In a recent interview, Kayla Stoecklein, widow of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, shared her advice on how ministry leaders can care for their mental health. One of her main points was that it is easy for pastors to focus so much on other people that they forget to take care of themselves–and this neglect can have serious consequences.
“As a pastor, as a leader, you carry so much,” said Kayla. “And you’re trying to be everything for everyone. And you forget that you’re human too.”
Kayla’s husband, Andrew, took his own life in late August of 2018, leaving behind his wife and three young sons. Andrew was the lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, and had struggled with anxiety and depression. After he died, Kayla realized she hadn’t understood the depth of the spiritual attack and pain her husband had been experiencing.
Yet in the aftermath of that tragedy, she began praying that God would use her story to encourage others struggling with mental illness. And God has been doing exactly that. Shortly after her husband’s death, Kayla wrote, “The stories flooding in are lifting me up and holding me up…Your story is paving the way for an even bigger conversation about how the church can better come alongside people with mental illness, including pastors. God is using your story and this tragedy to do miracles in the lives of other people.”
Protect Your Mental Health in Ministry
Based on her experience as a pastor’s wife, Kayla believes that a lot of church leaders are not good at taking care of themselves in many areas of life. She says, “We often encourage others to seek counseling or exercise or rest or eat better, and we don’t actually do it ourselves.” She emphasizes that pastors must do better at self-care. Otherwise, they won’t be able to minister to other people and then, “it’s just a matter of time before, like Andrew, we hit the wall and we burn out. We must give ourselves permission and margin to heal and rest.”
One of her husband’s favorites books was called Leading on Empty, and some of the advice Kayla has to offer comes from that book. First, like anyone else, pastors need to take a sabbath, no matter how driven or hard-working they are. Andrew eventually realized this and would set aside Fridays to do activities that were life-giving to him. Kayla stresses that a sabbath is not a day for pastors to catch up on all the work they can’t normally get done, but a day for them to truly rest by doing what they enjoy.