I was saddened to learn that America’s number one killer of men has struck again. This time it took the life of Southern California megachurch pastor Andrew Stoecklein.
Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church (Chino, Ca) took his own life this weekend. My heart is broken for his wife and three children, as well as for his church family and community. Depression is real and pastors are not exempt or defective who experience it.
No they are not. This notion that Pastors are Christ-filled superheroes which serve as pillars in the storms of life is magical thinking. Pastors are human beings just like any other person. The only thing that differentiates them is a desire to teach and a willingness to be stretched in forty directions at once. We (I can say that since I was once one) have our emotional issues just like any other person does. Adding to the problem is that, given the expectation that we’re emotionally-stable people on a pedestal, many don’t feel they can speak out about their feelings. So like the mental cancer it is, depression metastasizes within their soul, eats away at their mental well-being, and ultimately consumes them.
It’s understandable that people would expect a lot of their Pastors. And Pastors feel duty-bound through faith they have in God and faith others have in them to fulfill all the demands they’re tasked with. Most are to be expected. Some a bit unrealistic. And a few completely impossible. But as any professional does, you take expectations of you for what they are and handle them the best you can with little drama or tension.
But this comment on Facebook… man this riles me up:
In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation at any given moment, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google.
Lord, give me strength and patience.
Pastors being business-savvy pseudo-celebrities with market appeal and photogenic faces… get over it. If you’re going to use the ways of the world to lure in “consumers” of your denomination, you’ve already failed as a Church. We are here to deliver the word and sacraments, not compete with the secular world for its attention. And many Pastors know it. It eats at them that they must balance Christ’s message with a business plan of flashy showmanship and knock-off pop music delivered in a sanctuary with stadium seating. So they burn out, burn up, and quit. Or, in the unfortunate case of Pastor Stoeklein, fall victim to suicide.
But this is what Baptist and/or Evangelical Pastors are expected to be. Back when I was a Baptist lay minister, I also served as that church’s financial secretary. I recall the Treasurer and I being called to a meeting with our district overseer regarding the “poor financial performance” our congregation. It was a sad, laughable disgrace which began my drawn-out exodus from the Southern Baptist Convention and Evangelicalism. We weren’t bringing in enough money. We needed to switch up our worship style to draw in different members who could afford to tithe. The members who don’t want to switch can either support the church more or go somewhere else.
Save for the families of myself and the Pastor, our entire Church body was made of people on disability and government assistance. I recall being told I needed to “snipe” members from wealthier churches in our town so we brought in more money. Obviously, I raised ethical concerns with these statements. Were we a Church, or were we a business? The reply was that we were a Church, but we needed to run like a business and look for people who could pay the bills.
There is absolutely no Biblical basis to run your church like it’s in the business of seat-filling and treat your Pastor as its CEO. Are you there to minister to the flock or shake them upside down for spare change? Yes, the bills need paid. But sometimes you just need to realize that the church is going to just be a small, impoverished body that needs assistance and plan accordingly. But that doesn’t fit the modern-day megachurch mentality that gets people in the door and stocks the treasury. The result is a glut of poorly-nourished children of God being led astray and pastors who can’t stand that they’re doing it.