Zebras at a Waterhole in Okaukejo, Etosha Pan, Namibia . PHOTO : J . Rieck

Thursday, October 7, 2010

When a Minister of the Gospel takes his own life

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.

3 comments:

debra said...

Joachim Rieck took the words out of my mouth. Early this morning I was compelled to send out an Email to all the Shepherds and the Sheep that I know in Sabie! Ds Engelbrecht is the father of Rikus and Rikus is the boyfriend of my daughter. What an amazing young man Rikus is! A young man who loves the Lord and treats others as he would want to be treated! He is a credit to his parents and we, as his friends, are devastated at this tragedy. Our heart bleeds for him and his family. We had not yet had the privilege to meet his father. In my mail I referred to a website http://www.intothyword.org/articles_view.asp?articleid=36562&columnid=3958 which published results of research done on over 1,000 Pastors in the USA. We are sheep have a responsibility to look after our Shepherds. And Shepherds have a responsibility to look after themselves and to let the Sheep know when they need help. I agree that a church should send their Pastor on Sabbatical at least every 5-7 years. 12 weeks holiday for them to do what they want plus treat them to spiritual camps at least twice per year. The fact that I found this website with Joachim's comments is proof to me that God wants us to shake us up and let us know that Pastors are humans too! If something good can come out of this tragedy, may God receive the glory. Will meet you in heaven Ds Drikus Engelbrecht.

Conrad Mbewe said...

This account leaves me with a lot of food for thought. Having known what depression can do (i.e. the painful feeling that life is meaningless and empty), I can only grieve that a fellow minister failed to come out of its nasty grip until it was too late. May we all know the joy of the Lord as our strength even as we serve him against all odds. Amen!

Thomas Louw said...

Pastors should always be seen as mere mortals. It is totally unhealthy to see them in any other light.
Pastor should not be isolated by themselves or others. All of us are sinners, some redeemed, some not. Pastors are part of the community of believers growing and learning while instructing and leading.
They also need to be ministered to.