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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  • I am not a pastor . As a church member, I observed sometime pastors don’t understand those who support them. They flattered those who don’t ever care for them and those who care for them they harassed them. I suffered of that in many occasions. There was a pastor who insulted me by saying that I was not popular, because I did not get for refreshments . another time, I caught him making gesture about me with one of his leaders. Few months later that same leader and her husband and many others left the church.
    I feel for pastors, for I love the word of God and I think pastor should get support from the congregation, but they must rely on the Lord.

  • I am in tears.
    As the wife of a pastor, you truly nailed this one. Thank you for putting into words, what my heart feels. I pray that many Christians will hear your words and give their pastors the support they so desperately need.

  • Chris Hearn says on

    Just in case-

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

    We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

  • I’m not aware that our much loved pastors are hearing criticism, but perhaps I’m an ostrich with my head in the sand. I’ll straighten up, look about, and ask them. Thanks for the article.

    I’m not under any delusion that they aren’t suffering stress from our financial woes and other problems. But I don’t think personal criticism is on the list.

  • Robert RM Bagwell says on

    I have a life long history of depression as has my sister and my mother now deceased. It is worsened by some church members, but having been in a hierarchical denomination, having betrayal by the overlords and a general lack of trust from them to me and visaversa, I took a church long dominated by antagonists that prevented it’s growth and mission. When called there, I did feel that God opened that door and I told Satan his reign was over. In ten years over 60 percent of the membership died and we only replaced them with younger families who could not give like the older members had. Well, clearly it must be my fault. Alll kinds of unsubstatiated charges were leveled at me and when I “out smarted” their duplicity, for a while, I finally hoped they could do more than I could. Try to get a good job after a church that was failing fails even more even if it has become a loving community instead of one characterized by strife. They loved me. When I asked the bishop to come in and help, he insisted I resign, promising me three months severance. It took me about 6 weeks to find another job, with no help from them, and I stayed in church housing. When my family moved out, they did not send any severance. When later they were questioned, the “bishop” arbitarily decided my cost for six weeks I stayed and again said I left the place a wreck FALSE. So no severance. and the latested instalment of the churchy horror picture show can come another time. I’m out of that denomination now.

    • Major problem in church. Ministry died because there was no Joshua in place. Lack of confidence, leader refused to train others.

  • As a pastor’s daughter and now a pastor’s wife, a few bold encouragers from the past stood out in my mind as I read your article and (unfortunatly) many loud critics did also. I’m so thankful for those bold people.

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