My cousin’s trembling voice uttered the unthinkable. “Kay, I need to let you know that Wayne took his life this morning.” My knees collapsed under me. “No! How can this be? What happened? Why? What was wrong with him?”
My mouth formed tumbling questions despite my mind being frozen in disbelief and grief.
Through his tears, my cousin told me his brother-in-law had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for some time. His family thought Wayne was truly improving after he agreed to see a therapist.
On the morning of his death, Wayne said goodbye to his wife, Lynn, as she left for work. But Lynn felt uneasy and came home at lunch to check on him, only to find the worst had happened.
On the kitchen counter was a note he wrote apologizing for hurting his family, telling them he loved them and explaining that he just couldn’t go on. Wayne made sure the dog was safe in his kennel before he ended his life.
Raised on the plains of West Texas, Wayne Oglesby was a preacher’s kid who followed in his father’s footsteps. He met my cousin, Lynn, in college and they made a fine team—vivacious, warm, football-fanatic, Jesus-loving folks who pastored small churches for decades.
Wayne is not the only pastor or faith leader to experience mental illness, addiction, financial difficulty and thoughts of suicide. Sometimes the media blares the news of a pastor who dies by suicide, but often, they die quietly, unnoticed by many outside of their church and the local community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for every completed suicide in the general population, there are 25 attempts and thousands more who think seriously about ending their lives. Pastors are not exempt from these statistics.
Wayne devoted countless hours to the duties of a pastor—preaching, teaching, marrying, burying, visiting the sick, showing up in the wee hours of the night for those in need. But over time, his life slowly began to change. Sometimes pastors and congregations don’t mesh well, even when there’s nothing really wrong, and Wayne and Lynn were asked to resign from a church they were serving. For the first time in his adult life, Wayne was no longer a pastor. Still in his late 50s with many years ahead of him, he was rudderless. He had never been great with money management, and he began to overspend, taking on more debt than they could handle. He started drinking too much. He found employment as a chaplain for a funeral home, but it just wasn’t the same as being a pastor.
Depression set in, and he fought hard against the way it sapped his energy and sense of well-being. He often expressed disappointment and confusion on the way his life turned out. The guilt he felt for overdrinking and for putting his family’s financial future at stake ate away at his peace of mind.
Wayne didn’t really want to die. He was trapped inside himself, seeking a permanent way out. But on March 4, 2010, this kind, loving, dedicated pastor with a West Texas twang concluded that his wife and family would be better off without him. He convinced himself that they would have a better life without his emotional breakdowns, without the stress of his financial mistakes and without the burden of his pain.
He was wrong. His wife, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, and former church members are not better off without him. The crushing, soul-shattering grief of his suicide changed them forever.
You are a person before you are a minister. An ordinary man or woman who is vulnerable to the same illnesses, life circumstances, and woes as everyone else. Yet you have the added stress of living in a glass house, always under the watchful eyes of church members. Sometimes both faith leaders and the congregation forget that pastors are merely human and expect superhuman feats of endurance, wisdom, and knowledge. The unrealistic expectation that pastors and their families walk on water can only lead to deep disappointment and disillusionment, which can be lethal.
Some of you, like Wayne, have faithfully ministered and you’re abiding as closely with Jesus as you know how; you’ve done everything you can think to feel better, but you don’t. It’s entirely possible that you’re experiencing depression. If so, you’re not alone. Please don’t feel even one second of shame or embarrassment. Biblical figures, early church fathers and mothers, respected theologians, and famous pastors and church leaders throughout the centuries—as well as many of the readers of this article—have lived or are living with bouts of depression. It’s not a sin to be depressed. You’re not weak or flawed, and you don’t have a character defect. You’re not a spiritual baby. Depression is an illness; it’s real, it’s common, and it’s treatable. It’s vital that you understand that untreated depression can be lethal. Make an appointment to see your primary care physician as soon as possible and talk to her about your symptoms. She may run some lab tests to check a variety of conditions that could be affecting your mood, and she may recommend you see a psychiatrist for a more thorough evaluation. She may suggest you take a medication to help manage the bleak darkness that depression can bring. No matter what, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your doctor and don’t wait!
We’re whole beings—body, mind, and soul—so attack depression on every level possible. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and relationally. Most of all, don’t suffer in silence; don’t hide your pain from your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re a part of the body of Christ, and when one member hurts, we all hurt. As Larry Crabb insists, the church must be the safest place on earth, where we can bring our broken selves, our depressed selves, our addicted selves, our anxious selves—all of who we are and who we are not—and find not only a welcome embrace but also fellow strugglers who will journey with us no matter how long it takes.
If you, or someone you know, is in distress or crisis, call 800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Visit KayWarren.com for free mental health resources.
I am a pastor who had suffered a bout of depression and panic attacks. I must confess I felt as if I wasn’t around would it matter. I shared this statement to my aunt who lived 14 hours away. That evening there was a knock on the door she and my cousin came to check on me. It made a difference in my life. Also, during the same period I had a member of the congregation recognize the sign of depression in me and told me I needed to see someone. I heeded his advice and took the visits of my aunt and cousin, and sought out Christian counseling that helped to express and tell people my needs. Counseling helped me and made a difference in my life.
We need a Christian based suicide line. Many of those manning the current lines don’t have a clue.
thank you sister kay warren for this very compassionate and frank presentation of a very serious subject. i pray God gives us the wisdom to know what to do with our brethren who need help in this area. Shallom
Great article Kay…as a pastor and CR attender we need to hear about these issues. Please keep them coming.
I am a Pastor that suffers with depression and anxiety disorder and I know that it’s by the Grace of God that I am here today sometimes it’s hard to tell others that you are having trouble with things others take for granted but I have learned that Jesus can fix anything that is wrong in Our lives.
To God be the glory. Amen
Thanks for raising this awareness!
Very well articulated!
You asked the question,”Who pastors the pastor?” I want you to know that I’m serving an organization that has that mission! PastorServe grew out of a pastor struggling alone with no preceived place to turn and his passion became insuring that ‘Every pastor has a pastor!”
Originally, it only served make leaders in ministry but recently is taking the leap (in the Baptist denomination the chasm is wide and real) to serve WOMEN in ministry leadership as well!
I’d love to have a conversation with you about this! I’d love your ideas of what it takes to bridge the gap and remove the barriers that keep women from receiving the support they need.
So good ! We are not alone. We all do struggle. God is walking with us. I will continue to hold onto Him :-)
Kay, thanks a lot for this message! I ‘m currently serving in Gabon, in central Africa and i will translate in french and share this encouraging message with the sons and daughters of God around.
Suicide is still a difficult issue to deal with, even in our churches. A lot of children of God misjudge and don’t know how to comfort families. Too many servants of God have accusatory judgments and seek guilt in this terrible trial instead of helping, interceding for people who suffer from depression and who are led to suicide.
Let us be true disciples of Jesus Christ by helping without judging our brothers and sisters who are in this situation by simply loving them. LOVE is all we have to fight and win!
Thank you so much, for the, Who Pastors the Pastor?
After reading those encouraging words I was blessed. they were helpful and in lighting, I became depressed after the death of my husband; for 26 years, 4 months away would have been 27 years. Its has been 1 year and 3 months sent his passing, I’m still grieving, didn’t know how much I realize loved him, until after he were gone. I talk to the doctor and she put me on some medication, I take as I need it. Again thank you.
As a pastor here in Mexico, I totally agree with the need to deal with depression in pastors and to understand they are people with needs. Not perfect but then again there is only one who is perfect God
I have a question, how did you survive the earliest stages of ministry where resources were not enough to meet your daily needs? Thanks
I received this article in my email address today. I don’t know how you got my email address. I’ve never signed up or received anything from you before. And yet…this message couldn’t be more timely for me. I’m in a very deep depression and our congregation is just being told that I’m ‘fatigued’ from a vitamin deficiency. I know I need help, but I’m terrified of the stigma and the possible suspension of my pastoral assignment. I’m thanking God for seeing that this landed in my in-box and will study the article and pray over what to do. THANK YOU!!
Great read. I’m going through some deep depression myself. My 2 daughters have completely excluded me from their life. I’m a Christian and my words have been a deterrent because of the life style they’ve chosen. They’re adults so they can make their own foolish decisions. I’m the only member of what’s left of a so called family. Their grandmother passed last year and wasn’t recognized or visited for over 2 yrs. Due to Dementia to Alzheimer’s, I watched her slip away. My heart aches every morning when I wake up. It hurts during each work day. I play weekly in the worship band. I listen to Rick every morning. I call out to God to fill me with His Spirit and give me strength. I barely get through a day without thinking of turning back to my old friend alcohol. I’m tired. I believe the promises but I’m weak and fearful of how long my girls will have nothing to do with me after years of happy moments. I’m weak and tired. Please pray for me. Carl