The following is a guest post by fellow Northern Irish Pastor Andrew Roycroft, used with permission from his blog thinkingpastorally.com. It was written on 11 September, in the wake of the news of the suicide of American Pastor Jarrid Wilson. I'm thankful as I re-post it that I have elders and others in my own congregation who do exactly what Andrew pleads for here, but I hope they will be useful exhortations and reflections for many Pastors and their members...
The news is becoming horribly familiar – a pastor who has been used of God, who has even counselled and helped others through their struggles with depression and self destructive thoughts, takes their own life. The tragedy of Jarrid Wilson’s suicide that emerged yesterday is all the more poignant given his work of intentionally teaching on hope for those struggling to find it.
There is so little that can be constructively said in such circumstances, but I offer the following ten thoughts for those who would wish to care for their Pastor in the midst of an incredibly tough work:
1. The ‘talk to someone, get help’ counsel is good, but for many in ministry the ‘talking’ and the ‘getting’ are hugely complicated. I say this from a position of being well cared for and supported, but many brother pastors are virtually unknown to the members to whom they minister.
2. Commodified relationships can be the order of the day, where deep information about the lives of members is known to the Pastor, but little of his life is known to them. This, combined with pseudo-messianic expectations of the pastor can lead to isolation and effective muting.
3. Solutions are harder to come by. Perhaps encourage your Pastor to work on strong friendships outside of the local church, or ensure that he feels liberty to form particular friendships within the membership without feeling self-conscious or conspicuous.
4. Position yourself in such a way as to allow your Pastor to speak to you. Men, perhaps arrange coffee with a pre-made decision to ask questions about his life, occasionally weight the conversation 70-30 in favour of hearing his heart and mind. Promise and observe total confidentiality.
5. Facilitate rest within the rhythms of ministry. If your Pastor is regularly involved in complex counselling, ask your elders what arrangements for rest and supervision are in place. Elders, prise open the lid on how your Pastor is working, resting, and sharing. Rebuke if needed.
6. Pray for your Pastor’s mind and heart. Moral failure is not the only field where Satan sows. Discouragement, inadequacy, frustration, isolation, disappointment, and emotional overload can be major areas for the enemy to exploit to the Pastor’s detriment and that of his ministry.
7. Elders, hear the voice of your Pastor’s family when assessing his workload and emotional state. Many ministers are blind to pressures and behaviours that their wife can plainly see. Hearing her voice might just allow early intervention and targeted care.
8. Insist on rest, enforce vacations, fastidiously defend the boundaries of downtime for your Pastor’s good. The work is hard, the frontline is unthinkably brutal at times, and getting R&R is not a mere option, it is not laziness, it is not complacency.
9. Elders, make space to lovingly ask your Pastor about his heart and mind. Probe the external pressures he carries in addition to ministry. Is a loved one ill? Is a child wayward? Is finance difficult? If you cannot approach your Pastor in love about this, something is wrong.
10. Finally, remember that God’s people have the only Saviour they need in his perfect Son. If your Pastor has forgotten this, deliver him from a Messiah complex, if the members have forgotten, rebuke them for their idolatry. No man can shoulder what the God-Man did, nor does he need to.