The pastoral profession has one of the top 3 suicide rates of any profession. I have often heard that but never experienced it…until today.
This afternoon I received the horrible news that a pastor friend of mine committed suicide late last week. It was difficult news to hear because a little over a year ago he and I spent much time together as I set up his capital campaign. He became a good friend with myself and a couple of others at our organization.
The more I think about his suicide the angrier I get. A surviving wife, two children, and three grandchildren are forever scarred. A community is grieving. A church is likely forever destroyed.
I read his suicide note which was posted for a short while on Facebook. I will not give the enemy the dignity of re-publishing his final earthly thoughts but I would like to give some of my own.
As Christians, many of us should be embarrassed at how we treat pastors, church staff, and their families!!!! Embarrassed!!! These people pray for us daily, go to God on our behalf, study for years to get better equipped to serve us, live in glass houses, sacrifice more than we will ever know, each week feed us God’s Word, and tell us what Jesus thinks about the issues of our life. And we have the unmitigated gall to question their communication skills, insights, biblical knowledge, and leadership skills.
I work with dozens of church leaders on a daily basis and no one is perfect but give me a break!!! We all want to get better and offer God our very best. We want to figure out ways to better connect people to the heart of God. We want excellence. We want these things but can’t we also be balanced and loving at the same time?
Pastors and church staff need friends. Friends without an agenda. Friends who will love them unconditionally. Friends who are a safe place to go to and talk about their issues and struggles. Friends who will not fire them because their excellent sermons now sound average. Friends who lighten the load. Friends who support and pray for them. Friends who serve them.
If you are someone who is always hassling your pastor, talking bad about him/her, listening to people’s “prayer concerns”, or leading the charge to have them removed, please do us all a favor and just stop. It’s acceptable to address issues, just not in a way that demeans people. And if you can’t do that, do us all a favor and just leave the church…NOW!!!
If you don’t think pastors and church staff need friends, I close with these comments and statistics from www.PastorBurnout.com and the New York Times (August 1, 2010)
“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”
- 13% of active pastors are divorced.
- 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
- 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
- 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
- 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
- 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
- 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
- 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
- Though I can find no specific statistics (I’m sure they are out there), the pastorate is seeing a significant rise in the number of female pastors.
- 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
- 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
- 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
- 70% don’t have any close friends.
- 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
- 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
- 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
- 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
- 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
- Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.