A Pastor’s Suicide

A pastor wrestling with his thoughts

Table of Contents

Suicide Among Pastors is a Real Possibility in Your World

Suicide among pastors occurs for similar reasons as in any other group of people.  But, suicide among pastors seems different somehow.  In some ways we hold pastors to a different standard.  In our ignorance, we think they shouldn’t react to struggles and mental illness the way the rest of us do. Some pastors hold onto this impossible view of themselves too.  Suicide is a major killer in America and is almost always attached to mental illness. Those with suicidal thoughts usually have little to no hope, experience tremendous pain, and often feel alone.  Pastors and other church leaders are not immune to mental illness or to thoughts of suicide.

Andrew Stoeklein was a young pastor who was on fire for God who experienced significant mental health struggles.  In a recent LifeSupport Podcast, Andrew’s wife Kayla shared the painful story of the events that led up to Andrew’s suicide and what she learned from it.

Ministry leaders can learn some important lessons about mental health and suicide from the insight she received after these traumatic experiences.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


Faith Does Not Eliminate Mental Illness

Kayla described her husband as someone who dedicated his life to God. Andrew, was the son of a pastor and when his father passed away, the torch of pastoring the church was passed on to him. Andrew was still growing as a pastor and this was a big role to fill.  People place a lot of expectations on ministry leaders (and themselves).  When it comes to mental health, those expectations are often unrealistic.

“I think the biggest misconception is that when someone has enough faith, they love God, spending enough time in scripture, that they’ll never struggle with their mental illness,” Kayla said.

Take it from a pastor’s wife… “having all the faith in the world cannot keep you safe from mental illnesses.” And yet, in the presence of mental illness, some churches question a person’s faith, addressing the sin in their lives in an attempt to diagnose the issue.

“There is also a misconception that mental illness, like depression and anxiety, is something that can be treated right away,” Kayla said. “And I think those misconceptions are harmful, I think they are hurtful, and I think that they are not accurate.”

Mental Illness is a Physical Illness

Our church culture has differentiated mental illness from other illness and that has created a stigma around it that creates shame and guilt for those battling it.

Kayla made the point that we must view mental illness like other illnesses and health issues.

“It is a real physical illness,” she said. “Andrew had a real chemical imbalance happening in his mind, his mind was really sick. It’s a pain problem. You know, it was this real physical illness, it wasn’t a choice. He never would have chosen this.”

God Never Abandons Those Struggling With Mental Health

Just because you have a mental illness or your loved one has a mental illness, does not mean that God is not present in the situation.

We live in a fallen world, which brings disease and death to all mankind. Mental illnesses are a part of that fallen state, and Christians of all kinds will be impacted by it.

“I would say keep showing up,” Kayla said. “If you feel like God is silent, if you feel like God’s not there, I would say keep allowing yourself the space to sit with him. None of us are exempt from those desert seasons, you know, they come for us all. But I truly believe that God has promised to be there with us, and I think he is there with us whether we feel like he is or not.”

Suicide Among Pastors is a Real Possibility in Your World

  • It’s hard for pastors to feel like they can show any weakness.

  • It’s hard for pastors to feel like they have the space to be human.

Apply This Information

  • Define a safe, non-judgmental process in your organization (with specific people responsible) that allows ministry leaders to safely reach out for help when they are struggling with any mental health issue including suicidal thoughts.
  • Educate all ministry leaders on suicide prevention resources. We recommend LivingWorks prevention training 
  • As a leader, deciding how much to share about yourself can be difficult. Develop advisors or consult team members who can pray, guide, and encourage you through these decisions.
  • When deciding how much to share, ask yourself what positive outcome could come from your transparency for someone who is suffering a similar struggle.
  • Plan an annual mental health message series for your church. Enlist church staff/leaders to contribute their own struggles for illustration purposes.  We have a library of short sermon transition videos with stories of mental health struggles at https://lifesupportresources.org/mental-health-transition-videos/

Kayla Stoeklein is the author of the book “Fear Gone Wild,” which addresses mental health issues and how to walk alongside someone with mental illness.