A long-term member of our church approached me just before service this week with a serious look on his face. Every pastor has had that moment. Service is about to begin, what is this about? He has never done this before, so I honestly didn’t have a sense of what was on his mind.
He proceeded to ask if I knew a particular pastor in Denver – there was a connection between us and some mutual friends. I didn’t, but he pastored a good church. He then told me that years ago the pastor had been in an accident, and ever since had battled depression. I got a sinking feeling about what he was going to tell me.
Sure enough, the pastor committed suicide last week. It is the second incident like this I have heard of in the last 3 weeks.
What came next was one of those moments that pastors have too few of. He then told me, “It seems to me that most pastors go along doing a really good job, but only hear the criticism and negative things.” I told him that this is often the case. He continued, “I just want to tell you that I think you are doing a great job.”
First of all, people should know how special a moment like that can be for a pastor. I have a very kind and supportive congregation and I am on great terms with this church member, but his simple affirmation, prompted by a shock he received, was incredible.
Many pastors don’t have regular affirmation or the support of friends in their churches, and the pressures of contemporary ministry can be overwhelming. Criticism, especially criticism over time, can play into a pastor’s natural fears and insecurities and can lead to devastating consequences. Suicide among pastors is a real thing – maybe a bigger deal than you may know.
If you are a pastor: There are no trite answers to depression, deep anxiety, or suicidality. I know that the church world often expects pastors to respond well to trite answers, but they simply may not understand the kinds of things we juggle on a week-to-week basis. But, please, make sure you are making connections with good, mature Christian friends. Make sure you find places to ground your self-worth outside of the walls of the church or the performance of last Sunday morning. Please make sure your home life has your attention and your prayer. And please be bold enough to seek the help of professionals as often as is right and wise for you to do so.
If you are a church goer: The job of being a pastor is not what it once was. Very few individuals who graduate seminary or Bible College to be pastors are still pastors even 10 years later. If you can imagine the expectations of CEO leadership, Super Bowl coaching, professional therapist, and mystic monk wrapped into one, that’s a bit what a pastor feels is expected of them on a regular basis. If you attend church expecting to fulfill your role as the church (Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31), your pastor(s) may actually be energized over time. Please pray for them and their family. Please avoid the childish and petty criticisms that Christians are infamous for. Please know that your health and growth is the greatest gift you can give your pastor and your church.