Moments ago I saw the news of an American megachurch pastor, Andrew Stoecklein, who took his own life after a battle with depression and anxiety. Almost immediately the commentary on facebook began. As a pastor who battles mental health struggles, I feel compelled to insert a few thoughts into the discussion.
But first, my heart goes out to Andrew’s family. This is a world-shattering moment for them. I pray that God will give them comfort and hope in the middle of this terrible and painful time.
Here are the three things I want to say to the rest of us in this moment:
1) Discouragement is not depression.
Don’t trivialise Andrew’s story by confusing depression with discouragement.
It is quite common in moments like this—and I’ve already seen it today—for people to start talking about how hard it is to be a pastor and how discouraging it can be. This is true, perhaps, but it is not the point.
Andrew didn’t die of discouragement. He died, according to first reports, of mental illness. Depression is not the same as discouragement. It is dangerous to confuse the two because while discouragement is very hard, it is nothing compared to depression. Nothing.
2) Isolation is the cause, not the solution.
One of the themes that comes up in response to a story like this—and again, I’ve seen it already today—is to explain how hard it is for pastors and how they are different from the rest of us and need much more support and prayer. And again, perhaps there is some truth in this. But it again misses the point.
The point is that a pastor isn’t different. He’s a normal person. The last thing he needs is to be put up on a pedestal where he is looked upon with awe for all that he does. The pedestal is unbiblical and it’s unhealthy. It may be intended as a deference to the pastor’s wisdom and position and work, but in reality, it isolates him as above; other. And he’s not.
The answer to the pastor’s pressure-filled life is to spread the work load. Everyone pitches in instead of acting like the pastor is the one who is supposed to do the work of the ministry (see Ephesians 4). And then get him down off that pedestal. He needs to hang with mates just like you do. If he has mental illness, he needs medical support and probably ongoing therapy. He’s got to be free to do this without being looked down on.
We sometimes feel that elevating him will help. In reality, elevation creates isolation. And isolation is the problem, not the solution.
3) Get his message.
Here’s a guy—if he fits the normal stats for mental health struggles—who could have quit a thousand times. And it is a stunning testimony to grace that he didn’t. Instead, he lived out what he preached. And from the sounds of it, he did it under an intensity of pain that some go a lifetime without experiencing.
So his death, and the manner of his death, does not undermine his message. It underlines it.
Thank God for Andrew’s life. Glorify God in his death. Love and serve the Andrews who sit all around you at church, at work, and in your social life.
The curse has done its worst today. But God owns tomorrow.
The mud, and blood,
And tear-soaked stains
Can’t quell the anthem:
Our God reigns!
Grace to you.
NOTE: If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia), Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 (Australia), or a church nearby.