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Pastor suicides: The Church must address mental health issues

Pastor suicides: The Church must address mental health issues

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Mental Health challenges have been steadily increasing around the world. Recent statistics reveal that nearly 20% of Americans (over 44 million people) have some kind of mental health condition, and many of the recent issues and tragedies in our world have been connected to this subject. This issue is so big in our country that the FCC recently proposed a 911-style emergency number just for mental health emergencies.

And what’s worse, it’s an issue that people struggle with silently, particularly in the faith community.

I honestly am not aware of many churches and faith leaders who even touch this subject, often because too many people incorrectly believed that if you are saved, you shouldn’t have any mental health challenges.

That incorrect belief has had catastrophic consequences.

Recently, Jarrid Wilson, a prominent pastor in California who ran a suicide outreach group, took his own life. In August of 2018 California Pastor Andrew Stoecklein also took his life after battling with mental health challenges.  One of the best-known evangelical pastors in the world, Rick Warren lost his son a few years ago after battling with mental health challenges for much of his life.

What these unfortunate circumstances reveal is that no one is immune from mental health challenges, no matter how saved you are or how often you go to church. Biblical characters should remind us of this fact. The book of Psalm’s captures moments when David struggled with mental health challenges: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” Psalm 6:2-3.

The great Old Testament Prophet Elijah also experienced mental health challenges when he asks’ God to kill him because he was afraid and stressed out by the threats of Jezebel: “When Ahab told Queen Jezebel what Elijah had done, and that he had slaughtered the prophets of Baal, she sent this message to Elijah: “You killed my prophets, and now I swear by the gods that I am going to kill you by this time tomorrow night.” So Elijah fled for his life; he went to Beersheba, a city of Judah, and left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day, and sat down under a broom bush and prayed that he might die. “I’ve had enough,” he told the Lord. “Take away my life. I’ve got to die sometime, and it might as well be now.” 1Kings 19:1-4 (TLB)

The point is, Christians with mental health challenges are not a new phenomenon. However, it is time for the church to step up and fully address this issue. There are several things the church can do to start:

First, it must remove the stigma. You can’t deal with what you won’t discuss. The church must talk about this issue and make the faith community aware that God cares about this and the people who have challenges. Having mental health challenges does not make you strange or a social pariah. God cares about this issue just like He cares about the myriad of issues other people struggle with. 

Next, the church must prioritize complete healing. The Greek word for salvation is “soteria”. It’s used 45 times in the New Testament and the verb form “Sozo” is used 111 times in the bible and it means “complete deliverance” and “to be made whole in every area of your life...” Complete healing for some involves seeking help for their mental health challenges. We go to a dentist for our teeth and a chiropractor for our back – the church must be a place we can all go for healing.

The church should also equip its followers and its spiritual leaders with mental health resources. Leaders should model this approach and seek mental health healing and practices to stay healthy.

The Old Testament makes a very telling statement about a group of Israelite leaders; “From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” 1 Chronicles 12:32 (NLT)

Apparently, these men were adept at figuring out the best strategy and the best timing for that strategy. The modern-day church would do well to learn that skill. Especially when it comes to the subject of mental health.

Van Moody is the founding pastor of The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and author of the recent book, Desired by God: Discover a Strong, Soul-Satisfying Relationship with God by Understanding Who He Is and How Much He Loves You

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