As I am writing this post, there have been three known suicides among pastors in the last two months! Last month (November 2013), Pastor Teddy Parker, Jr. of the Bibb Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Macon, GA shot himself at his home in his driveway one Sunday morning between services. In early December, Pastor Ed Montgomery, who served a Gospel Assembly church in Hazel Crest, Ill shot himself in front of his mother and his son in their family home. The pastor said he had been hearing footsteps and the voice of his dead wife, who had died in December of 2012. Pastor Isaac Hunter, the former pastor of a mega-church in Florida shot himself in the head just two weeks prior to the writing of this post. Pastor Hunter resigned from the pulpit of his church a year ago after it was revealed that he had had an affair.
I’ve been reading the responses from well-known pastors, ministers, and mental health specialists to these shocking suicides. The prevailing response is that pastors and ministers are engaged in a stressful calling and they need to be able to talk to someone and to get professional help if they need it without being looked down upon. I read a recent report that cited the Schaeffer Institute’s findings that: “70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression, and 71 percent are burned out. Meanwhile, 72 percent of pastors say they only study the Bible when they are preparing for sermons; 80 percent believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families; and 70 percent say they don’t have a close friend. The Schaeffer Institute also reports that 80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates will leave the ministry within five years. It’s not clear how many commit suicide, but it is clear that pastors are not immune to it.” These are shocking statistics, considering the fact that the pastor/preacher should be the first to proclaim that whatever the problem; Christ is the answer! I agree with the need for Pastors and ministers to seek help from mental health professionals if needed, but I want to make some suggestions as to why so many of them would need to seek help in the first place. I think part of the problems is that through a combination of tradition, cultural pressure and biblical ignorance, the church, particularly the church in America, is doing ministry wrong! Let me show you what I am talking about!
Doing ministry is NOT the pastor’s job! Now, I hope to substantiate such a radical claim by appealing to scripture, particularly Acts 6 and Ephesians 4. In Acts 6, the Bible records what is believed by many to be the inception of the Deacon Ministry. Verses 1-4 reads: “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (ESV) Do you see that? The disciples were the pastors in the Jerusalem church at that time and they said in the Miller Translation: “Our job is preaching and teaching the word; that’s our calling! It don’t make sense and it’s not in the best interest of the church that we get side-tracked from preaching to serve tables! So you need to find some people among you that we can appoint to serve tables so that we might dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of preaching and teaching the word!” I think that much of the stress that pastors are enduring today is because too many pastors, because of the mentality, the lack of spirituality, and the lack of biblical knowledge of many church members, are being forced to serve tables in addition to being devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word! The pastor shouldn’t have to change light bulbs or mow the church lawn! Not because he or she is too good or that it is beneath them to do it, but rather because it is a gross misuse of their calling, training, talent and time! (You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be splitting time between surgery and cutting meat in the butcher shop would you?) Besides that, those activities would be a good avenue for ministry by providing work for that kid down the street that doesn’t know Jesus and needs some spending money! And if the church doesn’t want to or can’t afford to pay, it is a good avenue for ministry for the members of the church who feel inadequate to teach a Sunday School class or to lead a small group! My point is this: The pastor should be free to effectively do what he or she has been called and commissioned by God to do! Making sure the lawn is cut while at the same time making sure a sermon and a lesson is adequately prepared is un-needed and avoidable stress! The pastor needs the time and energy for prayer and the ministry of the word! Anybody can cut the yard, but only the pastor/preacher has been charged to lead in doing the ministry of prayer and the word!
The next passage is Ephesians 4:11-16, which reads: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV) The main point I want to stress is found in the first two verses; 11 and 12: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Pastors were given to the church not to do the work of the ministry, but rather to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry! The pastor’s job is not to do the work, but rather the pastor’s job is to equip the saints (the church members; all Christians) to do the work! The problem in many churches today is the fact that one person (the Pastor) is expected and in many cases actually tries to do the work that the whole church is supposed to be doing! It’s not a wonder that those pastors who are not committing suicide are still quitting or dying much too soon because their churches are literally killing them! Too many church people have a “Wal-mart mentality” about church. Instead of following the biblical model of using their abilities, talents and spiritual gifts in ministry to serve others in the name of Christ, they expect the church ministry staff to serve them! For them, church is not about service (ministry) but rather; “serve-us” (serve me and mine!)! The question is not what it should be, which is: What can I do for the church and the cause of Christ? But rather the prevailing question today in the American church is: What can the church and Jesus do for me? Therefore, everyday pastors in the pulpit are thinking about quitting, experiencing burn-out or contemplating suicide because of laziness and selfishness in the pew! But then, in many cases it’s not completely the people’s fault! Sometimes, people would do better if they knew better, but their pastor just hasn’t taken the time or made the effort to teach and train them any better!
I know this post is a bit longer than usual, I didn’t mean to make it into a sermon! So let me close (Oops! That’s the Baptist preacher in me coming out: I feel a “preach” coming on! Can I get a witness? You don’t hear me!) by saying to any pastor who might read this post: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL AND GOD DOESN’T EXPECT YOU TO! Learn to take care of yourself! Periodically take some time away! Take the Lord’s advice. Read Mark 6:31: “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (KJV). If you don’t take the time to “come apart” you will eventually “come a-part!” And then teach and train the people of your congregation the biblical mandate and the importance of their involvement in ministry! Warn them to get off of their “blessed ass-urances” and get busy with the work of the ministry! The harvest is great, the laborers are few, it’s late in the evening and the sun is almost down! In the long run,not only will you be saving yourself, but their lives will be enriched and the work of the Kingdom will be greatly multiplied! Can I get an Amen? You don’t hear me!