I read a heartbreaking article in Christian Today about Pastor Teddy Parker. How he had tragically killed himself with a "self-inflicted gunshot wound" this past Sunday.
It breaks my heart to see a fellow pastor think that death is the only way out of whatever they are facing. According to pastorburnout.com, quoting a New York Times story from 2010, "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could." It goes on to say that 13% of pastors are divorced; 25% don't know where to turn for help when dealing with a personal conflict; 33% feel burned out within the first five years; 33% say that the ministry is a hazard to their family life; 45% say that they've experienced depression or burnout severe enough to make them need time away from the job; and 57% would do another job if they were able to move on. 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month (I've heard as high as 1,700) due to burnout, conflict or moral failure.
First of all, do I believe that the figures are true? No. I think that they are higher. My personal experience is that any minister who has served any decent amount of time has had to deal with most of this at one time or another. Some got through it and some didn't. So now what?
#1 - PASTORS - I know what is going on in your mind. You are in a rock and a hard place. The people who you wish you could talk to - you can't trust. The people you can trust - you can't talk to. This is a evil cycle that will eventually be your downfall. Here is what I suggest. Find someone who you can talk to that is a friend. Someone who you can trust. I know that you will have to take a risk, but it's one that you have to do. Start the conversation off by asking. "What I am about to tell you is confidential, you can tell no one - ever, unless you think I am going to commit suicide. Can you do this? If you can't, that's ok. Just tell me the truth." TALK TO SOMEONE. If you need to get professional help - then seek out the guidance of a Christian counselor. Find someone who believes in Jesus and believes that He is the answer to the problem. I'm not talking about praying harder or reading more of your Bible. (Don't stop doing that.) I'm talking about someone who will agree with you by faith that there is a light at the end of your tunnel.
#2 - PEOPLE - Do you attend church? Do you know your pastor? Do you pray for your pastor? Are you a help or a pain in their neck? Your pastor isn't there for you to abuse. They are not there to be your kids personal chauffeur. They are not there to pick up your dry cleaning. They are not there to do what ever you want. If you see your pastor as "replaceable at any time" or "not essential to the future of your church" you might be a source of their pain. Make sure that you support them as best you can. Tithe. Send them birthday cards and remember their anniversary. Love their spouse and their kids. Don't stereotype them and put expectations on them that are unreasonable. Tell them that you love them. Help out where you can. Help the church run smoother and more successfully. Find out what the vision of the church is and buy into it. Be a cheerleader, not a critic. You have no idea how much pressure this takes off of your pastor's shoulders.
#3 - LEADERSHIP - Do you protect your pastor? That's your job! Your pastor is probably willing to take a bullet for you. Are you willing to take one for them? Do you protect their level of income? I didn't say that you were going to make them rich. But can your pastor's family afford to build their life just like you want to? Don't take anything away from them that you are not willing to give up yourself. Protect their future. Invest in their retirement. Invest in their kid's college fund. Invest in their personal skills. Help them grow as a leader and pastor. Send them to relevant conferences or even help them get a masters degree in their field of expertise. Protect them from people who would suck the life out of them. You know who they are, and usually leadership is happy to let the pastor deal with it. Here is a test. After the pastor has had to spend time with this person, how do they feel? Are they wiped out? Are they able to carry on with the rest of the day? Don't let people drain your pastor dry. Don't let your pastor struggle. They have enough to struggle with. If you have an answer to their need - step up and get it done.
My prayers are with the Parker family tonight. I wish I could turn back time and fix what has been done, but none of us can. However, if you feel like he does - don't give up. Get help. If you can help - then pick up the phone right now and call your pastor. Say something like this to them.
"Pastor, I love you and your family. I wanted you to know that I support you and I am praying for you. I know that what you do isn't easy. If I ever cause you pain, will you - with love - come and tell me about it? I don't know if I can do anything about it, but I will try. If there is anything I can do for you, ask me. I don't know if I will always be able to do it - but I will really try. I know that there are many areas in the church that need help. I would like to sit down with you and find the best place where I can serve Jesus and be a help to you. Could we do that in the near future?"
The following will happen. You will hear a long silence. You might hear a thud (as they pass out and hit the floor). You might hear them stutter and fall all over themselves. You might hear an ear piercing PRAISE THE LORD! But just wait for it and then this will happen. They will say something like, "OK, let's talk then." You've caught them totally off guard and quite honestly, most pastors never hear these words. They just don't know what to do. If they ask, why? Tell them this. I read a blog about how a pastor committed suicide because apparently he couldn't handle the pressure anymore. I decided right then and there I would never let my pastor ever get to that point of desperation.
Make the call.