CNLP 385: Kayla Stoecklein on Handling the Pressures of Ministry, Suicide in Leadership, and How to Help Leaders Who are Struggling

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In August 2018, Andrew Stoecklein died by suicide. His death made news around the world and rocked not only his congregation, but the wider church leadership community.

His widow, Kayla Stoecklein, joins Carey today to talk about the unique pressures of ministry, what it’s like to be a pastor’s wife of a growing church, Andrew’s mental illness and death, and how to help leaders who are struggling.

Welcome to Episode 385 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.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey shares some tips to help your digital preaching.

Note: if you are struggling in any way with suicidal thoughts, please call  the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 immediately or go to your nearest ER. Your life is valuable and has purpose. 

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Fear Gone Wild by Kayla Stoecklein

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255

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1. The traditional “lead pastor” role comes with intense pressures

Kayla calls the traditional role of lead pastor ‘an impossible job.’

In one position, you are:

  • The CEO of a major organization that has to put out all of the big fires
  • Head communicator that has to write and deliver a fresh sermon 30-50 times a year
  • Chief visionary charged with inspiring passion into your people

That workload is a pressure cooker at the best of times. And at the worst of times, it will burn you out or lead you down a road similar to Andrew. If you have the opportunity to offload some of that responsibility onto another leader, do it.

2. If someone tells you that they are considering taking their own life, take it VERY seriously

Not very many people actually know what steps they should take if someone tells them that they are having suicidal thoughts. Kayla says that even if you think they aren’t being completely serious, you should take them 100% seriously, and take definitive action. Ask them deeper questions, call the authorities if you are worried it might happen then, and make sure that person is getting help.

You should also follow up with that person for the next few weeks, and ask them questions like, “Hey, how are those suicidal thoughts? Are you still thinking about killing yourself? Are you still struggling with suicidal thoughts? How are you feeling today? How are you feeling this week?”

Be intentional about getting other people who care about that person (friends, family or therapists) involved and informed, as well.

3. Suicide isn’t a selfish decision, and describing it that way isn’t helpful

During the summer before Andrew died from suicide, he told Kayla about how he was having suicidal thoughts. She let her emotions get the best of her, got angry and told him that suicide would be extremely selfish, and that he would never do that. And after that night, she never asked about it again.

Since his death, she’s learned that suicide isn’t a selfish action done with selfish motives like she thought before. She referenced how Ann Voskamp describes it as, “It feels like being trapped in a burning building, and the only way to escape the flames is to jump.” If someone is considering suicide, it may be the only logical way forward they can see.

Quotes from Episode 385

The pressure of ministry is keeping this facade that we have it all together. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet Being a lead pastor is a pressure cooker at the best of times. And that's true of whether you lead a large church with 30 staff or 300 or three, or you're all by yourself. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet CEOs and lead pastors end up being very lonely and isolated because they feel like they can't let anybody in and can't show weakness. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet When someone says 'suicide,' that moment is the time to respond, to lean and to ask questions. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet Suicide is a pain problem. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet It is possible to live with unbearable pain. Living with the pain is possible and building a beautiful life around that pain is possible. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and you haven't told a single person, you have to tell somebody, you have to invite someone in. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet The best thing we can do for anyone in pain is just to sit with them. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet I didn't take it seriously. I really truly believed that it would never happen, and it did. - Kayla Stoecklein Click To Tweet Speaking in front of a crowd is totally different than speaking in front of a camera with no crowd. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet To speak to your audience through a camera, start with the pain point or promise. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet With video, the attention span is much shorter. Five minutes of boring is five minutes too long. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet Don't memorize your talk, understand it. @cnieuwhof Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 385

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Next Episode: Jeff and Terra Mattson

Why do so many leaders collapse under the weight of leadership? Jeff and Terra Mattson have counselled and coached hundreds of leaders and share how gaps in integrity develop. In this interview, we list the signs you may be headed for a moral failure or collapse, how to spot a narcissistic leader, and the challenge young leaders face in shaping a perfect and growing platform.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 386.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

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We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.