TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In November and December last year, three Christian pastors committed suicide within 30 days of each other. The Rev. Teddy Parker Jr., senior pastor of Bibb Mount Zion Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., shot himself at his home Nov. 10 while his family and congregation waited on him to arrive at church to deliver the sermon.
It was reported that he suffered from manic depression. In a sermon called Facing Your Storm with Confidence posted on YouTube May 13, 2010, Parker said he felt that God wasn’t talking to him and that he was facing his storms alone.
Twenty days after Parker’s death, Rev. Ed Montgomery, who served at Full Gospel Christian Assemblies International Church in Hazel Crest, Ill., killed himself in front of his mother and son. Montgomery was reportedly still grieving the loss of his wife, Jackie Montgomery, who died from a brain aneurysm the year before.
On Dec. 10, Isaac Hunter, the former pastor of Summit Church in Orlando, Fla., reportedly shot himself in his apartment. Hunter had resigned as pastor of Summit Church in fall 2012 after he admitted having an affair with a church staff member. His wife of 13 years had also filed a domestic violence petition against him, describing his behavior as unstable and suicidal.
Pastors are not exempt from troubles, they say, but many people — including pastors’ congregants – aren’t aware of the struggles pastors face because they usually keep that information to themselves.
According to Pastoral Care Inc., a national nonprofit organization designed to help ministers from every Christian denomination through research, educational support and providing immediate assistance, more than 1,700 ministers leave ministry every year because of the difficulties of the job.
Statistics compiled by Pastoral Care show:
• 50 percent of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of the job
• 70 percent say they’re constantly fighting depression
• 70 percent say they don’t have a close friend to talk to
• 90 percent say they work between 55 and 75 hours a week
• 80 percent say that ministry has negatively affected their families.
• 33 percent confess to having had an inappropriate sexual relationship with someone in the church
• 50 percent say they would quit the ministry if they could make a living doing something else
The. Rev. Jeremy Burrage, lead pastor of Capstone Church for the past five months and a minister for 10 years, said ministry is stressful and that the statistics don’t surprise him.
“There are days that it’s very hard,”’ Burrage said. “There are long days, long nights and early mornings. I could see why pastors have a lot of these feelings.”
Burrage said one of the primary job duties of a pastor is to help his or her congregation. That means picking up the phone in the middle of the night to counsel a distressed member, visiting congregants when they’re sick and grieving with them during difficult times, like when a spouse or a child dies.
“If you care about people, I don’t know how these kinds of things wouldn’t affect you,” he said. “We’re called to be shepherds, and we have to take care of the sheep. …Life is tough and this is a hard job, but we’ve been called to it, and the Bible never promised that life would be easy. We just trust in the Lord.”
The Rev. Kelvin Croom, pastor of College Hill Baptist Church since 1982 and a minister since 1979, said pastors aren’t called to just help their congregations. They’re called to help everyone. That challenge makes the enormity of their calling hardly manageable and free time fleeting.
“The work of a pastor, you don’t ever get away from it,” Croom said. “I can be at a ball game and you’ll get a call for prayer.” Besides the workload, Croom said he hasn’t had to personally deal with many of the statistics that Pastoral Care released because he was well-prepared for the trials of ministry by his father and uncles who were pastors.
But there is one statistic on the list that he’s struggled with since a tornado destroyed College Hill April 27, 2011, and that’s “church people are not willing to go the same direction of the pastor,” which was listed as the No. 1 reason why pastors quit ministry.
“In the church, you have two categories of people,” he said. “You have born-again Christians and church folk. It’s (hard) to pastor church folk because they think they know everything, and they think that God only talks to them and not the pastor, whereas Christians understand that God has called the pastor to lead the church.
“Church folk are the Pharisees and Sadducees of the 21st century. You find them on your deacon board, sitting in your pews and everywhere else. Because of church folk, the world has a very distasteful view of the church. They’re the kinds of folk who say ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”
The Rev. Willie Clyde Jones, pastor of Bailey Tabernacle CME Church for the past 50 years and a preacher for 52, said depression for pastors is real. He hasn’t succumbed to it, but he’s had to wrestle with it.
“The depression one, yeah, you can get into it,” he said. “I had a friend who committed suicide 50 years ago in his pastor study. We recommend that a lot of pastors have a relationship with a psychologist. You can get real, real depressed and you can snap in a minute. I always bring consolation to myself and tell myself that if everyone loves me, then I’m probably not doing something right. I also have a very supportive wife.”
The Rev. Fred Schuckert, senior pastor of Grace Church for the past 24 years, said he’s an anomaly among pastors because he hasn’t had to deal with issues that Pastoral Care Inc. reported. However, there’s a reason why that’s the case and it ties into one of the statistics.
“I think a lot of the struggles listed here are because pastors are isolated,” Schuckert said. “If they would link up with other pastors, they can give each other mutual encouragement because there’s so many times in pastoring that you get discouraged and worn out.”
Schuckert said that having friends in ministry that pastors can confide in and receive prayer from, will also help them cope with any moral failings they have, such as inappropriate sexual behavior.
“There was a study we went over in seminary that reported the three common denominators in pastors who’ve fallen morally. One is they never thought it could happen to them. Secondly, it usually involved them counseling a woman alone. And thirdly, they never saw it coming.
“There are certainly guys out there who are predators, but for the average pastor, that’s not in their mix. So when I counsel, I never talk to a woman by myself. I have my wife or staff with me. Probably most of the pastors who’ve fallen have good intentions, but they didn’t put up the right hedges around them. Again, isolation is not good. I’ve had guys who’ve over the years talked to me about attractions they’ve had to women in their churches, but because we talked about it we were able to address it."
“I just want to tell pastors that they don’t have to go through it alone. I don’t know how pastors make it without that support. I really, really don’t know how they make it.”