Pastors, Depression and Suicide

This past weekend, a young head pastor from an influential church in Southern California took his own life. From all outward appearances, Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino had it all: a successful ministry, a photogenic family. And yet, he struggled with depression.

Please join me in praying for Andrew’s wife and three sons. My heart breaks for them.

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Pastor Andrew Stoecklein and family

Sometimes people have asked me questions like: “I see the statistics on pastors, about burnout and how many pastors leave the ministry every year. What is it about being a pastor that makes it more difficult than other work?”

My main answer to that question has usually been that what makes it hard is the personal aspect. Pastoring people is highly relational, and with that comes high highs and low lows.

It has been said that in order to be a pastor, one must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.

Another pastor summed it up this way:

In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savey, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation at any given moment, you are given a two out of five star rating on Google.

I certainly don’t want to come across as whining or complaining. Pastors get to do the greatest thing in the world: to love people, teach them and lead them towards Jesus. We get to be there in the most crucial moments of people’s lives, and minister the gospel to them. We get to lead people towards the building up of God’s Kingdom and the spreading of the message of ultimate life, hope and joy!

If ever we feel that we are used or taken for granted by people – isn’t that what we signed up for? Isn’t that what Jesus himself experienced, and part of what made him so great? Isn’t that what it means to get to “share in his sufferings”? (See Philippians 3:8-10)

But in light of this high profile suicide of a well-known pastor, I think it is worth talking about, and taking the opportunity to encourage you to pray for your pastor and look for ways to encourage them.

Here is a good article written on this subject from Thom Rainer: 5 reasons pastors get depressed (and why they don’t talk about it)

Finally, whoever you are, if you are struggling with depression, please reach out for help.
(Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)

 

9 thoughts on “Pastors, Depression and Suicide

  1. This must be one of your saddest and more important posts. I have some questions. Who is talking about people caring for pastors? Who are pastors talking to about their anxieties, fears and struggles who can walk with them? Who is asking pastors about biblical sabbath practices? Who is helping pastors understand proper boundaries? Who is helping pastors who, at root, are suffering because they have acquired a works theology that says if they don’t do it it won’t get done and the kingdom will fall apart? Who is helping pastors and their leaders see the need for regular sabbatical practices? Who is helping pastors who can’t sleep, drink too much and seldom rest? Who?
    Nick, You’ve got a voice in your circles, I hope you’ll spread this conversation.

    1. These are very important questions Tom. I’m thankful that you have responded to God’s call on your life to minister to ministers. I know friends of mine have benefited from it greatly. Thanks for bringing up these questions.

  2. I reacently watched a documentary about Mother Teresa’s life called “The Letters “by National Geographic. When the Catholic church was researching whether or not this devoted woman should be a saint or not they discovered letters she had written to her Christian mentor. The priest had been sworn not to ever show the letters to anyone. Mother Teresa didn’t want it known that she sometimes felt God had deserted her. In these letters she expressed her feelings of sadness at the overwhelming job God had called her to. She wondered where God was, and why others didnt see the horror of the human conditions in Calcutta . At the end of her life, the order that she created to do work for the poorest of the poor in India was the largest New Order of Catholic nuns in the world. There were lots of other statistics about the work that this Catholic order of women, led by Mother Teresa’s example I can’t quote here. God is always with us he will never forsake us. That is a God promise. But we just might not be able to see the hope in it, or feel the help in it, or bear the burden sometimes. It’s God’s battle!

    1. That’s fascinating to hear that someone of the stature of Mother Theresa struggled with discouragement to that extent. How good is it though that she had someone to talk to. Oftentimes that isn’t the case, and many leaders simply accept the fact that “it’s lonely at the top” rather than reaching out and sharing that burden with someone else.
      “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

  3. My heart breaks for his family, especially for the children who will grow up with the burden of a father who killed himself. May the Holy Spirit comfort them.

    It is of concern to me that most of the commentary from churchmen (i.e., clergy and those closely working in a religious environment) are immediately attributing the suicide to the strain of pastoral leadership. That is definitely a POSSIBILITY, but it’s not a certainty. Perhaps he felt trapped by his family circumstances or unfulfilled at home and church. Perhaps there was a hidden sin that was becoming too much to bear, or had the risk of becoming public.

    I’m a clergyman. I’ve battled milder depression for a time. I’ve been beaten up by my brothers in ministry. I’ve experienced lack of support for and indifference to my pastoral work from my wife. I’ve contemplated the horrible decision that Andrew Stoecklein has made. I don’t think it’s fair to attribute the source of my thoughts to pastoral strain and depression. Rather, it’s the sense of being “stuck,” having no way up or out short of blowing up a family.

      1. Thanks for approving the comment.

        I often don’t think people (pastors and laypersons alike) comprehend the enormity of maintaining a pastor’s public image. No pastors desire to be fake, but we also know that we must not give excuses for lousy attendance, halfhearted giving, and so on. Some failures lead to people claiming your house isn’t in order. The “advice” from a clearly bitter and unheard of blog show how this plays out. https://rottenpastorswife.wordpress.com/

        Maybe it was pastoral strain that led to Rev. Stoeklein’s grave act, but I really think there was more to it than that.

      2. More information has come out about Andrew and what he was going through. A big factor was the loss of his father, from whom he took over the church at a young age. Another factor seems to have been the pressure of being a pastor. I don’t know if there were any chemical imbalances or other factors, but there certainly is a lot of pressure and personal pain involved with being a pastor. My purpose in this post wasn’t mainly to diagnose what caused Andrew to take his life, as much as to answer the question of what I feel makes pastoring a uniquely difficult vocation.

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