Pastors and the Tragedy of Suicide

While writing my first book, I was interviewing a fallen pastor. He shared a story about pastor suicide with me:

“I heard about a pastor who committed adultery in August then killed himself in December. I wondered, ‘Did anyone reach out to him? Did anyone love him? Did anyone seek to restore him?’ It brought back so many memories of when I wanted to die.”

That story has haunted me. In fact, it has come to fruition many times since then.  I once received an email from a man who told me that a pastor committed suicide after committing adultery. In the past ten years of doing this ministry, I have spoken with fallen men who felt their only option was suicide.

I recall a long time ago a story about a youth pastor who hadn’t committed any kind of serious sin, but felt all kinds of anxiety and pressure. He was a seminary student. He called his insurance company and asked if his plan covered suicide. They told him it did. The next day, he wrapped himself in carpet in his car and pulled the trigger.

The Pressure of Ministry

Ministry is extremely intensive. Whether you have committed a huge sin or not. In both of my books, I list the pressures ministers face on a daily basis. They range from internal to external to irrational.

Here’s what I want to convey to you today: Pastors are under a huge amount of pressure. They may put on a front that their lives are wonderful. I know I did. In fact for many, hiding the pain of life from others is considered to be part of the job. I’ve learned is that many pastors and their wives have learned to hide their sorrows and pains of their marriages very well.

Why Do Pastors Consider Suicide?

Why do pastors commit suicide? For many of the same reasons other people do. Pressure, stress, depression, anxiety, feeling like they can’t talk to anyone, hopelessness or grief.

For the pastor, many of those feelings get ramped up. They have the added pressure of shouldering the pains and hurt of others. Often times, there’s no outlet. They don’t have many close friends to share their pain or grief with. For a lot of pastors, their marriage has been difficult for many years. Unfortunately for some, suicide becomes a real option.

What’s the Solution?

So isn’t about time that in the church, we started being real with each other? Especially in our church leadership? I hid the failures of my own marriage from myself. What if I had gotten help earlier? What if the church leaders, members, and people actually started being real with each other?

When I talked to the fallen pastors in my first book, they lamented that they couldn’t be real with the people in their churches. Unfortunately, I see story after story about pastors who commit suicide because they see no end but to kill themselves. They can’t be real with anyone. Is it an excuse? No, but they often feel they have no one to reach out to. It’s important for a pastor, church leaders and members to be able to have a place they can feel transparent with one another.

Maybe you are in a position to reach out to a struggling pastor or church leader. Maybe your pastor has fallen. Maybe you are disappointed in them or have lost faith in them. But let me tell you this – God has never given up on anyone who has fallen, has depression or wanders away. And neither should you. Don’t ever give up on any human being, regardless of how you feel about them.

How Can We Help?

Pursue and love those who are hurting. Remember the father of the prodigal son. Never let another person feel alone, regardless of their sin. Don’t ever abandon anyone. Remember the mission of Christ. He never gave up on any of us. He went to the cross for us. Bleeding, weeping, when all was lost. And He made it count.

Even if your pastor committed adultery, embezzled money, lied to you – you don’t have to agree with his sin. But we still have to show compassion. There is still some Christ in you to forgive. To show friendship. To say, “I may not understand why you did what you did – but the Christ in me still loves me for who you are.”

Even if your pastor or church leader hasn’t done anything wrong – maybe you think he hung the moon – guess what? He may have a smile on every week, but he may be the most emotionally conflicted person you’ve ever come into contact with. Church members, look for signs in your pastor. Let him have a break. Reach out to him and his wife before problems even begin. Here is a list of warning signs leading up to suicide to watch out for.

Help for the Severely Hurt Pastor

And if you’re a pastor who is severely depressed and have lost all purpose, don’t wait until you get to the brink. Get help. Reach out. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), or go their website and chat with someone at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. They are some of the best people you can talk to at the worst moment of your life.

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor Crisis Manual: Help for All Those Affected by a Minister’s Fall” and “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact us privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. We are here to help you.

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