Saturday, September 01, 2018

Pastors are People too.

News has come out of the US this week of the tragic suicide of a pastor, leaving his young wife and three sons devastated. Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California died last Saturday. He had fought a long battle with depression and anxiety, especially since the death of his father from leukaemia in 2015. But he was far from being a typically depressed person (whatever that means!). He led a vibrant, modern, growing congregation and shone in his dynamic preaching ministry in particular. He was loved by his people and his family and will be greatly missed.

I have also just finished reading Jack Deere's latest book and autobiography Even in our Darkness in which this outwardly successful author, Bible School Professor, pastor and conference speaker tells of his life-long battle with his own inner self, damaged by his upbringing. The tragedy of his son's suicide, his wife's alcoholism and his own many internal issues and relationship problems makes hard reading. It has shown me, though, that we should not put pastors and church leaders onto pedestals of presumed perfection. Flesh and blood like us they are. Cut them and they bleed. Treat them harshly, rudely or with disdain and they can find themselves under dark clouds of despair, self-doubt and depression. Yes they have to learn to deal with that, but let's not add to their pressures or pain by petty church politics or religious phoney baloney about 'men and women of God' being different to the rest of us.

This sad story comes against the back-cloth of a report by the Samaritans that shows that suicides among men under 50 are a big problem in the UK, as they are in Guernsey. Their report reads: "Although there has been an overall downward trend in suicide rates over the past decade, the statistics are clear – in terms of age, gender and socio-economic status, the group most at risk of suicide are men, in the lowest social class, in their mid-years. Men are three times more likely than women to end their own lives." This is something that needs serious action by all social agencies, including the church. Maybe the tragic events in California's Inland Hills church will increase our concern about this issue, and also make us pray for our pastors more urgently, and love them more fully.