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Pastor Suicide: 5 Dangers to Guard Against

Why would a pastor take his own life?  There are few things that can compare to the pain, grief, and trauma caused by suicide. Unfortunately this topic, along with mental health in general, is one that is not always discussed by ministry leaders.  In this article, we will give a few recent examples of pastors who took their own lives. We will cover five different areas that can negatively impact the mental health of pastors.  Suicide is devastating. Every church leaders must guard against this danger.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, you need to reach out for help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and speak with someone today. It is free and confidential. 

Recent Cases of Pastor Suicide

In 2018 Andrew Stoecklein took his own life. Stoecklein was the pastor of Inland Hills Church at Chino, CA. His wife, Kayla, has sought to help others by talking about Andrew’s life, ministry, and death. 

In 2019 pastor Jarrid Wilson took his own life. Wilson was a young and rising evangelical leader who served at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA. He and his wife previously founded Anthem of Hope, a mental health non-profit. 

In 2020 megachurch pastor Darrin Patrick took his own life. Patrick was the founding pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, MO. He was also the author of several books, chaplain of the Saint Louis Cardinals, and a sought-after communicator. Patrick had experienced difficulty in ministry. In 2016 he was removed from leadership at the church he founded. After his removal, Patrick went through a restoration process. He was serving as a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church at the time of his death.

Why are Pastors committing Suicide?

We may never know all the reasons involved in a pastor committing suicide. However, we can take note of several factors that seem to be reoccurring themes. Below are a few areas that could contribute to a decline in mental health and a pastor taking their own life. While this is not a complete list, we should be warned of the danger in each of these areas.

1. Hidden Sin.

Sin is dangerous. We all have to fight against this ever-present threat.  Remember Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (see 1 John 3:8). God’s desire is that you would allow Christ to reign in your life so that the destructive patterns of sin are broken, not hidden. When a Christian allows sin to remain in their lives the effects can be catastrophic.

Satan loves to tempt us to sin. He also loves to use the exposure of sin in our lives to bring shame and condemnation. One pastor committed suicide after being exposed on Ashley Madison, a website that encourages married people to have affairs. This sad story illustrates the danger of hidden sin.

Sin is like a cancer that corrupts all of the good things God wants to do in our lives. When a pastor allows a pattern of sin to remain in their lives, they open themselves up to a major downfall.  Sometimes the devastation is so great that everything they hold dear is shattered beyond repair.

Go to war against sin by pressing into the Grace of God. The Bible teaches that we should draw near to God. Our self-effort is not enough. We must fight sin by repentance, confession, and clinging to the loving grace of our heavenly father. We often need the help of others in this. Remember that biblical confession is good for your soul and body (See James 5:16). Don’t let sin remain hidden. Repent. Fight. Live Free.

James 4:1-10 describes the dangerous nature and effect of sin in our lives. This passage calls for us to humbly draw near God in our weakness. Take real steps to root out sin in your life. You can start by confessing sin to God along with others in a spirit of absolute transparency. We all need accountability in our lives. We all need other people to come alongside and cheer us on to walk in genuine freedom. 

Get the help you need to overcome the sin before it wrecks your life. 

2. Getting Fired.

A termination can be one of life’s most difficult experiences. It can be especially painful when you are the founder or key leader of an organization. Many pastors know this unique type of pain.

A termination can be very difficult to handle. However, there is hope. Remember that your termination passed through the sovereign hands of your loving heavenly father. You may not be able to imagine how anything good could come from getting fired. However, God can take bad situations and turn them into something profoundly good (see Romans 8:28). 

A termination is a new opportunity for God to work in your life and on your behalf in new ways. He is real. He loves you. He can provide what you cannot. He can heal your wounded heart. He knows what it’s like to be rejected. You can press into the Savior who knows exactly how it feels (see Hebrews 4:15-16).   

Feelings of betrayal and hurt are to be expected when you are fired. Many pastors have been down this painful road. However, you cannot allow yourself to be driven into isolation or desperation. When a pastor is terminated, they will need a network of support to guide them through the transition. 

Don’t allow a termination to define your future. You cannot go it alone; help is out there.  

3. Prolonged Stress.

Being a pastor is a stressful job. The schedule can be brutal, the pay is minimal, and the expectations are high. Plus, times of crisis can exhaust a pastor with decision fatigue. Furthermore, pastors who do a lot of counseling must watch out for empathy fatigue. These are just a few of the challenges faced by pastors.

There are many negative effects caused by prolonged stress. A pastor’s ability to cope can be weakened. Unregulated stress can cause a pastor to make foolish and life-altering decisions. Studies have found connections between prolonged stress and suicidal thoughts. The danger of prolonged stress is real. 

Learning how to face stress, decompress, rest, and heal are normal parts of healthy pastoral leadership. As a pastor, you will face stressful situations. However, you cannot let a stressful event or situation encapsulate your entire life. 

There is nothing goldy about being constantly stressed out. In fact, Scripture teaches that we should lay our cares and concerns before Christ, not carry them (see Phil 4:6-7). Jesus taught that discipleship should lead to burdens being lifted and one’s load lightened (see Matt 11:28-30). 

If you are constantly stressed out it is time to chart out a new course. 

4. Critics and Opposition. 

It’s not easy being a leader; pastoral leadership is no exception. Pastors can be the target of ruthless critics both inside and outside of the church. 

We can always learn from the words of a critic. Even when unwarranted, criticism is an opportunity to show control, grace, and character.  However, we cannot allow critical words to cause prolonged discouragement and despair. Some sheep have a serious bite. Critical words can cause deep emotional wounds. 

Every pastor needs an internal process to face criticism. What can be learned? How can we respond like Jesus? What should be ignored? When should we simply move on? 

The key to facing criticism well is to learn from the experience. Pastors cannot allow critics to wound them. Most successful leaders are frequent targets of critics. Use your critics as an opportunity to learn and improve. 

Don’t allow the words of a critic to cause devastation or bring you to a place of despair; there is a better way. 

5. Fear of Seeking Help. 

One of the greatest dangers for pastors facing mental health issues is to remain silent. Many are hesitant to seek help for fear of negative consequences.  One pastor was fired after disclosing mental health issues to his church. However, the stakes are too high to remain silent.

Mental health issues are actually quite common for pastors. Lifeway Research found that 23% of protestant pastors reported facing some type of mental health issue. Another study found that pastors struggle with depression and anxiety at a higher rate than others due to the nature of their job. Pastors are not immune to mental health issues and may suffer at a higher rate than people attending church.

The good news is that many pastors are starting to open up about mental health issues. This new level of transparency and authenticity will help others navigate these challenges. No one has to struggle with a mental health issue alone. Seeking help and persuing recovery honors God and can serve as an inspiring example for others who struggle.

Dace Clifton

Dace is a pastor in central Texas. He is married to his wife Jacque and has two children. Dace holds a Ph.D. in preaching and pastoral ministry. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Arlington Baptist University. Dace is a family man who loves adventure, travel, hunting, and anything related to the mountains.