Suicide, Leadership and the Dark Inner Struggle Few Understand

So how are you doing, really?

It’s a question I ask friends, leaders, family and myself more and more.

Too many church leaders have died by suicide in the last few years, and I find it heartbreaking to see.

It often seems that leaders don’t show immediate signals about how deep their struggle really is.

I’m personally familiar with the dark struggle of leadership.

The struggle, obviously, doesn’t always end in suicide, but it does often end in discouragement, defeat and even quitting leadership because of the pressure.

So in this post, I’ll take you into some of my own struggles and share 5 things that I realize today that I didn’t always know about leadership. These insights have helped me sort through what I’m feeling and experiencing and helped me discern where the next path might be.

Whether you’re struggling with suicide, or if you’re just feeling isolated, unheard or misunderstood in leadership, I hope this post helps.

If you have the most remote question in your mind about your will to live, or if you are suicidal, please stop reading this post and call 911 or, in the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line (in Canada call 1.833.456.4566.)

Although I don’t regularly struggle with depression (I did suffer a deep bout of it in 2006), and I’m not a counsellor, I do know the daily struggle of leadership. I can empathize with how dark it feels sometimes.

And that’s our common connection point. Almost any leader knows the deep struggle of leadership. You don’t have to be in it long to know how dark or difficult it can get.

I hope this post feels like hope and help to you.

Almost any leader knows the deep struggle of leadership. You don't have to be in it long to know how dark it can get. Click To Tweet

My Own Suicidal Season

Although I write about leadership all the time, it’s difficult for me to write about leadership and suicide, in part because it’s a desperately complex subject, and in part because I don’t even like to admit I was there a number of years ago myself.

The way I got to my suicidal season was through burnout. And the worst part of my burnout in the summer of 2006 was a season when I thought that ending it was the most logical and least painful way out.

Let me say it again before we dive into more words and my attempt at some insights: maybe you think the only way through your pain is to end it. It’s not.

Leaders, maybe you think the only way through your pain is to end it. It’s not. Click To Tweet

In my last book, I have an entire section on burnout and how to overcome it, but I only gave five paragraphs to my battle with suicidal thoughts.

Honestly, I was just too terrified/embarrassed/ashamed to write more.

The fact that I entertained thoughts about ending my life still comes as a surprise to many people who follow me online, and to some of my friends and people who know me personally. It’s just so hard to talk about.

But it happened.

I tell the whole burnout story in my book  Didn’t See It Coming, and here’s an excerpt from the book about my own personal suicidal season:

My situation grew even darker than all that. Over a decade later, I still can’t believe I’m going to write this next section. Part of me doesn’t even want to admit this portion of the story is true. But it is, and I know this is an aspect of the experience far too many people can identify with.
By late summer, I began to think the best way to get through this burnout was to not go through it. Because hope had died for me in those months, I began to wonder whether that should be my preferred option as well.

For the first time in my life, I began to seriously think that suicide was the best option. If I had lost hope, was no good to anyone, couldn’t perform what I was expected to do, and was causing all kinds of pain to others (a conclusion that wasn’t coming from a place of objectivity), then perhaps the best solution was to be no more.

By God’s grace, I’ve never owned any weapons. If I did, I shudder to think about what I might have done to myself in a weak moment. I’m not terribly coordinated or technically skilled, so I figured a kitchen knife would probably result in me doing things horribly wrong. In my mind, my preferred path was to take my speeding car into a concrete bridge support and end things that way.

I don’t know how close I came to doing it. I’m far from an expert at determining how serious a threat like that is. Although I never undid my seat belt and never sped up far past the limit as a bridge approached, I do know the thought of ending it that way became a false friend to me, a strange and perverse source of comfort. And, in a twisted way, maybe a way of getting back at a God and a life I felt were letting me down.

As I look back now, over a decade later, on how I felt at that time, it seems like it was someone else who struggled with those thoughts. It’s amazing how an episode like this can play with your mind, but that’s exactly what burnout does: it messes with your thinking.

Its arena is your thought life, and burnout can be a merciless, savage beast. I’m so grateful I didn’t listen to those voices, but I share this in case you might be hearing something similar.

Do the people you love a favor: Don’t listen. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. The negative voices are lying. That’s not who you are, and that is definitely not the solution, even though some days it can feel like it is.

Looking back on that now, there’s still so much shame and stigma mixed with gratitude that I didn’t listen to the voices in my head that were telling me the only way out was out.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am I didn’t listen.

The story in my life is so much different than I thought it would be in 2006. While every life has its struggles, and mine does too, I feel so much better and more fulfilled.

But I couldn’t see any of that back then.

So What’s Going On?

So what’s going on in leadership that drives people into burnout, despair and hopelessness?

People have theories.

I’ve heard many argue that the pressure of megachurches and platforms make things more intense.

And perhaps that’s true. There is an intensity that comes with a large responsibility and high visibility.

But I know small church pastors who took their own lives and left sobbing families and grieving congregations behind.

Why is that?

While this post is not a dissection of Darrin’s struggle or anyone else’s, here are 5 things that I see now about leadership that I couldn’t see back in 2006 when I had my dark night of the soul.

1. Leadership surrounds you with people but can leave you feeling utterly alone

I’m often amazed in my own life how much contact with people I have.

Even in lockdown during COVID, my days end up being a sea of endless Zoom calls, connections, texts and conversations.

So it’s easy to think you have exceptional people in your life you can turn to. Which, in many respects you do.

Some recent survey results, though, suggest a more nuanced picture.

I recently polled over 700 church leaders (you can take the poll here) and here’s what the survey found.

Leaders Are Surrounded By People

On the positive side, most leaders say they are surrounded by people the feel connected to and a God they can trust.

    • 93% of church leaders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “I have people in my life I can count on no matter what happens.”
    • 82% of pastors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “In the midst of this crisis, I feel very connected to my friends and family.”

    • 90% of pastors agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “When I am in crisis, I find my hope in God.”

Which makes you think everything must be great when it comes to church leaders.

Now dig a little deeper.

But Still Feel Very Alone

The same survey also reveals this:

    • 51% of church leaders, when asked the question “How isolated are you feeling today?”,  said they feel extremely isolated or somewhat isolated.

Those findings summarize something I’ve sensed in my conversations with so many church leaders, and honestly, at times in my own life.

Leadership surrounds you with people but can leave you feeling utterly alone.

I’ve experienced this paradox myself.

I’ll have so many people around me that I’ll say to my wife or close friends that I’m completely ‘peopled out.’

Sometimes at the end of the day, I feel like I don’t want to talk anymore, which leaves me disconnected from the person/people I love and need the most.

But the day spent filled with too many texts, emails and conversations still leaves me feeling alone.

What is that?

Well, it’s complex, for sure. Bear with me as I try to explain it in the next few points below.

Leadership surrounds you with people but can leave you feeling utterly alone. Click To Tweet

2. Leadership brings with it a pressure that’s hard to understand if you’re not in leadership

You may be surrounded by people, but it can be hard to find people who understand what you’re carrying as a leader.

I’m not slamming people, but those same friends and family that we feel so deeply connected to can provide support for many of our needs as people, but often don’t understand (and can’t understand) the burden that leaders carry because, well, they’re not leading what you’re leading.

When I head out into a social situation—parties, family gatherings, dinners out, hanging out with friends, sometimes even small group—if I start sharing some of the challenges I’m facing, I often get met with blank stares or a quick response and then we shift topics.

As a leader, you feel the pressure of managing teams, expectations, budgets, and leading yourself that people not in leadership don’t understand.

Leadership simply brings with it a pressure that’s hard to understand if you’re not in leadership.

And when people can’t speak meaningfully into those challenges, I leave feeling a little unheard and unhelped.

As much as this is bothersome, I’ve had to admit to myself that this is perfectly normal, predictable and acceptable.

Just switch the example for a moment and you’ll see why.

Imagine going to a party and talking to a brain surgeon who says to you “I was wondering about changing my strategy on cerebral aneurysm repairs. Any thoughts?”

I would give her a blank look and change the subject too.

So when I briefly talk to my non-leader friends about strategic planning, SEO optimization, hiring strategies, and writing techniques, it’s no wonder it’s not a deep or long conversation. It’s not their field.

Their inability to comment is 100% not their fault.

It simply means I took the right problems to the wrong people. Other leaders can speak meaningfully into my life on those issues, even if other people can’t.

But when you don’t realize that, it can leave you feeling alone as a leader with nowhere to go.

Leadership brings with it a pressure that’s hard to understand if you’re not in leadership.

Leadership simply brings with it a pressure that's hard to understand if you're not in leadership. Click To Tweet

3. Leadership means you’re probably great at giving, but not at receiving

So that’s one dynamic. But there are more.

Guess what you do pretty much all day every day as a leader?

You give.

That’s true of business leaders, but it’s especially true of church leaders.

You give—advice, care, help, insight, ideas, direction, guidance, an ear. And you make decisions, a lot of which disappoint some people in the moment even if they move the mission forward.

Leadership means you're probably great at giving, but not at receiving. Click To Tweet

All of which can leave you feeling drained at the end of the day.

You’ve given. But you haven’t fully received.  And doing a deep quiet time in the morning where you receive from God isn’t actually enough. God designed life to flourish in deep relationship with him, people and ourselves.

Healthy human relationships are mutual. You give and receive.

You care about others, but you also have people who care for you. Which is where many leaders drop the ball, myself included.

When this phenomenon happens consistently in personal finance, we have a name for it: bankruptcy.

Like most things in life, if your output exceeds your input as a leader, your output will eventually stop.

It’s difficult to pour anything out of any empty cup.

It's difficult to pour anything out of any empty cup. Click To Tweet

4. People don’t often ask you how you’re doing, and when they do, you hide

Back to the dynamics of leadership.

Sometimes after a long day, I’ll go to a social gathering, family gathering, a meal out with someone, or even my small group thinking this is personal time and it will be replenishing.

I’ll ask people a dozen questions, because that’s what we do as leaders.

But often, I’ve noticed, in that same exchange, often nobody asks me anything.

I’ve been at many gatherings where nobody asks me a single question. Not even “How are you doing? Tell me what’s going on.”

When I’ve shared this phenomenon with leaders I can’t believe how often people tell me this is what happens to them, too.

That’s certainly the way our culture is headed. Conversation is a dying art and many people just launch ‘status updates’ at other people rather than truly engaging them.

But it still leaves you feeling isolated, unheard and unnoticed.

Then, to make it worse, when someone does ask how you are, I find it’s too easy to give them a superficial or partially truthful answer.

We’re complex creatures.

As much as you want to be known, the moment someone asks, you hide.

While you shouldn’t share everything with everybody, we leaders end up sharing nothing with nobody.

For all these reasons, we end up feeling isolated.

Understanding the dynamic can help you address the patterns.

While you shouldn't share everything with everybody, we leaders end up sharing nothing with nobody. Click To Tweet

5. Most Leaders Just Really Need a Friend (And Most Don’t Have One)

Friends come in different packages. And I’m tremendously fortunate to have great family and friends around me.

But again, finding people who understand the load of leadership you’re carrying can be rare.

That college buddy you’ve tracked with for years may be a great friend, but if he can’t understand the leadership load you’re under, you won’t be able to go as deep as you need to go.

Different friends serve different functions in your life.

But who can you share everything with?

That’s why I’ve had to be intentional about building friendships with a small handful of leaders who do understand what I’m experiencing because they’ve led at similar levels.

They get the pressure, the decisions, the dynamics, the temptations, the struggles. They understand.

Sometimes they have advice. Sometimes they just listen.

Here’s the weird but powerful truth: those friendships don’t just happen, they have to be built.

The deepest friendships don't just happen, they have to be built. Click To Tweet

Clinical psychologist John Townsend agrees.

Townsend says most leaders actually don’t have those friendships, and he outlines a simple process through which you can ‘interview’ some people you know to see if they’d provide that kind of life-giving friendship. (You can listen to him explain the problem and that process here.)

I’m fortunate to have a few of those friendships, but I also realize I can neglect them and they take intentionality.

One of those friends and I started a texting routine every morning a few weeks ago to help us both get through the challenges of the current crisis.

Every morning we just text each other three things:

Best. What’s the best thing that happened yesterday?

Worst. What’s the worst that’s happened (or is happening)?

Prayer. What do you want prayer for today?

That’s been so life-giving in this season of lockdown. I’ve gotten to know more minutiae about his life, and he’s gotten to know me so much better.

And I don’t feel as alone.

So How Are You Doing? Today’s Your Day To Get Some Help

So back to the first question…how are you doing, really?

I’m guessing you may be feeling more alone than you realized.

If you’ve resonated with anything in this post, today’s the day to get some help.

You’ll know who best to tell, but please, don’t keep silent. Here are some people you can tell:

  • If you’re suicidal, call the US call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In Canada call 1.833.456.4566. 
  • If you’re depressed, tell your doctor.
  • If you’re struggling, tell your counsellor.
  • Tell a friend.
  • If you’re married, tell your spouse,  but don’t just tell your spouse. Your pain may be too heavy a burden for your marriage alone to bear.

Reach out.

Reaching out is hard. It is for most leaders, especially guys.

It was very hard for me.

My guess is you will resist because of pride. And pride may be something that led you to burn out in the first place. Swallow your pride and tell someone safe that you have a problem.

Whatever you do, don’t keep your suspicions of burnout or suicide to yourself.

Leaders, break the silence before the silence breaks you.

Break the silence, before the silence breaks you. Click To Tweet

Nothing good happens when you’re isolated.

Telling someone is the first step toward wellness. When you admit your problem to others, you also finally end up admitting it to yourself.

Bring your struggle into the light.

Light dissolves darkness like fear never will.

Light dissolves darkness like fear never will. Click To Tweet


What Are You Learning?

What are you learning about leadership, your mental health and staying encouraged over the long haul?

Scroll down and leave a comment below.

Suicide, Leadership and the Dark Inner Struggle Few Understand


  1. francis Ngoboka on September 5, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Thanks Carey,great lessons. I,m learning to balance great giving and great recieving.I have done giving,giving,giving…which is unfare.
    learning to receive and from where can be equally important. otherwise output can drain.
    bless you.Francis N.

  2. Michael on September 2, 2021 at 11:03 am

    Thank you, Carey. That first (and last) question really is the catalyst, “How are you doing… really?” I’ve never really struggled with thoughts of suicide, but stepping out of ministry and hiding is always front and center. I’ve led our fellowship for almost 18 years now, and over the last 7 years or so, all it’s done is shrink. We’ve dropped services, ministries, and events due to lack of participation until really all we have is Sunday morning… and then the pandemic hit, and Sunday morning has shrunk too. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve had another church move into our building and we’ve started cooperating in several areas of ministry–which is great and a beautiful picture of unity. Now we’re having discussions about a possible merger and if that’s the best arrangement. As a result, we’re looking at everything: roles, responsibilities, budgets, etc. and I find myself wanting to quit and hide more and more and more. I feel like vocational ministry takes everything and gives nothing back. Spend yourself utterly and watch the tree wither anyway. We’ll merge and I’ll have turned my life and ministry upside down and for what? My wife feels the same: totally spent and no one really cares or follows our lead, and so she rarely has an encouraging word or response to talking about what we’re looking at doing in the church, so I’m reluctant to talk about church stuff with her. Your point about others not understanding, and our tendency to hide when anyone does ask how we are are related. I do know they don’t understand, so I don’t even go there… “I’m doing alright.” Unlike a brain surgeon, everyone expects something from a pastor. I may not relate to a brain surgeon, but I don’t expect him to do anything for me when we’re at a gathering either. As a pastor, everyone expects something (and it’s always different depending upon who you’re with). It would be so nice to just be a regular person without people (wrongly) thinking you’re there to solve their problems and struggles. We have seen kingdom fruit, in our personal relationships, in the lives of our foster and adopted kids, which only throws more negative on top of the institutional church. I’d rather not continue knocking myself out shoveling coal into a dying machine… but I have to pay the bills (that’s terrible but true). Anyway… all this to say, your article has opened the door for me to look at how I am doing, really, and to stop ignoring my struggle, thinking I just have to suck it up and deal with it because it’s probably just me, my problem/something wrong with me. Bless you, sir.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 3, 2021 at 1:36 pm

      Michael, I’m so sorry. I know you’re not alone in this experience and I hope you know that too. I have made such healthy progress with a professional counsellor, you might find some healing in processing your experiences with someone you can deeply trust like that. Truly, all the best to you Michael. Keep loving Jesus.

  3. David Goupille on September 2, 2021 at 9:14 am

    Hi Carey, Thanks for the daily wisdom you dispense. I look forward to reading your posts. Just a thought one one of your points: “Leadership Brings With It A Pressure That’s Hard To Understand If You’re Not In Leadership.” My Dad was a faithful church planting pastor for almost 40 years. As I was in the process of relocating to begin my first experience as a pastor, I asked him for some advice. He said, “Always be yourself. Be real, and that will be enough.” Then he said, “In your preaching, always put the candy on the lowest shelf. If the kids in your congregation understand you, then their parents will understand you.” Then he said, “I can’t really tell you the next one.” 6 Months later, we were together and I told him I wanted to take a stab at the thing he couldn’t tell me. It was the idea that leadership brings with it a pressure that’s hard to understand if you’re not in leadership. The switch never gets flipped to a totally “off” position. That was 30 years ago. The Lord has taught me, been patient with me, and surrounded me with good friends. I can identify with the feelings of desperation that want it all to be over. I’ve thought about bridges, car crashes, and running harder to see how much my heart could take. I got help from a good doctor, a good counselor, good friends, and a wonderful wife. Yet, in all of that, the Lord has been faithful to me and sent encouragement at the right time. Thank you for your posts. Sometimes it helps just to know that somebody else knows how it feels. Keep up the good work!

  4. EB on September 2, 2021 at 9:03 am

    This has brought light to my darkness I have been battling with ending it the thoughts are real feeling like a failure is painful. I know ending it will only bring more pain to my family yet every day I feel my existence brings them pain it’s a vicious cycle thanks for giving at least help for another day

  5. stella on September 2, 2021 at 6:25 am

    You have saved a dying soul today. Honestly, i was at the verge of saying, quit and sit silent.
    I have quite often asked why others can not think for a second that we are just humans who experience same challenges and negative emotions can weigh us down; but just load all problems on you without regard or even blame you for not solving their problems.
    I am really getting to understand the God who shoulders all the problems of the world.
    Thanks to you and your Ministry. i will indeed hang on there..

  6. Brad Bess on May 13, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Such great content, thank you for sharing, especially about your own personal struggles! We need to know that those we learn from and want to be like still face obstacles. God bless you! I’m so grateful I have found you online. You are helping me and our church become better!

  7. JASON ALVARADO on May 12, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Thank you, Pastor. This was a wonderful article. I have been there many times. Thank you for your transparency and Divine saturated wisdom. I agree that we need to expose our wounds to the Light and step closer to meaningful intentional relationships. God can’t heal what we hide. God bless you, sir. Thank you for using your gift in such Culture Redefinihng ways.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Thank you Jason.

  8. Nithin Sam on May 12, 2020 at 3:00 am

    Dear Carey,
    This is such a wonderful post and I quite benefit from your posts. I have felt so lonely very often being the leader of our organisation. I had to recently inform our team about the recent transition we are going through. I tried to keep a non-anxious presence while I was sharing all about it to the team. It was a tensed moment. Once the zoom meeting was over, I sat back in relief. They all took it well (Thanks for your course ‘How to lead through crisis’. I wrote down everything and answered all the questions in the application guide) My wife asked me why would I be so anxious about it. I couldn’t believe she said that. I felt so weak then, asking myself whether I would be a weak leader. But I now understand that it is okay if they don’t understand it. I don’t have any friend in leadership. I need to work on that area. But thanks, Carey… Thank you a lot!!!!
    I kinda literally lead based on your podcast!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2020 at 8:08 am

      Nithim…oh man, that’s a tough circumstance and great self-awareness. I’m cheering for you. Hang in there!

  9. Barry Wong on May 11, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    Beautifully written and deeply meaningful. Thank you for daring to give us a peek into this part of your story. And praise God you made it out.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2020 at 8:08 am

      Thanks Barry. I’m so grateful!

  10. John Engberg on May 11, 2020 at 4:36 pm


    Thank you for a very informative and timely article! You are doing a great job! I wonder if Pastor Darrin had a true friend, someone he could tell anything to. Even King David had a “friend” on staff (I Chron. 27:33), probably to save his sanity. His suicide is alarming. My heart goes out to his family and many others who are grieving the loss.

    I’ve been an associate pastor at a non denominational church in Chicago area for 13 years after being on staff with CRU for 12. I feel more pressure to “have it all together” as a pastor than in the para-church role. I have struggled to have a “normal” friend. I do have two men outside of this church who I can tell all my struggles. They accept me. I hear their struggles. Covid-19 just adds to the pressure many pastors feel, especially if their churches are struggling.

    What has helped me: A year of counseling and a men’s conference called: The Crucible Project helped me understand myself and freed me from deep wounds of the past. I now co-lead a men’s group called: GET REAL, where we train men to understand Scripture and push toward authenticity and truth, no matter how ugly it is. It’s a great time! It is even working now over Zoom. God bless you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Hi John. I guess that’s a question only Darrin could answer. So glad you got help! I hear you.

  11. Scott Strople on May 11, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Darrin Patrick was most recently a Pastor at our church – Seacoast near Charleston, SC (Mt Pleasant). Ironically, it was his speaking on the importance of friendships and relationships that inspired me to do pursue online resources for developing a deep friendship model in a world where traditional relationships have bern replaced with online everything. I began development on a series of resources that lead to a game oriented environment in an app to be called ‘Friendslee’ that was ultimately designed to be a platonic introduction platform that would allow a user to pursue relationships with other local or like minded users based on common interests and experiences initially anonymously, and facilitate the initial levels of communication that would ultimately lead to optionally meeting in person. The complexity of building such an environment online somewhat overwhelmed me last fall when my best friend and father passed on, and I frankly not only dropped the ball, but put it back in the closet. I am again inspired this day after learning about Darrin Patrick being gone last Thursday, thinking about it all over the weekend, and now reading your post as passed on to me by my sister. Thank you pnce again for the inspiration. And if you ever see the ‘Friendslee’ app or our ‘Friendsume’ builder in the online universe, check it out, know you helped kick it along, and contact me – I’ll owe you a piece of the pie!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Thanks for sharing Scott!

  12. Sarah Hardin on May 11, 2020 at 10:08 am


    I would add a pressure that most feel in the church world..or at least I do. We are always “On” If I’m in the grocery, “I’m on,” in front of my house, “I’m on,” bowling alley, yep there too. It can feel like you cannot truly relax

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2020 at 10:13 am

      That’s so very true Sarah…

  13. Sterling on May 11, 2020 at 9:59 am

    “Minutiae” not “minutia.” Spelling is such a small (minutiae or minute-adj) thing, but such a BIG thing. Sorry….correction with humor. Great article!! Thanks Carey.

  14. Stephan M. Koenig on May 11, 2020 at 9:28 am

    A great and timely post. We see in the Bible that God’s chosen leaders struggled the same way too and they needed the same consolation as well. Deep pain is always hard to overcome but seeking help from God and acknowledging what he has provided is always the one place to start. My prayers go out to all those leaders that embrace the calling to teach His people. They truly have an awesome but difficult calling. I pray they and their families get all the help and support they need. the rewards of that calling are truly worth it.

  15. Elizabeth Stone on May 11, 2020 at 9:02 am

    People are unaware of how pervasive suicide is, having increased almost 30% of our population since 1999, and at last count, 47,173 suicides per year. The biggest tragedy is that the church is behind and unprepared for this epidemic, and we do not know how to respond, we don’t have the spiritual resources to care for those who are in suicidal desperation. When my daughter attempted suicide in 2007, I became deeply involved in the issue, publishing a book about our testimony (Valley of the Shadow, 2014) and giving presentations to churches and seminars for clergy to equip us to bring help and healing. Reach out if you need some help.

    • Mark on May 11, 2020 at 10:57 am

      I don’t know if it is the spiritual resources that are missing as much as it is the knowledge of neuroscience which might be able to determine the cause of the desperation and a potential treatment. Exclusion these days does not help matters. Pastoral care is generally performed in the following order: end of life, funeral, grief care of spouse (if applicable) and one generation down/up (on rare occasion now); physically sick, old age, shut in; post-trauma or post-surgery, newborn child (maybe). Beyond those situations, few people seem to understand or have the time to care. Sometimes the judgmentalism and worn out sentences get in the way of helping. I have said many times that few people are able to grasp that there are parents out there, even in churches, who do not love their children. This shows up when the grandchildren of the deceased come home for the funeral and are told some empty sentences and then quizzed by the pastor about if they are still attending church and which one. Few people know anything about pastoral care in odd situations like unplanned pregnancy/miscarriage, when the person can’t attend a (family or friend’s) funeral, when there is no funeral in the case of ostracized child, (attempted) suicide of close friend/family member or their becoming a victim of violent crime. These are real situations, and yet they are tragically glossed over because everyone needs to look perfect and happy at church.

  16. Madk on May 11, 2020 at 8:49 am

    A lot of church leaders (pastors) have all the responsibility and no authority. They are constantly reversed by a group of leaders who are beholden to an unofficial power structure which can at times be completely ruthless. Some pastors are made to fear for their jobs every day and if a group thinks that the pastor is not giving them all the effort they believe they are due, then he is out. Most people in churches would help the leaders if they were allowed to solicit that help and if the mere mortals were allowed to help.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2020 at 10:16 am

      I appreciate this, and that may be your situation, but I think authority is earned and doesn’t attach itself to a title. John Maxwell has a very helpful booked called The 5 Levels of Leadership that might really help you think through this.

      • Mark on May 11, 2020 at 10:59 am

        Thanks. I am neither clergy nor lay a leader but am aware of this situation and on one occasion had to advise a minister to start planning his leave before his removal which I saw coming.

  17. David on May 11, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Thank you for sharing this. It is very helpful as just a few days ago I was explaining to a christian colleague that it is possible for a “born again believer” to be depressed to the point of suicide.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2020 at 10:17 am

      100% true. I can’t believe that people still think that’s not possible.

  18. Matt Sharpe on May 11, 2020 at 8:26 am

    As a former pastor turned professional counselor, I am deeply grateful for this article. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. If it’s helpful and appropriate to do so, I’ve included a link to an event we created this year called Semicolon Sunday. We come into churches and offer a one-day event that includes a worship service, a QPR Training, and additional resources for churches to identify and appropriately intervene when someone might be suicidal. We have seen phenomenal responses from churches.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2020 at 10:17 am

      So glad to hear you’re helping leaders Matt!

  19. Randy Starkey on May 11, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Excellent post. I’ve led a church of 1,000 and am now retired after passing the baton and transitioning to a friend and younger leader that went well. In leadership, a deep team practicing this sort of friendship is invaluable I think.

  20. Jay on May 11, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Thank you!

    • Rich on May 11, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      This is all easy for you to write. You made it through your time of suicidal thought. You’re respected, well known, successful, and, one may assume, financially stable. You’re healthy. My thoughts are ongoing. I’m gifted and talented, but I’ve been unemployed or under-employed for a decade, after being forced out of a position so my boss could hire a friend. (I’m a pastor.) Depression keeps me from moving forward in anything. We all don’t get the fairy tale ending you got.

  21. David Nelson on May 11, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Thanks Carey for speaking out on issues that so many leaders struggle with on a daily basis. In our meetings, we ask the question “How are you REALLY doing?” and appreciate Bobby Herrera for bringing that question to bear in your podcast. Keep up the excellent effort and may your day be filled with blessings.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 11, 2020 at 10:18 am

      Thanks David. I love Bobby. It’s a question that, like Bobby, I’ve been asking for years and it never goes out of date.

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