Thursday, October 3, 2019

pastors and suicide...

I've debated whether or not to write this post. Even now as I type, I'm not entirely sure I'll hit that "Publish" button. You see, I'm not an expert on anything I'm about to say. I'm not a pastor, and I'm not a mental health professional. Thankfully, I have very little personal experience to draw from when it comes to the indescribably painful and messy thing that is suicide. When that suicide involves a pastor, I'm at even more of a loss.

What I am, though, is the daughter of a pastor. So for just a minute I want to talk to you from that unique position.

I became a "Preacher's Kid" the summer before 6th grade, when I turned 11. You know, that super peaceful time in a girl's life...right there on the verge of losing her mind in the preteen years. I had always been (and will always be) a daddy's girl. Pop was the pastor of a wonderful church in Bonner Springs, Rehm's Park SBC, until the middle of my junior year of high school. He took a bit of a break for a few years, but has been leading Living Word Fellowship in Green Forest for the last 13 years.

So although I'm not a pastor, I have a pretty deep connection with someone who is living out a calling to the ministry. This post dives into that and what I've seen in the many years I've watched Pop navigate the journey of being a pastor. These aren't his views, though, so take what I say for what it's worth--the words of a daughter who has watched her father fight some pretty choppy seas.
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Suicide is an incredibly complex topic, the last resort of someone who feels all hope is lost and there's no other way to end the pain that they can't get any relief from. It comes from a place of overwhelming despair, and I'm thankful I can't fully understand those thoughts and feelings. Lately, there have been many pastors who have found themselves lost in that darkness.

And for some reason, the world can't understand it.

A pastor is somebody with all the answers, right? He's a leader who has a deep connection with God and spends his hours delving into the scriptures. He's a counselor and a mentor and a teacher--how could he ever give in to the hopelessness that leads to something like suicide?

I don't know about you, but the more time I spend in my Bible the more I'm convicted. I know God is in the mercy business, but goodness--I can't read very long before I start squirming when I'm reading about how I should be patient, slow to anger, in control of my tongue... you know, all those things I'm not so great at doing.

But a pastor? They are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be:

James 3:1 tells us, "My brothers and sisters, do not encourage a large number of you to become teachers because teachers will be held to a higher standard."

1 Peter 5:2&3 says, "When you shepherd the flock God has given you, watch over them not because you have to but because you want to. For this is how God would want it not because you’re being compensated somehow but because you are eager to watch over them. Don’t lead them as if you were a dictator, but lead your flock by example"

Then you have Titus 5:6-9 with,
"Here’s what you should look for in an elder: 
he should be above suspicion;
if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife,
raise children who believe,
and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living.
 It is necessary that any overseer you appoint be blameless,
as he is entrusted with God’s mission.
Look for someone who isn’t pompous or quick to anger,
who is not a drunkard, violent, or chasing after seedy gain or worldly fame.
Find a person who lovingly opens his home to others;
who honors goodness;
who is thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled;
and who clings to the faithful word that was taught because he must be able,
not only to encourage people with sound teaching,
but also to challenge those who are against it."

Those aren't easy standards to meet, and yet they are the Biblical standards we are given for selecting a pastor. You know, the one who has to lead the people by example...when that example is being stacked up against Christ.

This is also the one who hears everything--he catches the tears of mothers who've lost children, of husbands who don't know how they will provide a roof over their families next month, of people who are stuck deep in the stagnant waters of addiction. He's the one who patiently listens to the pain that comes out in the form of ugly rantings over relationships falling apart, or hateful words, or accusations. He's expected to have answers to everyone's problems.

He should know how to convince the wayward son to return,
how to answer every question,
how to comfort the dying,
how to support the grieving,
how to inspire the faltering,
how to encourage the downtrodden,
how to mediate arguments...

In Acts 20:28 Paul says, "Here are my instructions: diligently guard yourselves, and diligently guard the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has given you oversight. Shepherd the church of God, this precious church which He made His own through the blood of His own Son."

Pastors are called to move between one person's deathbed and the maternity ward, and when they get there they should have the perfect words for both. He's expected to be there for all the huge events in people's lives, which often comes at the sacrifice of time with his own family.

Yet, he's also called to raise children who run after God.

As a bit of an aside, 7th Heaven was big when we were in the midst of life as a pastor's family. There was an episode once where Eric Camden (the dad/pastor) had a heart attack. The episode showed all sorts of busy-ness and stress as he went about his day, with that as the culmination of it all. After the episode aired, someone asked my brother if life for our family was really like what they showed. Michael laughed and said, "Mostly, but their dad is home way too much." Pastors are responsible for the spiritual growth of their children, but they are pulled away from them at all hours of the day and night.

All of those responsibilities put pastors in what is often a very lonely role. Sure, there are lots of people around them. They can't go anywhere without being stopped for a conversation of some sort (usually somebody asking for prayers). How often, though, do you think someone asks a pastor if they can pray for him? When does a pastor get to share his struggles? Who does he talk to when he has questions (because the more time you spend in the scriptures, the more questions you'll have) or when he just needs to vent?

Most pastors don't have true friends in their congregation. It's not really by plan, but more by default. Think about the things you do for fun. How often would you invite your pastor to come hang out with you? How often do you call him up after a game and ask if he saw that terrible call that obviously lost the game for us? Sure, you like your pastor, but do you invite him to come over for a barbecue? Too many of us don't want "church people" to see us as our normal, everyday selves...and that goes double for letting the pastor!
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When I read back over what I wrote, it seems a bit disjointed to me. I guess, though, I said all that to say this: love your pastor. Let him be human. Ask him if you can pray for him, then spend a few minutes on your knees before the throne and pray God will wrap His arms around this mighty warrior of His.

He needs it.

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