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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  • Dr. Kermit P. Soileau says on

    Dear Brother,
    Thank you for the straight-forward, heart-felt article. I have been a pastor well over 40 years and your article, plus the comments which have followed, are only a small sample of the situations of so many pastors.
    When I entered seminary, I was quizzed over and over by administration and professors regarding my call. They emphasized that the call was the most necessary part of one’s future ministry. I have found that to be the lifeline I needed in the most difficult of times.
    When churches challenge what the Lord has so indelibly tattooed on your soul, it is the certainty of one’s call which will see one through. Knowing for Whom one works, by Whom one is called, makes the force of the attacks subside in the inner person and allows one to focus on our Father. It was this very practice of prayer and focus on the Father that enabled Jesus to endure difficulties that none of us have ever faced.
    I would encourage every young pastor under attack to flee to the Lord’s presence and nail down the calling to the pastorate which can come only from the Great Shepherd.

  • I don’t refute that unkind, untrue remarks by members can result in discouragement of the pastor . My father-in-law pastored for 32 years. My question is: where is God in your discussion? He is conspicuously absent. I see a secular response to a spiritual problem.


  • Shelvin Lamb says on

    Terrific and very timely article, Dr. Rainer. I would add two practical things church members can do: 1- Be consistently engaged and active at the church. A lot of the stress pastors are feeling is because the ‘church attendance is declining’. This really wears on a pastor. Be a church that helps reverse the decline trend. 2- Help him say no more. A true pastor wants to help everyone and everything. People, groups, organization, ….. more than ever are coming to pastors and churches begging for help. Many pastors will try to do them all but not succeed, and will sacrifice things that can’t be sacrificed just to try. I don’t have a tangible thing to tell church member to try (I’m open to ideas) but a pastors ability to sustain and last in ministry (and/ or life) depends on him saying no to even things that are needed, Godly and great.

  • Auxlia Mubaiwa says on

    Thank you so much l am help and learn more on this issue of Pastors.
    I am new to Pastoral and like to know about this.Hope God did this for a purpose .As a junior Pastor will stand and speak for my co _Servants. .In just a short time l noticed a lot in this new ministry l am new to.thank you.

  • Carlos Respeito says on

    It is sad to hear about another story of suicide from a Pastor.
    I am sure whatever lead him to that stage did not start a few weeks ago, it has been there for a long time and the signs passed unnoticed by many.

    I agree with you Rainer, congregations must remember that pastors are not perfect and they need to learn to support them. But there is another side that cannot be ignored at this point, pastors also need to acknowledge that they are not superhuman beings they are not perfect, they can not do everything by themselves and they also need help. Pastors also must learn to seek help when things are getting though.
    I believe that it is not a shame to seek help from a psychologist or a spiritual director to help him/her. Depression is real and indeed it affects pastors too, they are not immune to that, neither are they immune to suicidal thoughts.
    One thing that I noticed, is that most Theological Seminars teach and equip clergy with skills to take care of others and neglect the aspect of clergy self-care which is also very important, I believe that it is impossible to draw water from an empty well.

    So dear pastor, take care of the congregation but do not neglect yourself; take care of yourself and your family too.

    • Bennett McManus says on

      Sometimes the option to simply get help is not so simple. Example, a pastor I know very closely went to a local Christian Counselor. This was a small town and the counselor broke confidence and started talking to those in the pastor’s congregation. The thoughts that were meant to be private were displayed openly for the gossip wheels to turn.
      Their are no limits (except for when God intervenes) as to the maham that the devil wishes to bestow up Holy Ghost filled church leadership especially the shepherd. For without a shepherd the sheep are easily ran astray.
      There are three ways you can help your pastor: 1. committ to only spreading kind and gentle words about him and his family, 2. pray for them daily, and 3. tell them that you love them every time you see them. They need those words more than you do. Believe me, this could be what encourages them to stay the course and continue to stand!
      Love you brothers,

      The preacher’s kid

      Ps: I have Major Desspressive Disorder. I watched my mom and dad fight the fight faithfully for 41 years. Thank you, Dr. Rainer for addressing this big problem within the Church and for trying to get pastors the help that they so desperately need.

  • I am not a Pastor as yet but I am a Minister and one of the things we learn early in the walk as a leader is this battle is not ours; it’s The Lords’ We work for Him as Under-shepherds watching over HIs Sheep. Jesus told Peter, ” Feed MY Sheep, Feed MY lambs, feed MY sheep.” He made a strong point in saying MY, so that we would instinctively know to consult Him on every issue. We learn form Moses that not only was the task great and we need help, but that we the leader need help; we have our own issues but in-spite of us He uses us to take care fo HIs Children and He will take care of us. I’m not trying to be insensitive and I am not desensitized I was taught through much trial and error how to rely on God to preach, to sing and to lead His Sheep. Some of us get caught u in the title and the power. David consulted with God for almost every battle he fought and when he failed to do so he went to battle unprotected. Let us remember He called us and only He can keep us not we ourselves. The Church of Jesus Christ is a lot for a man to manage because we are mere men but if we rest in God and let Him have free reign it will be well with us all and He gets the glory. Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of the Father.” This is a High Call…not a job.

    • You are so correct. Shall we use Jesus and Paul as examples for those who reveal God’s word to those who need the gospel, not to mention the apostles who died serving Christ? Yes, definitely, we should pray for and support the Pastor and assembly of Christians (local church) as long as it is in accordance with the word of God as shown in the Bible, and overseen by the Holy Ghost. Too many local churches have lost their way and become social clubs patting each other on the back. Jesus gave us one command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He did not tell us to conform to the world, but to lift up Christ, and all men would be attracted to him. I cannot comprehend a preacher committing suicide if his life is totally focused on God and the one command. If the heat is too hot in the kitchen, then those preachers should get out of the kitchen. The ministry of Christ was not set up for someone to pursue a career to support themselves and their family. They are called by God to preach the gospel and leave the results to God and each individual. It is true that the scriptures teach that things will become worse in the world and finally arrive at a position that is similar to the days of Noah; we appear to be in those days, but we must keep the faith and focus on any mission God gives us regardless of our own personal physical losses in this world.

  • Cotton Mathis says on

    The only thing worse than a back-stabbing liar on a staff or a deacon is a crazy, power-hungry maniac who goes on Facebook and uses a pseudonym to destroy a pastor and his family.

    Well, I guess there is one thing worse: a power-hungry, back-stabbing director of missions who uses his position to destroy pastors from going to other churches.

    I have seen it all.

    Director of missions jobs seem to be “feather beds: for preachers who can’t make it in the local church. Most I have known are bitter and power hungry.

    Churches are in trouble.

    I feel sorry for any man who is a pastor.. Worse is the pressure on their families.. God help us all.

  • Thank you for posting this article…it is timely!
    An issue for me as a Pastor is not looking like I being defensive, weak or the like.
    I wonder if Pastors bring this issue up themselves whether it is further fuel to the negative issues raised. It does need other leaders to repost and take action to support those in leadership.
    Asking others to support you in the culture I live in is seen as weakness and potentially making it “all about the Pastor” etc.
    I absolutely love my role as a Pastor, I feel called, there is nothing else I would prefer to do. But it also comes with huge pressure to perform, to grow something, and prove to others you have what it takes.
    I welcome this discussion for all our sakes…

  • Billy and Pat Batdorff says on

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thank you so much for this important post.
    Along with praying for our special pastor, Pastor Sam, we also pray for his family, daily. We feel it is so important to pray for them also. Prayer is a gift from our Lord and so thankful He hears and answers our prayers.
    God bless you, Dr. Rainor

  • Dr. Rainer, continual blessings upon you! I am at the point of quitting. I’ve tried to minister by loving on God’s people, but the lack of love and the country club mentality of a few has zapped me. Do you know of a place where pastors can retreat to be refreshed? Trying to avoid what the song writer called a “Love TKO”. 13 years at it and trying to make 14…..Help Lord!

    • I know of just such a ministry called “Shepherd’s Haven of Rest”. They provide retreats for pastors and wives. There’s no structure or a bunch of lectures for you to attend. The whole goal is simply to give the pastor and his wife a rest. The people who run the ministry are a former pastor and his wife, and they’re great encouragers. I don’t think there’s any cost for attending, either. Here’s the link to their website:

  • Joel Harris says on

    Thom, again you’ve written extremely insightful words; but as I read them, I couldn’t help but wish, as I often do when reading your articles, that you would make it clear that ALL men who serve in pastoral positions are pastors, not just the “preacher”. The pastor of worship ministries, the pastor of students, the educational pastor, the family pastor, the executive pastor, etc. All of these are pastors, and I can, after 42+ years of ministry tell you that what you write about the preaching/teaching pastors applies to these other pastors/men as well. And I can also tell you that just as you write that sometimes these preaching/teaching pastors have been stabbed in the back by “other staff members”, many, many times (in fact, in my experience even more often) these other pastors have been stabbed in their backs by the senior/preaching pastor. I’m pretty sure that you don’t mean to imply that these “other staff members” are not pastors, or that they are not subject to the same hurts and attacks as the preaching pastors; but sometimes it does seem that way because you seem to imply that you are only talking about the man who sits in the Sr. Pastor’s office when you talk about pastors. If there is one thing that the church needs to understand about pastors, it is that the church of the New Testament had more than one pastor, and that all of the men who serve your congregation in pastoral positions are just as much a pastor as the man who delivers the spoken sermon on Sunday morning. And as I have said before, those men deserve the same kind of loyalty and support from the congregation as “the preacher”; and “the preacher” needs to give his fellow pastors on staff the same kind of loyalty, love and support that he expects from them.

  • How very true !!! I am a Deacon. serving for 41 years, a member of 7 different churches. It is amazing how many members use or try to use the staff for personal and financial gain ! I have had the displeasure of serving on the personal committes of 3 churches to dismiss 6 staff members for various types of improper behavior or dishonesty. Never a Senior Pastor . I was Chairman of a Search committee and it is It WORKS!! I have a whole new news feed. I’m seeing posts from people I haven’t seen in years.
    Here’s how to bypass the system FB now has in place that limits posts on your news feed.
    Their new algorithm chooses the same few people – about 25 – who will read your posts. Therefore,
    Hold your finger down anywhere in this post and “copy” will pop up. Click “copy”. Then go your page, start a new post and put your finger anywhere in the blank field. “Paste” will pop up and click paste.
    This will bypass the system. if going through over 130 resumes and see how the pastors have been mistreated and want to leave their various churches . How the staff, leaders and old time members treat them. It is awful how old leaders and those who are very well off economically well off want to lead the church ! As a result we see a declining membership !!! Those who are supporting the Pastors are ostracized!! No one speaking or communicating with them. Pastors and those members who support the pastors are subjected to CTSD !!! Church Tramadic Stress Disorder !!! I have been subjected to this!!! When serving on Pastor search committee there 4 different groups within the church!!! One had set up a meeting out of town with a pastor before our Committee had even met for the first time and elected leaders. We did not meet and those that set it up did not support the committee! We did find GOD’s man. However the new Pastor told us there were things going on behind the scenes that the search committee did not know and he had to accept a calling from another church. No support for the Pastor and controls from main committees and staff. Just an experience to support your sharing of the lack of support of our Pastors and their families!!!