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

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

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  • How To Keep You And Your Team Out Of Burnout
  • 7 Strategies To Deepen Digital Engagement
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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.

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


  1. Justin on December 15, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks Carey. This is something that needs to be heard. Spoke to my heart.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 15, 2020 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks Justin. Stay encouraged!

      • Trevor on December 15, 2020 at 3:53 pm

        Wow. I was choking back tears more than once. Great interview! Kayla is so honest especially about her own thoughts and perceptions about church leadership and the pressure it put on her and Andrew. At times I felt angry – how can we be allowing leaders to feel this way? And yet, I’ve had similar thoughts (in a much smaller church) when I was pastoring. The problems of isolation and fear are systemic and so counter to what we all long for the Church to be! So grateful for her willingness to share an unvarnished story about suicide. Her words at the end about the omnipresence of God were so beautiful. We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Truly humbling.

  2. Scott on December 15, 2020 at 1:23 am

    Point well taken to never accuse someone of being selfish if they are thinking about suicide. However, as a thought for myself, it’s very helpful to me to say that to myself: Don’t play with the idea of suicide as a solution because it is selfish. The horror of the thought of how suicide would affect my kids is super helpful to me. I automatically think that. No one has to tell me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 15, 2020 at 6:57 am

      Thanks Scott…In my dark moments that thought helped snap be back too. Such a sad sad phenomenon all around.

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