Pastors And Suicide

The pastoral profession has one of the top 3 suicide rates of any profession.  I have often heard that but never experienced it…until today.

This afternoon I received the horrible news that a pastor friend of mine committed suicide late last week.  It was difficult news to hear because a little over a year ago he and I spent much time together as I set up his capital campaign.  He became a good friend with myself and a couple of others at our organization.

The more I think about his suicide the angrier I get.  A surviving wife, two children, and three grandchildren are forever scarred.  A community is grieving.  A church is likely forever destroyed.

I read his suicide note which was posted for a short while on Facebook.  I will not give the enemy the dignity of re-publishing his final earthly thoughts but I would like to give some of my own.

As Christians, many of us should be embarrassed at how we treat pastors, church staff, and their families!!!!  Embarrassed!!!  These people pray for us daily, go to God on our behalf, study for years to get better equipped to serve us, live in glass houses, sacrifice more than we will ever know, each week feed us God’s Word, and tell us what Jesus thinks about the issues of our life.  And we have the unmitigated gall to question their communication skills, insights, biblical knowledge, and leadership skills.

I work with dozens of church leaders on a daily basis and no one is perfect but give me a break!!!  We all want to get better and offer God our very best.  We want to figure out ways to better connect people to the heart of God.  We want excellence.  We want these things but can’t we also be balanced and loving at the same time?

Pastors and church staff need friends.  Friends without an agenda.  Friends who will love them unconditionally.  Friends who are a safe place to go to and talk about their issues and struggles.  Friends who will not fire them because their excellent sermons now sound average.  Friends who lighten the load.  Friends who support and pray for them.  Friends who serve them.

If you are someone who is always hassling your pastor, talking bad about him/her, listening to people’s “prayer concerns”, or leading the charge to have them removed, please do us all a favor and just stop.  It’s acceptable to address issues, just not in a way that demeans people.  And if you can’t do that, do us all a favor and just leave the church…NOW!!!

If you don’t think pastors and church staff need friends, I close with these comments and statistics from www.PastorBurnout.com and the New York Times (August 1, 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.”

    • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
    • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
    • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
    • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
    • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
    • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
    • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
    • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
    • Though I can find no specific statistics (I’m sure they are out there), the pastorate is seeing a significant rise in the number of female pastors.
    • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
    • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
    • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
    • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
    • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
    • 70% don’t have any close friends.
    • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
    • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
    • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
    • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
    • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
    • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
    • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

 

About briand@injoystewardship.com

19 Responses to “Pastors And Suicide”

  1. Anita Sullivan on 11/04/2013 #

    I’m sorry for your pain, and saddened by those statistics. I’ve had to face those same feelings, but anger is much less for me in the two deaths I still grieve. I believe that until we understand that mental illness is the cause of death, and suicide is simply the last step in an illness that either went untreated or was resistant to treatment, we will continue to focus on the wrong thing. My anger is that the stigma is so strong that people, and especially pastors, feel that they can’t be transparent and seek treatment.

    I wrote about it a few days ago at http://losingaustin.blogspot.com

    Thanks for sharing your heart on this. Dialogue is always good.

    ~Anita

  2. David Carrel on 11/04/2013 #

    Every Pastor should read Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp! Great book that addresses the issues Pastors face. They should not have to be alone! You are so right!
    Thanks for this post!

  3. Lincoln Parks on 11/04/2013 #

    This is true, real and serious. I am not a Pastor, but I know its a heavy burden to help others when you yourself don’t have anyone you can confide in. Don’t know what the letter said and I don’t want to know. All I know is, is that WE / ME need to make sure our Pastors are lifted up not on a pedestal but in spirit. They are also Human.. I think most times everyone forgets that.

  4. John Joyner on 11/04/2013 #

    As an ex-pastor, now in a wheelchair ,I would to talk and share encouragement’s with all those who might contact me@757-587-9458.

  5. Patrick on 11/04/2013 #

    WoW ! What a real shock !! Never knew it could be that bad ! My prayers are with his family.

  6. Cathy Gates on 11/04/2013 #

    Thank you for your heart felt and frank comments. What you have said needs to be heard. In January this year Thrive Ministries had a pastors day that focused on bullying in the church. It is at epidemic levels. What typically happens is actually now referred to as ‘mobbing’ where the intent is to remove a pastor from the church either through firing or forced resignation. The mobbing happens over a period of time, often months or years. Unfortunately this form of psychological abuse results in trauma that can trigger depression. And some of those who become depressed will die by suicide. Pastors can contact us through our website for more information about bullying or mobbing.

    Cathy Gates
    Director, Thrive Ministries

  7. Ben on 12/04/2013 #

    Brian, it takes guts to write what you wrote. And for that I salute you. The church, they say, is the only army in the world that shoots, maims and kills its own wounded. Some so called “christians” are so cruel, critical, legalistic, judgmental and heartless that the devil looks like a saint in comparison!!! I feel for the ex-pastor’s grieving family. Let us know what we can do to help comfort and support that family. And keep writing the truth, Brian, because knowing and living the truth sets people free.

  8. Adriana Johnson on 12/04/2013 #

    Brian,

    That is just horrible. Thank you for doing research and informing the public of these statistics. I pray the Priest/Pastor in my life have fulfiling lives and now that I am more aware I definily know how to pray for our leaders. Thank you for the leadership topics.

    Sicerely,
    Adrian Johsnon

  9. Rev.Dr.S.A.Wozencraft on 13/04/2013 #

    All of this is true. I experienced much of it including stalking, threats and even a felon called in from another city to frighten me, much of it instigated by a fellow pastor who objected to my presence in the pulpit & in the city. Police, et.al. became involved as they called it “hate crime.” I am now retired due to disability — fibromyalgia, which may have been exacerbated by the stress, etc. Still, even though there are folks out there who are less than kind, less than Christ-like, who behave very badly often in the name of Christ, there is no job or no calling which is as fulfilling. I feel blessed to have been called, gifted, anointed, allowed to minister the Gospel — to serve God and the people of God.

  10. Sandeep on 13/04/2013 #

    Thanks for this note. As a young Pastor I have already experience a lot of this. Lots of these problems transcend the boundaries of people groups and effect pastors everywhere. I agree pastors need the blessing of true godly friends. As for those opposing them, well it’s important to realise that your Pastor is God’s appointed shepherd over you.

    When I reach those “have I made the right cover” moments I remind myself that I can truly do anything Through Christ who strengthens me.

  11. Karen Paton-Evans on 16/04/2013 #

    Hello, Brian

    Thank you for shedding more light on the issue of bullying in the church. Here in Canada, our volunteer group has been organizing a professional union for United Church of Canada clergy in direct response to ministers and their families being abused by bullies and then avoided and abandoned by the church hierarchy that is covenanted to support ministers and their ministries. I believe this issue is pandemic, harming clergy in all mainstream denominations. clergy-united.ca.

    US Films has just released Betrayed: The Clergy Killer DNA, the first of a four-part series investigating clergy being bullied in the church and then forsaken. betrayedthemovie.com.

    In Solidarity,
    Karen

    • Rev.Dr.S.A.Wozencraft on 23/04/2013 #

      What an excellent idea Karen! I wish you the best with it .. and all minsters and families involved in these situations.

  12. Kevin on 05/06/2013 #

    Wow …. having been ordained and asked to take over in a country church in Az. To find out the building and property can not be used as a church I am blessed to have a tight family of members who are individuals as well as members and are hanging on for dear life as we straighten this out and proceed. I hope I can convey this on to rem as we grow we must support each other as we have over the last 2 years of trails. But. As a pastor who works 60-70 hours a week in town to support my family it is a struggle to have family time church te sermon time and prayer time. Hopefully more people will read these articles and change

  13. Jann on 08/07/2013 #

    As a pastor’s daughter I can definitely see the truth in this… and I commend you for putting that out there without pulling punches.

    No one, not even the pastor, can be perfect. We judge ourselves by our intent and others by our perceptions… it’s definitely a double standard… and a part of being human. Take a step back and try to understand the pastor’s intent before going on the attack based on a perception.

    Thanks again for an insightful article… and I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I pray God comforts you during this time of grief.

  14. Tam Blair on 06/12/2013 #

    That statistic toward the bottom is probably the biggest problem, (90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry). But, a preacher doesn’t have to get perfect grades in seminary to be effective. Many pastors don’t have healthy boundaries for balance between ministry vs family – those imbalances spill into each other.
    I think too many pastors don’t give enough weight to matters of spiritual warfare & counseling of the congregants.
    Why do Christians think if you read The Bible & pray, that makes you immune from enemy’s attack??? Satan is not threatened by those who don’t study The Word & only pray when they need something or are in trouble; those people aren’t bringing too many people to Christ – if any. The devil is out to oppress the Christians who are making a difference for The Lord; he’ll accuse, tempt, try to steal their joy & ruin their testimony – in short, he won’t give them a break. Too many Christians don’t understand their identity in Christ or pay enough attention to our Biblical protection of Spiritual Armor – we’re told to put it on so we’re not easy targets.
    Why is it that people think when you accept Jesus that all your troubles, conflicts, past traumas & mental battles go away? They absolutely don’t, unless a new Christian is taught how to have a different perspective by the renewing of their mind in light of God’s Word. That’s where counseling comes in. A pastor doesn’t have to listen to hrs & yrs worth of troubles/heartache to determine that most people have issues with anger & unforgiveness; which is where the devil & his demons are given the opportunity for a foothold to torment the mind – where spiritual battles are won or lost. So many think if they forgive justice isn’t done…WRONG. If we carry the weight of unforgiveness around hooked to our necks or back it weighs us down. If we let go of anger & forgive, it takes them off our hook & puts them on God’s hook – the rightful author of justice & vengeance. Plus, it makes a mockery of The Cross if we think our injustices are worse than what Jesus forgave. Even if we don’t forgive ourselves; we are telling God His forgiveness isn’t good enough.
    http://www.ficm.org/, http://www.icr.org/, http://www.answersingenesis.org/‎ & others are good sites that offer archive question sites for hard answers needed to cement the foundations of our faith.

  15. Payne on 14/12/2013 #

    Thank you for this data and I really was interested since seeing all of the news about suicides in the church by pastors. My one question however is what are your thoughts about the effect of being a female pastor have on suicide? Lately it seems that most of the suicides have been men.

    • brian@therocketcompany.com on 14/12/2013 #

      Payne, that is a great question. Unfortunately, I have not come across any data related female pastor suicides. Please share with us if you find any. Thanks, Brian

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pastors And Suicide | Brian Dodd On Leadership | Pastor Leaders - April 13, 2013

    [...] Pastor Leaders Source- Google Blogs [...]

  2. Mobbing a Pastor | Restoring Kingdom Builders - July 9, 2013

    [...] While browsing through various tweets on Twitter two days ago, I ran across a three-month-old blog post on the topic of pastors and suicide from Brian Dodd.  Here is his article in full: http://briandoddonleadership.com/2013/04/10/pastors-and-suicide/ [...]

Add your Comment