learn more about what happened by clicking here.
It is also highly unlikely that you are aware that the title of my dissertation was “Psychological and Spiritual Well-being Among United Methodist Clergy.” If you need some reading that will put you to sleep in a matter of milliseconds, I’ll be happy to forward it to you. What struck me most during the entire dissertation process was not the data that I collected, but the interviews I conducted with about a dozen or so clergy in preparation for my dissertation. The thing that struck me most of all was how lonely pastors are. EVERY. SINGLE. PASTOR. Unsolicited, every pastor I talked to brought up the topic of loneliness. The pastors had the sense that some congregants kept them at arm’s length because they perceived them to be “too holy,” or, as one congregant recently put it to me, “I consider you a professional Christian.” Pastors sometimes had a sense that they were not holy enough for other congregants. Heaven forbid that a pastor should hit is finger with a hammer on a mission trip and let a four letter word rip. This loneliness led to an incredible sense of isolation for many pastors.
Add to the sense of isolation the sense that many pastors think they cannot please anyone in the church. For instance, a day rarely passes that I don’t get a complaint about something—and I serve a congregation of only 120 regular attenders. Couple this with the people-pleasing tendencies of many pastors and it’s no wonder that many pastors are depressed or anxious and suicidal.
You may not have considered the difficulty of being a pastor. I know, I know. Every job has it’s challenges. But pastoring has challenges that are unique. Even management guru Peter Drucker wondered why anyone would want to be a pastor given the forces that work against pastoral success. I don’t share this to be self-serving, although I am sure that my motive at some level is self-serving. I would ask you to read this article from Ethics Daily, ask your pastor to read it, and have a discussion with him or her about it. Your pastor needs you. He or she needs your support, not blind allegiance. He or she needs your reflective critique, not reflexive criticism. Most all, he or she needs you to follow their lead in building God’s kingdom in the place where you have both been called.
I am blessed with fairly decent mental health. I am fairly self-aware. I have a good support network. I love being a pastor. God seems to be blessing my ministry. I would rather be doing nothing else on Earth (or any other planet for that matter). This is the purpose for which God placed me on Earth. I sincerely believe that God allowed me to have such a circuitous “career” to prepare me for my current place of service. I am grateful for the response of the congregation of Ocoee Oaks to my leadership. I hope that we have many years of fruitful ministry together.
I care very deeply about pastors. As demonstrated by my dissertation topic, I have long been concerned about who “ministers to ministers.” My hope is that Pastor Stoecklein’s death will not be in vain, but raise awareness of the mental health needs of pastors. For my pastor friends and many, many more friends who have pastors, I hope that you will have honest conversations about mental health.
If you are a pastor in need, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
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