Last week was a tough week. The week began by discovering the Ahmed Arberry video on Twitter which displayed a young black male getting murdered on a Georgia street while jogging because he “looked like a robber” according to the shooter; a sobering reminder that racism in America is alive and well. Then on Friday I found out via Twitter (seems like this is where I find out everything these days) that Darrin Patrick, pastor of Seacoast Church in South Carolina and vice president of Acts 29 church planting network, took his own life Thursday. Patrick had a wife and four children, please pray for them.
The heartache from last week’s news, specifically about the passing of “pastor DP”, has propelled me to meditate on the question, “why are so many pastors taking their own lives?” I am not going to attempt to be a scholar in mental health, but I do believe there are two essential practices local churches as a whole and pastors can implement that can help prevent these horrific events from occurring.
First, church members need to appreciate their pastor and offer encouragement not just during “Pastor’s Appreciation Month” but throughout the whole year. Secondly, pastors need to be reminded that they are not the savior of their congregations. We are not called to carry the full load of the congregation’s broken relationships, struggles with sin, and day-to-day issues. Indeed Christians ought to “carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), but the pastors’ primary aim is to equip the saints to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
As to the first point, church members often wrongly view their pastor(s) as untouchable by sin or bullet proof to the world’s problems. Therefore, many congregants unload their personal problems on the pastor without thinking about his own personal mental and spiritual health. To make matters worse, pastors rarely are shown gratitude for their labor. Humble pastors do not do ministry for a pat on the back, but it is certainly biblical and Christlike to honor those who shepherd your soul (1 Timothy 5:17).
Many folks assume pastors have it easy Monday through Friday, not realizing the amount of time it takes to prepare two to three faithfully exegetical sermons, conduct members meetings, attend counseling sessions, perform funerals or weddings, or simply attend to taxing administrative work. Not to mention bi-vocational pastors who have a full-time job outside the church. They do all this while feeling the weight of leading their congregations in a growing relationship with the Lord.
We also forget how deeply relational being a pastor is. Because of this reality, many pastors experience deep insecurity and anxiety when members leave for another church, complain about the color of the carpet, or go 3 weeks without showing up at services. You may not think the pastor notices your absence, but he does. It is a sad reality that some churches think a simple gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings and a pat on the back in October (Pastor’s Appreciation Month) is sufficient for his labor or shows biblical gratitude. Brothers and sisters, your pastor must be reminded just as much as you that his identity is not in his performance but in the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. If you would like to encourage your pastor today, let him know how his ministry is growing you in the Lord and thank him for his labor. After all, “anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Proverbs 12:25).
Now to the pastor, you are not alone. As one who has been in ministry for 6 years both in youth and associate roles, I know how lonely ministry can be. I also know that what I have experienced in 6 years pales in comparison to the experiences many of you have as you have labored for the gospel for decades. What I would like to remind you is what Paul reminded to a young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1 which says, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Remember that you are the under-shepherd to the Great Shepherd who is faithful to never leave your nor forsake you, and by His grace He will finish what He started in you and supply every need you have (Philippians 1:6; 4:19). Remember that what people need is not a perfect pastor, but a perfect Savior. Hide behind the cross of Christ in a life of repentance and point people to the Rock that is higher than yourself (Psalm 61:2). In doing this you too will be able to rest and find refuge in the Savior you spend your life proclaiming. His grace is sufficient for the ministry He has given you.
In the words of Ray Ortlund, “Don’t quit. Never give up. God is faithful.”