Multiplication Center

Mental Health and Our Pastors: The Elephant in the Room

September 24, 2018

(Recently featured in Leadership Network Advance.)

We were all stunned by the death of Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein from California. Pastor Stocklein’s wife wrote an incredible tribute to her husband on her blog and I posted it to my personal Facebook page. The response was overwhelming. I was encouraged by the compassion people shared.

I sensed, though, that Leadership Network needed to also have some sort of response. As an organization, we are all about leadership in the church and growing churches, but we consistently remind ourselves that if we aren’t growing healthy churches, and encouraging healthy church leaders, all of our work will be in vain.

I asked one of our board members, Mindy Caliguire, to put some thoughts together for us. Mindy has a long background serving the church. In 1998 Mindy founded Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry that exists to increase “soul health” in the body of Christ. She works at the intersection of spiritual formation and leadership. Here are a few words from Mindy:

My passion for leader’s souls began many years ago as I emerged from my own confusing and ultimately life-giving journey of soul recovery amidst ten years planting a church in Boston. My husband suffered greatly as well, and in different ways. My symptoms presented physiologically, but his went deep into the mind as my “golden boy” high-achieving husband could no longer get out of bed, shake fear and paranoia, or control his anger.

We had no idea back then what depression was… only that it probably shouldn’t be something that pastors and church leaders experienced. But there we were. Only a very few people were close enough to know something wasn’t right. Our family pictures looked very much like those of Andrew and Kayla. My heart breaks for them.

Our recovery has been slow and studded with divine intervention along a rocky path. But we are still taking family pictures, and for this i am incredibly grateful. And humbled, as I consider how the story might otherwise have gone with either of us. Truth is, we really don’t know what to do with the anxiety we feel such scary levels of anxiety in ourselves or others. There are no pat answers, no simplistic ways through or around. We can merely create time and space to be present to other’s pain. Or even our own.

But it matters that we do this simple thing. That we remain engaged.

Over many years I’ve talked with many leaders about the wellbeing of their souls. Countless stories of darkness and despair in the midst of ministry. I also hear stories of light, but they are more rare. My deep prayer is that this narrative would change greatly, and soon. There is too much at stake.

I am glad that the topic of mental health is gaining awareness for our population at large. I hope those who follow Jesus might lead the charge in raising awareness and offering true support and guidance, not additional shame or shallow answers to million dollar questions. Many individuals and organizations are doing this very thing, whether from a ministry, therapeutic, or spiritual formation perspective. And it’s vital that those in need reach out–sooner than later.

If you or someone close to you may be struggling, there are many immediate resources. Anxiety can creep up easily, with the Mayo Clinic list of symptoms reading like a typical day in a pastor’s life.

As I shared my reaction to the tragic loss of Lead Pastor Andrew Stoeckleim, my son mentioned that it reminded him of one of his favorite spoken word artists, Levi the Poet. Perhaps you are familiar with Levi’s work. I’ll admit, some of Levi’s stuff is pretty edgy, but I remember where I was when Jeffrey first played a particular track of Levi’s spoken word poetry for me in our home last year. I all but fell apart. Jeffrey tells me that Levi’s dad was a pastor, whose mental illness led to suicide. It’s raw, real, and shows us the true heart shared by many in our churches and in church leadership.

Levi’s own battle with anxiety and grief bleeds through the courageous, yet harrowing and honest lyrics of his poetry. In particular, the piece Jeffrey played for me that day that expresses Levi’s plea to anyone who might be thinking their life may not be worth living.

His post on the “To Write Love On Her Arms” blog tells the backstory of this piece, and links to a beautiful compilation of the poem put to videos from Levi’s fans who sent clips in response to his question, ““Would you send me a video you’ve taken that acts as a reminder for why life is worth living?”

The reality now coming to light in so many levels is there is such deep unhealthiness in many of our churches, and in particular in our leaders. My prayer, if you are one of those pastors or ministry leaders struggling today, is you will find hope and courage through these lyrics.

Walk gently today friends. As we are often reminded, “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

And I would add, beyond kindness, please CARE. Ask. Reach out. Get involved. Remind someone why their life is worth living.

Below are different kinds of resources available to bring healing and hope I’m sure there are many more, but I pray these are a start.

Thanks, Mindy. Pastoral health is one reason I believe in our ministry here at Leadership Network. Our leader groups were designed largely to put pastors in community to help them lead with health.  But, we must all be in this together.

Friends, if you know of other resources, feel free to send them to me personally. We will collect them and share as requested or where we see opportunity.

At Leadership Network, we want to see healthy churches and church leaders. And, we do care.

Need immediate help? If you are struggling with thoughts of ending your life… call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


Recent Articles