What kind of personal pain would cause a pastor to abandon his family, his calling and even life itself? Members of a Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk) here in Windhoek, Namibia must be asking that question after their pastor committed suicide by shooting himself on Wednesday the 6th October 2010. A member of his church, in response to SMS which the pastor sent saying that he was “on His way to meet his Maker”, came just too late. This pastor apparently suffered from deep bouts of depression, and had purportedly previously tried to take his life… (Republikein, Thursday 7th October 2010)
As I read this my heart was so very sore and I remembered the words of 1 Kings 13:30 where an old prophet laid to rest a younger prophet who had been killed by a lion with these words: He just said, “Oh my brother…”
What shall we say to this ?
I believe that this suicide is a wake up call to the fact that pastors are not immune to suicidal tendencies. The problem with pastors may be that they do not like to talk about suicidal feelings because it violates their understanding of faith. They think that they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts. What troubles me in the case of my colleague is that he did talk to some about his suicidal thoughts! All this drives me to further reflection upon the Word of God and prayer for my brother pastors.
What can we say about the unique difficulties that pastors face in the present climate and culture in which we must minister? In John Piper's excellent biographical paper of C.H. Spurgeon entitled, "Preaching through Adversity", presented at the Bethlehem Pastor's Conference in 1995, he writes:
"Everyone faces adversity und everyone must find ways to persevere through the oppressing moments of life. Everyone must cope with going to work, paying the bills, discipline the children and keep on going when the heart is breaking. But it is different with pastors – not totally different, but different. The heart is the instrument of our vocation. The work of the pastor is more than mental work – it is ‘ heart work’. It is the labour of our inmost soul. So when the pastor’s heart is breaking he must labour with a broken instrument.
The question is this: How does a pastor do ‘heart work’ when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?
Let's face it. Preaching the great and glorious truth of the gospel in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious presents an immense difficulty to many pastors. Many of our people in the pews, while they call themselves ‘practising Christians’ are actually ‘practical atheists’ . The faithlessness and the hypocrisy of many in our present generation may drive a preacher to an introspection in which suicide may become an option. I am not saying that I agree with this option. I don‘t ! But I want you to see the issues behind it.
Many modern pastors are under relentless pressure to accommodate themselves to the whims and wants of their society in order to keep their churches relevant and going. Many churches must battle for financial survival, and the pastor is increasingly seen as the CEO who must ensure that the church survives. In that process they are no longer allowed to be true, biblical prophets who must hold the infallible, unerring, trustworthy standard of God’s Word before their people.
In our Namibian society (under the horrible influence of American Tele-evangelism) our pastors are allowing themselves to be pressurized into becoming something else - something other than the calling that they may have once received. And suddenly the horrible feeling begins to break over them that they do not know any longer who they are, and so we find that for them the center is no longer holding. And when God is no longer at the center, then we are capable of doing anything!
I write this with a sense of great sadness. My heart goes out to his bereaved family. Although I do not know you, I love you in the love of Christ our Saviour.
Although I did not know Ds. Drikus Engelbrecht well at all (we met only on a few occasions), I call upon my brother pastors to develop and preach an understanding of a biblical theology of suffering that will take us through the many valleys of the shadow of death, until Jesus comes, or calls us home.