One thing that Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., can tell you about Christian ministry after 51 years in it, is that "it's very lonely." And as pastors across America reel in the wake of Pastor Teddy Parker Jr.'s suicide on Sunday in Warner Robins, Ga., he shared some advice on how they can stay alive.
On Thursday, Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr., pastor at The House of Hope Atlanta (Greater Travelers Rest) and longtime friend of Parker, revealed to The Christian Post that several pastors are now gearing up to address the issue of depression and surviving it among pastors.
"I'm literally getting responses from hundreds of pastors who are talking about this story and need help," Smith told CP while pointing out that he was up late Wednesday night listening to another pastor's struggles.
"His (pastor's) mother just passed away. He's been down in depression. He wanted to do something to continue this conversation. Bishop (T.D.) Jakes reached out to me. He's doing a session for depression at his pastors, leaders' conference next March," he said.
And Dr. Land, who was a professor of Theology and Church History at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, and received a Master of Theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, supports the gesture to keep talking and doing something to help.
"I am all for it," he said Thursday to The Christian Post. "This [depression among pastors] is an issue that needs to be talked about and pastors need to talk about it. They need to consciously help construct support groups for pastors 'cause I'm gonna tell you. It's lonely," said Land.
"What I have always advised younger men in the ministry to do is to try to find someone who can be your pastor outside your congregation. Someone you can trust. Someone you can tell how you really feel. Not how you're supposed to feel. But how you really feel. And you need to try to encourage your wife to find someone, normally a pastor's wife that she can tell how she really feels. Not how she's supposed to feel," he explained.
"I've been in the ministry now 51 years and it's very lonely. You can't let anyone in your church be your pastor. You are their pastor," he warned.
Land also highlighted a recent statement by Smith on the competitive nature of pastors that hurts healthy camaraderie in the profession.
"Men in general don't deal with issues of health. We don't share very much so we are very guarded, very insular," said Smith. "It's hard to be honest. It's difficult for some preachers to be honest. Every pastor needs a pastor to kind of lead and guide them. But it's hard for us to really find that relationship because often pastors are trying to compete with or cremate you. And so it's difficult to find camaraderie."
"That's a sad truth about the ministry," agreed Land, who is also executive editor of The Christian Post. "I love pastors. They are in good grace, but most of them are pretty competitive when it comes to other pastors."
He then highlighted three points for young pastors to lead healthier ministries.
1. Their first responsibility, other than to God, is to their wife, and if they forget that, they are disqualified from the ministry based on 1 Timothy.
2. I tell them that they need to find a pastor that can be their pastor.
3. They need to make time and find a place where they can unstring the bow. Where they can not be on display. Where they can go out in the front yard in the morning and pick up the paper in their robe and slippers and haven't combed their hair yet. They can't do that in their home. They can't do that in the parsonage. You've got to find that time. That private time when you're not on display.
"You know. This is a sad, sad story," said Land of Parker's suicide. "But frankly, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often than it does. One of the things I tell younger pastors is if you can do anything else then probably God didn't call you to do it. And there will be some days when the only thing that will get you through is that God called you to do this."