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How Churches Can Help Prevent Pastors' Suicides

9. Build solid walls around his glass house to ensure a measure of privacy.

Some people think a pastor is on a pedestal. More often, they feel like they live in a glass house where every decision, every choice of attire, every purchase is being evaluated by 50 to 5,000 people.

The feelings are often valid. In my last pastorate, I enjoyed as much freedom as one could possibly imagine, yet there was still a feeling of every move being watched and evaluated. It is the nature of the beast, and churches should be motivated to protect their pastor’s privacy.

10. Provide for your pastor’s emotional health.

Ken Miller, counselor and national consultant at the North American Mission Board, wrote to me:

I think that pastor suicide prevention starts with churches that are willing to have a grace culture that recognizes and makes it OK for someone to say that they’re emotionally sick.

Let’s face it. Emotional sickness is a part of being human. But churches, by and large, don’t know how to handle emotional sickness. Most churches can’t comprehend that their pastor would be capable of emotional sickness, much less they would have suicidal ideation or be planning suicide.

Pastors are susceptible to emotional sickness like anybody else. A church that recognizes that and provides for their pastor’s emotional health with personal retreats, sabbaticals and paying for therapy will go a long way to decreasing suicidal ideation, planning or completion.

However, emotional health ultimately lies with the pastor.

Too many pastors lack self-awareness and the willingness engage in self-care. Chaplains have been doing self-awareness and self-care pretty well for a long time. Pastors, not so much.

I don’t think the the evangelical church or my denomination, Southern Baptists, do an adequate job of encouraging self-awareness and self-care. Since we don’t value or promote self-care, pastors emotional lives crash, and the church declares them damaged goods no longer fit for leadership.

When a pastor is given the opportunity to engage in self-care, the likelihood of emotional crashes decreases significantly. If denominations and local churches provided more education and opportunities for self-care, the suicide rate of pastors would decrease significantly. That’s because the factors that feed suicide like anger, anxiety, depression, identity issues and addictions would be addressed before hopelessness sets in.

There are some people that struggle with depression throughout their life. Instead of being self-righteous and condescending toward them, how about we recognize that emotional sickness is part of the fall and address it holistically and redemptively instead of being so judgmental? We prescribe spiritual disciplines for spiritual health, why not prescribe retreats, sabbaticals and therapy sessions for our pastor’s emotional health? It seems to me that 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is a great verse to begin dialogue around wholeness that the Gospel was intended to provide. I think it’s a much better approach to provide an environment and culture of prevention rather than damage control.

I personally went through an emotional crash a few years ago. I would have gone through far less pain had I been more self-aware. Me being part of a church that condemned emotional sickness rather than offering opportunities for emotional health didn’t help either. Instead, I crashed, and the church I pastored and my family suffered, too. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have everything we need to do a better job of providing emotional healing and health to the body of Christ.

Suicide among pastors is troubling to the ‘nth degree. Churches, let us do all we can do in ministering to those who minister faithfully to us. 

More on depression:

From me: Depression: When the black dog howls.

From Randy Alcorn: Walking through Depression: God is with you.

Follow-up post by Ken Miller: 6 easy ways to contribute to your pastor’s emotional health

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Marty Duren is a Christ follower, husband, father, writer, social media strategist and general provocateur living in Hermitage, TN, just east of Nashville.