By Robert Earl Houston
My heart aches for the family of Pastor Jarrid Wilson, who tragically committed suicide. Ironically, he was known for being a suicide prevention pastor, who advocated for the same malady that took his life.
Whenever a pastor commits suicide (and it’s happening more now than ever) it gives one pause. When I first started preaching in 1978, I cannot recall hearing about suicide among clergy. My instincts tell me that it must have occurred, but people were way very less transparent than they are today.
Being a pastor is not an easy job. That is for sure. We get box seats to great days in peoples lives and we get front row seat to the worst days in the lives of people. We get the opportunity to serve God’s people while at the same time receive some of our most painful wounds at the hands of God’s people. We get to worship God with amazingly gifted people and at the same time are held to standards that people don’t enforce for themselves.
I’ll never forget that in a previous pastorate that I had decided to stay away from local high school sporting events. There were no professional or minor league teams in that town. But I decided, why not? So my wife and I went to a high school football game and one of my members walked up to me and said, “When my son was playing you didn’t come. I guess he’s not on your favorites list.” I immediately got my wife and we left. I went back to my original plan and it showed me that you can’t even attend as sporting event without receiving undue criticism.
The truth of the matter is that when people look at pastors they automatically view them of the lens of Sunday mornings. Not in the view of having to juggle professional duties, home duties, and in some cases secular jobs if you are multiple streams of income and/or bi-vocational. In my first church I was bi-vocational and I found out this truth: You can take your church work to work but you can’t take your work to the church.
Not to mention the stress and strains that you have to absorb on behalf of your family. When the stage lights are turned off, the instruments hushed, and the building is cleared, you have to go home. Sometimes the person that you are married to has been a casualty of collateral damage. Some people will go through your spouse or your children to get to you. In some cases, it makes a child refute the church and they no longer believe in your Jesus because of the actions of people. I’m one of those parents who have watched a child walk away from the church.
What’s being discussed in recent years is the mental health of pastors. I have no shame in saying that because of the stress in a previous pastorate that I sought out (and still undergo) therapy with a mental health professional. He’s on the “Pastor’s Team” along with my general physician, my dentist, my barber, my foot specialist, my banker, my friends, my mentors, my Computer salesperson – all that help keep me together. Sadly, I was one of the many, who looked at life and said “this is not worth it” and contemplated suicide. But thank God for the Holy Spirit and those around me who made it an option and not a final answer.
I’m in a great season in life. However, there are many pastors who are not. It would help if instead of, out of formality, saying, “hey Rev., what’s up?” That a member or team of members could go to the Pastor and say “Pastor, how are you doing? How’s your mental health?” It may sound insulting, but it’s not.
Encourage your pastor to rest.
Encourage your pastor to take vacations.
Encourage your pastor to enjoy your area.
Encourage your pastor to go to ball games.
Encourage your pastor to take up a hobby.
Encourage your pastor to go to movies.
Encourage your pastor to take time and grieve.
Encourage your pastor to spend time with his family.
People can be cruel. In a previous pastorate, I had served faithfully for years. I hadn’t had an increase in pay or benefits in six years. In a Deacon Board meeting I requested consideration for a raise. The words that came back were chilling to the soul and almost tipped me over the edge: “What have you done to deserve one?” After preaching, teaching, burying, marrying, standing in hospital rooms, offering comfort at funerals, doing bulletins, doing graphic arts, etc. – my heart was crushed. But, God is faithful. However, I could have easily that night become another statistic.
I’m grateful for pastors like my friend, Dr. E. Dewey Smith, and others who have with me, rang the bell as loud as we can . . . Pastor, you do not have to suffer in silence. Please seek the help that you need and deserve to have. It’s better to go to a mental health professional and discover all is well than to not go and be unwell.
You can be saved, sanctified, filled with Holy Ghost . . . And depressed. The spiritual does not always align with the mental/physical. I pray this helps someone.