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CNLP 258: Rusty George on Suicide in Leadership, Grieving Your Losses and Recovering from Self-Righteous Legalism

Suicide is a growing problem in America, and one of the hardest to deal with personally and as a leader. Rusty George not only recently lost a campus pastor to suicide, he lost his friend of over twenty years.

Rusty talks in detail about the dynamics of responding to a suicide, helping people grieve, how to grieve your loss as a leader and why suicide is so difficult to handle. Plus, Rusty talks about his new book and how to leave legalism behind.

Welcome to Episode 258 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Guest Links

Rusty George | Facebook | InstagramTwitter

Justice Mercy Humility: A Simple Path To Following Jesus 

CNLP 189: Rusty George on Leadership and Trust: Why We Misplace It and How to Trust People After You’ve Been Burned

CNLP 095: The Challenges of Scaling a Church – An Interview with Rusty George

Is Suicide the “Unpardonable” Sin?

Episode Links

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3 Insights from Rusty

1. Don’t process tragedy alone

When facing tragedy, the natural reaction for any leader is to take the blame. You will feel responsible. You’ll think things like “this was on my watch”, “how did I let this happen?”, “he was my friend”, but there’s only so much blame you can take. At the end of the day, people do what they’re going to do and what they want to do. As a leader you have to quickly shift from blaming yourself to figuring out how to help those who’ve been hurt.

Don’t process grief alone. One of the biggest lesson’s Rusty’s church learned was that people can’t go around grief or get over grief. People have to go through grief and they can’t do it alone.

2. If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, tell somebody

You’re not alone in this struggle. We all have those moments. You may think that yours is at a different level, that no one knows what you feel like. There is somebody else that knows how deep your pain is. The quicker you get that secret out into the open and talk to somebody about it, the easier it will be to find healing.

As church leaders, we can get to a spot where we assume that somebody else will pick up our ministry if we take our own life. We think things will be better off without us. Rusty can tell you that is a complete lie. It is not easier without you. We need you healed and we need you here. Your family, your staff, and your community is better with you around.

If you’re grieving or contemplating suicide, there are options available to help you. Click here to find help for yourself or someone you love.

3. To kill your inner Pharisee, live in the Grace of God

Modern day Pharisees are one of the biggest reasons people walk away from God and the church. If we lose sight of how much we need God’s grace, we lose the ability to extend it to others. You begin to compare yourself to people and think you are better than them because you are better at “following the rules”. This is how you end up as a Pharisee.

One of the best ways to remove that hypocrisy is to pray that God would give you his heart for lost people. That’s a prayer God always says yes to and will help soften your heart towards the people you normally would judge. As we go through this mindset change we begin to live lives marked with true justice, mercy, and humility and end up attracting the people we would have judged back into the church.

Quotes from Episode 258

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 258

Looking for a key quote? More of a reader?

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

Didn’t See It Coming Will Help You Solve the Problems Most Leaders Miss

If you want practical help overcoming some of the biggest challenges leaders face, my new book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success and provides strategies on how to combat each.

I wrote the book because no 18 year old sets out to be cynical, jaded and disconnected by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

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Spread the Word. Leave a Rating and Review

Hopefully, this episode has helped you lead like never before. That’s my goal. If you appreciated it, could you share the love?

The best way to do that is to rate the podcast on Apple Podcasts and leave us a brief review! You can do the same on Stitcher and on TuneIn as well.

Your ratings and reviews help us place the podcast in front of new leaders and listeners. Your feedback also lets me know how I can better serve you.

Thank you for being so awesome.

Next Episode: Andrew Stanley 

He never even thought about doing comedy until his final year in college. Less than four years later, Andrew Stanley quit his day job and went on the road full time as a comic whose career has really taken off. Andrew shares how he learned to write jokes, what makes for a good bit and bad one, how to deliver lines to engage an audience, and what it was like growing up as Andy Stanley’s son and Charles Stanley’s grandson.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 259.

CNLP 258: Rusty George on Suicide in Leadership, Grieving Your Losses and Recovering from Self-Righteous Legalism


  1. Cyberflix on July 8, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Suicide is not the answer for many problems but how can leaders overcome such issue which should be care taken personally. The root cause is definitely depression. As far as I know, it’s all about mindset!

  2. Brian McMichan on May 1, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    I am very concerned at the massive incidence of depression, anger, violence, road rage, bullying, etc., etc. in Australia ….& the world.

    Almost three years ago I became aware that there are over 3 million severely depressed people in Australia (approx. 16% or 1 in 8 of the adult population)… of which more than 8 commit suicide EACH DAY. THEN what really surprised me was that when I checked out two “depression research institutes” in Australia, both had this statement in their publications …”We don’t know exactly what causes depression!” …. so how are they “dealing” with depression?…I believe sedatives & advising people to “take it easy!”

    Depression/anger/resentments/etc. is costing Australia (& the world) not only lives but multi $’billions each year in medical treatment (for the sufferers & for those they hurt), on job mistakes, absenteeism, vehicle accidents, social security, etc., etc.….. & this has been the situation for many, many years …. & is getting worse.

    I have not had even a headache or a cold in 28 years.

    The reason I am so healthy is that 28 years ago I read a promise by a US medical doctor (likely from the early 1970 – 80’s) that up to 99% of illness can be overcome by a simple process …. forgiving everyone that has “done you wrong”. This was mentioned in a coloured leaflet I was given by a woman as I travelled in a bus. Unfortunately, the medical profession (likely through pride) did not evaluate this or seek to adopt or recommend it …. consequently futile treatment of sickness is one of the major costs throughout the world.

    This is my story …

    In 1989, I was not a “believer” …. being “turned off” church due to so much “non-Christian exhibition” I experienced there about age 16.

    In 1989, I suffered crippling back/body pain. I had been under medical/chiropractic/physio treatment for about 9 months and had just received the prognosis from my doctor, “We could operate on you, but you could end up a cripple!” I was desperate, as I often fell on my knees in agony. So after receiving the doctor’s prognosis, I went home, then simply looked up called out in desperation … “Help me!”

    Within less than 15 minutes (God answers prayer quickly) a friend drove into my driveway. I asked him, “What are you doing here Pete?” He replied, “I was at home and was “prompted” to go to my bookshelf and get this book (as he handed it to me)& bring it to you.” It was a self-help book on muscle/body pain.

    Realising that this was likely the solution to my suffering, I followed the guide-lines in the book, with no help from anyone. Within 3 days, yes 3 days, I was completely free of all pain … and haven’t had a twinge since late 1989 … almost 30 years. … reflecting back on my plea “Help me!” I pictured Father smiling & saying “Ah! … I FINALLY have your attention!”

    What does He tell us …. Rom 8:28 We are assured {and} know that [God being a partner in their labour] all things work together {and} are [fitting into a plan] for good to {and} for those who love God and are called according to [His] design {and} purpose. …. so ALWAYS check with Father & ask, “What do I have to learn from this?”

    Prompted by “the miraculous cure of the back/body agony”, I was open to further “guidance” regards life situations. I soon realised that ‘life troubles” are in fact “attention getters” to prompt us to simply look up and call out “Help me!”. As I realised over the next few months I was being “given” help/direction with many things, I was drawn to seek God and I made a life commitment to Him on 7 October 1990, then “fully” baptised … WOW, what a difference in my life.

    Flowing on from the amazing happenings in my life, I was given a brochure by a woman as I travelled in a bus in 1991 – “Forgiveness, the power that heals” …. Available off the web.

    A few days after receiving the brochure, I found it in the bag I was carrying at the time. I read the brochure, then sat alone on my back veranda, with a pad and pen (to show God I was serious), and I appealed to God to remind me of ANYONE that I had not forgiven (I thought I had forgiven everyone).

    The very first names I was given were my Grandfather and Grandmother. I promptly questioned God, “Why do I have to forgive them? They died before I was born!” His prompt reply was, “Because you resented them dying because you didn’t have grandparents like other children did!” I replied, “Yes, that’s true.” I wrote down their names.

    Over the next hour I wrote out about a page and a half of names (people who had wronged me) at school, a teacher, work associates, etc. etc. and of course myself for various things I had “buried”.

    I then imagined Jesus beside me and one by one, I pictured each of the people coming to me. I forgave them and related why I needed to forgive them. Then I asked Jesus to forgive them and then they disappeared from view. That took about an hour and 1/2.

    WOW, what a difference in my life. The “normal ailments” disappeared and my understanding of God’s forgiveness and love was powerfully strengthened. I have not taken a headache tablet since. I used to wear prescription glasses. I am not on any medication. I have no aches or pains and I can’t remember the last time I had a cold.

    Luke 1:37 For with God nothing is ever impossible {and} no word from God shall be without power {or} impossible of fulfilment. (all He wants is for us to seek His help).

    Unfortunately, most people hold onto their resentments, hurts, etc. Quite often they think, “I will never forgive ….. for what he/she did to me!” Sadly, this binds them to the hurt (and creates a spiritual “tie” to the person who hurt them). I found out that forgiveness (with God’s help) is the only way to cut that “tie”.

    Sometimes people even blame God (or those they think represents God on earth) for their troubles. Once the “blockage” of un-forgiveness is gone, this opens the way for numerous “blessings” to come into people’s lives.

    Over my life, so many times I have heard people cry out, “O God help me!” – usually after years of suffering and attempting to “solve” the problem by numerous other “worldly” ways (or when they are in a desperate situation that they think they can’t escape from).

    I know what I have shared will help anyone who “Gives this a go!”.

    Please share this with anyone else who thinks there is no escape from the suffering they are experiencing. They deserve a chance to choose! As a bonus, they can then seek to be free of any other physical, emotional, spiritual burdens. Their hurts will go and so will the “triggers” to react to those hurts with other people.

    God wants all people to be free (see Luke 4:18-19)… all He asks is for them to believe and put their trust in Him. (Even if it takes them years of suffering, pain, etc to get to that point.). He has actually “freed” everyone by His sacrifice and payment on the cross …. all it takes is anyone is to “turn to the Light” (Lord Jesus) .. away from darkness, to see that they are free.

    I liken un-forgiveness to having a pebble in your shoe and the resultant pain, discomfort that results …… as soon as you take off your shoe and dispose of the pebble (even a small one will cause hurt), the pain and discomfort goes (unless you need to treat the irritation if you have “put up with” the pain & discomfort for a while).

    Pills, sedatives WILL NOT help people overcome depression, anger ….. the simple solution is to take the “stone out of their shoe” .. FORGIVE …. EASY!

  3. Dana Williams on April 17, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Jim was a friend, mentor, boss and like a brother to me. I clicked play and maybe I shouldn’t have. The details of Rusty’s account are too personal for such a public forum.

    Love love love your show, Carey. This one was hard to hear.

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