By Kathleen Patterson, Ph.D.
Why are pastors committing suicide? Three well-known pastors have recently taken their own lives, Teddy Parker, Jr., Ed Montgomery, and now Isaac Hunter. And there are more...to be sure.
What is happening? I cannot even imagine such tragic loss to their individual families, let alone the church family and what this might do to the message of the Gospel.
Why is that we, and especially those in ministry, cannot reveal what we struggle with. The shame or fear is perhaps too much to bear? These three men were dealing with different issues, one with manic depression, one with grief, and one with adultery. While these are all very different issues, the one common denominator is that they were 'inner' issues—meaning the reasons stemmed from the inner life of these leaders. Why is that some leaders can only present a 'nice' picture of who they are not be honest to present the 'not-so-nice' picture, the reality that might exist. Let's face it, we all nice and not-so-nice; ministers are not immune from this humanity.
Why do we feel such shame in our own family—meaning our church family? Are we not all intended to be knit to one another and to bear one another's burdens? Instead of being completely who we are and needing and leaning upon one another, we seem to choose an isolated approach that turns inward (pride does this to us)—and we have no support or shoulder to be carried on.
Galatians 6:2 is the scripture that reminds us to bear one another's burdens, yet in order to be able to do this; we have to share our burden. The church, however, will seemingly not let pastors do this. We are far too judgmental, we start the gossip mill, and we condemn. Instead of bearing the burden we almost add to it, albeit unintentionally.
My prayer is that if you are in ministry—you listen to the inner life of who you are, be open to sharing struggles and challenges, and then be open to honoring the inner life of the leader you are.
My prayer is that if you are around those in ministry—that you honor the leader as a person, that you seek to accept that person as he/she is, and that you also seek to bear their burden in some way.
I pray for folk in ministry—that they find strength in God first, in their families secondly, but also in the body around them.
Kathleen Patterson, Ph.D.Professor
School of Business & Leadership
Christian Leadership to Change the World