Suicide, Depression, and Pastors: One Way Church Members Can Help


The suicide death of a young pastor is being felt throughout the world. Andrew Stoecklein, lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in California, left behind his wife, Kayla, and three young sons.

I am the father of three sons. I cannot look at a photo of the young family without getting tears in my eyes.

Please Hear Me Well

This post is not about suicide prevention. More able persons have written volumes on the topic. It is not about the Stoecklein family, though their story prompted this post.

I am writing this article because I want to have a frank conversation with congregational members around the world. I want you to hear me clearly. I want to offer one way you can help.

The Struggles of Pastors

Most pastors are not suicidal. But most pastors do struggle. They lead churches in a culture that is not friendly to their calling. Three-fourths of them lead churches that are struggling by almost any measure or metric. Many pastors are on the precipice of quitting, and most church members have no idea of their inner turmoil.

In the midst of these cultural and congregational challenges, these pastors see a decided shift among the members. Their commitment level is low, and their frequency of attendance is decreasing. Many of the members are in the congregation to get their personal preferences fulfilled. And if you mess with their preferred worship style, order of worship, time of worship, color of carpet, or any facet of the church facility, they will let you know. Their trinitarian priority is me, myself, and I.

These pastors have been stabbed in the front by church members and stabbed in the back by other staff. They love their church members; but they are deeply hurt when that love is returned with cynicism, criticism, and apathy.

One Way to Help

Yet, these pastors tell us, the greatest pain is not the criticism and cynicism by some of the members. The greatest pain is when the “good members” remain silent, when they do nothing to come to the aid and defense of their pastors. The good members don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to incur the wrath of the pastor attackers. They think they are maintaining unity. Instead they are tearing down their pastor with their malignant silence. Their efforts to maintain peace sow the greatest seeds of destruction.

The one thing you can do as a church member is to stand up for your pastor in the midst of the ongoing and vociferous criticism. Speak up; don’t shut up. Let the ill-intending critics and cynics know you support your pastor, you love your pastor, and you are there for your pastor.

I know. Pastors aren’t perfect. There is no need to comment to me about that obvious reality. But in the labor pool of church members, we have an overflow of critics and an acute shortage of courageous encouragers.

Your pastor can withstand the barbs and insults and tepid commitment of most church members. That is the world pastors have sadly come to expect. But your pastors can only withstand them if they know they have some vocal and visible advocates and encouragers.

Please stand up. Please speak up.

It may be the single greatest difference maker in your pastor’s ministry.

Posted on September 3, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Debora McCubbins says on

    Thank you for sharing this. As the wife of a Pastor, I see and here the struggles and pain of many Pastors. We have been Blessed with an amazing church for the past 22 years and an awesome group of leaders surrounding my husband. For that we are truly thankful. But, even so, there are times of extreme loneliness. Encouraging words, along the way, make an impactful difference!

  • Jane Bradley says on

    Thank you for posting, this topic needs to be heard. Ministry is difficult at best.

  • You hit the nail on the head with this article. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for 32 years. The pain is so real when people do nothing but watch on the sidelines. Thank you for articulating it so well.

  • In fact members can, but few do.
    Meanwhile the false believers, evil beings act, kill, lie and destroy many of us …
    I am proof of this. Two years ago I’m being killed, little by little …
    The denomination has turned its back, we are currently abandoned.
    This week I was informed that my presence is not welcome in the church of my own denomination in the city where my wife and children were received as a member a few days ago, city where we fled in order to try to keep us alive. We fled from where we were being systematically attacked and killed by members and the upper clergy who should restrain such criminal acts.
    We are abandoned, although entitled by the internal rules of my denomination to be financially assisted are not doing so we can not do a correct and systematic treatment.
    In Brazil everything is very expensive and pastors do not have health insurance in general.
    I’m on the verge of despair, on second thought, I’m in despair.
    I did not know that suffering does, but it hurts and hurts a lot.
    I do not know what else to do.
    I have already sought help from the high clergy of the church, but nothing. Bureaucracy prefers people’s lives.
    I’m afraid. Fear of people, fear of dying.
    When I say this, what I hear is, “TO BE VITIMIZED.”
    And this is the support we have had.

  • Thanks for this. All of it rings true. I’ve seen friends walk away from the ministry because of the way they were or weren’t treated and have a son who has walked away from the church because of the way he saw his dad treated by church members. Still, I will continue to fulfill my calling. Thanks for these encouraging words.

  • Dr. Rainer, You have hit right on the nail, of things we have been dealing with for a couple of years now. Please pray for All Pastors and their families to.

  • The love that drives pastors also produces vulnerability. The dangers of ministering in a toxic inviorment include pastors who begin to struggle with loving their congregations. That danger is exacerbated when the attacks are aimed at his family and the silence continues.

  • I think this is one of the most insightful things you have ever written. We have been lambasted, ridiculed, called on the carpet, and lied about. Anonymous notes left on our car with “pastor leave.” Gossip, griping, grumbling without end. Leadership that says one thing to our face and another thing to their followers. Yet, the worst part has been the silence of good, godly men, leaders and even “best friends.” Our church has been through incredible turmoil and despair but it has taken the church almost going under to awaken these same people from their complacency to stand for truth. God save us from ever going back “to Egypt” and the bondage there. Our good, good Father is bringing us to the Promised Land in His time and His way and we are grateful.

  • What I’ve seen over the years is that a lot of Church leadership, including Pastors, have been captaining an earthmover instead of a schooner. What I mean by that is their goals have been more related running a social club than a Spiritual entity aimed at accomplishment of the Great Commission. And as such, this dichotomy of objectives has led to extreme frustration by all but the most apathetic involved. The fix is a clear, understood by all, mission of “GOING, TEACHING, SAVING” to facilitate those newly engaged in “GOING, TEACHING, SAVING”. Looking at the checkbook of most Churches I have seen “STAYING, PROGRAMMING, TALKING vs. SAVING”. Pastor pain ensuing.

    • I appreciate your critique about the focus of leadership on the social and programmatic aspects of congregational life. I have seen it in action and have struggled to transform it rather than succumb to it. I am a pastor. I “left my nets” in middle age because I was captivated by the Good News of the God who comes to us in the crucified and risen Jesus and felt called to tell others. After twelve years in ministry I find it frustrating to see my failed efforts at inspiring, encouraging, and equipping that passion for the Gospel in others. I have a handful of faithful who are hungry for spiritual growth and a life of following Jesus into the world. I am eternally grateful for them. But nothing is as demoralizing to me as being asked to be “less spiritual” and “more patriotic.” Still the Spirit calls me forth to continue to love and bless Gods people and boldly proclaim God’s saving grace made know in Christ. And so I will follow.

      • Oh my gosh. This really struck a chord with me – particularly the patriotic part. Thank you for your words.

  • Stephen Hatfield says on

    Mr. Rainer thank you for this article. As a layman and former deacon chairman multiple times, I can attest to some of what pastors go through. And as someone who is trying to develop a ministry teaching laymen in local churches how to support their pastors I’d like to share this blog with them. May God bless your concern for pastors.

  • Thanks, Dr. Rainer. While I have never felt suicidal, I have experienced everything else in this post. And you are absolutely correct. The silence of “supporters” hurts the worst.

  • Wow. Thank you for standing up for pastors and reminding people that pastors do struggle. This a powerful read, I am grateful for your posting it.

    • I am honored to serve those of you who serve so faithfully, Norm.

      • I am a pastor and I totally agree and I’m thankful for this post.
        I try to do a lot with those who have been bullied by their peers. I see this in the church, the Pastor is bullied. One thing we teach is speak out against those who do the bullying. The same goes for the congregation. Good members need to stand up and speak out to support their pastors.
        Thank you agsin

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