Ryan is the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Orange City, IA, and blogs at “By His Grace.”
This year so far two pastors in Iowa have died by suicide. The job fatality rate is higher than the police department my dad works for, which is located in a high crime area in Pittsburgh. My heart is heavy when I hear that a shepherd is slain by falling on his own sword.
I’m not writing to analyze what goes on in the heart of a man who chooses this end. Nor am I going to offer a list of suggestions on how to prevent pastoral suicide. There are others more qualified to do that.
But I do want to note that pastors often struggle with loneliness in a more intense way than most people realize. In her novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes this reality in the fictional minister, John Ames. In his own words, “My own dark time, as I call it, the time of my loneliness, was most of my life, as I have said, and I can’t make any real account of myself without speaking of it.” (p. 44). Loneliness can be part of the DNA of the minister’s life.
I have often wondered if a pastor is called to this in some unique way in order to identify with Christ, who was “lonely and afflicted” (Ps 25:16). Or maybe it is just the plain fact that a pastor spends most of his week alone in a study preparing messages. Either way, if loneliness leads to death it is beyond disturbing.
One small suggestion, whether you are a church member or fellow pastor: make a list of the pastors you know–including both the young and old, talented and ordinary, gregarious and quirky, small church and large church–and pray for them. Pray that they may take their loneliness and afflictions to Christ. Pray that despair does not lead to death. Pray this Psalm of promise for them, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Ps 50:15 NASB).
Clergy have a much less dangerous job than inner-city street cops do, yet it often proves just as deadly.