RNS—Suicide: When pastors’ silent suffering turns tragic

Posted by Kendall Harmon

What kind of personal pain would cause a 42-year-old pastor to abandon his family, his calling and even life itself? Members of a Baptist church here are asking that question after their pastor committed suicide in his parked car in September.

Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.

Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.

Makes the heart sad. Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryDeath / Burial / FuneralsMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchPsychologySuicideReligion & Culture

Posted October 30, 2009 at 8:31 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. CBH wrote:

And to think that most Baptists do not pray for the dead.  Between the “bridge and the river” God would have heard all of those prayers for our beloved but
ill.  Stress alone can cause a profound chemical imbalance; we can only try to imagine the stress they bear up under.  Unchecked depression is a terminal illness for which God will have mercy.  I hope He will have mercy on us as we fail those in mental agony.  This is so sad, indeed.

October 30, 9:08 am | [comment link]
2. Jim the Puritan wrote:

It is important for pastors (I’m talking male pastors here) to have an accountability group of other godly Christian men both inside and outside the church (e.g. pastors at other churches), whom the pastor considers friends and to whom the pastor can go for counsel and support and who are tasked with watching over and regularly staying in touch with the pastor to see how he is doing.  Everything that happens in the group is subject to strict confidentiality so the pastor can be open with them.  A number of evangelical churches have this mechanism in place for their pastors (or it’s done through the pastor’s seminary).  Of course it doesn’t always work, Ted Haggard is probably the primary example most recently.  From what I have heard, one of the major problems in that situation is that Haggard became very isolated from everyone else and that’s when problems can really develop.

The other thing is that you have to realize is that the more effective your pastors and church are in spreading the gospel, the more the pastors are going to be under spiritual attack from the Enemy.  It is very very important to have a group of people specifically and regularly praying for the pastors of your church.  It can be part of the church’s Prayer Ministry, and it shoud also be one of the duties of the vestry, elders or deacons (depending on your denomination).

But no doubt about it, a pastor’s life is stressful and I know I could never do it.  I guess the one time it came home to me is when I was in a men’s Bible study with our senior pastor, and around 8 pm his phone went off.  It was a call from the hospital from the family of a young high schooler who had just committed suicide because of a breakup with a girlfriend.  I’m not even sure they went to our church, but he was the one they first called.  He just stood up, explained very briefly what had happened, and said “I have to go now to be with the family.”  I couldn’t handle getting those phone calls.

October 30, 3:28 pm | [comment link]
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