EDITOR’S NOTE: Marshal Ausberry is the first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention; president of the National African American Fellowship; and senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va.
FAIRFAX STATION, Va. (BP) — Whenever clergy commit suicide we always wonder why.
We grieve the loss and pray for the family and ask God to comfort them and heal their broken hearts. But the question lingers, “What can we do to prevent this from occurring again?”
I encourage my fellow clergy and the church to put safeguards in place. Ministry can be very rewarding, but it also can take an enormous emotional toll. Some seasons of life and ministry are more stressful than others. We who serve in ministry are not exempt from depression, no matter how much we may otherwise think. Depression does not discriminate.
Depression is not always outwardly obvious. Many people in the church, including clergy, suffer in silence because they worry about what others will think. They might not want to be seen as weak or less spiritual.
I encourage congregations to create environments where those who live with depression and other hurts of the soul are not ostracized. We must remind clergy that they do not have to suffer in isolation. Churches should put gifted people in place to care for clergy who battle depression. Congregations ought to be caring communities, even for clergy. Clergy care for others, but who cares for the clergy?
I encourage clergy suffering from depression to share your struggle and avoid suffering in isolation. Set boundaries for yourself that you will not cross, no matter the depth of your depression. If you are ever tempted to take your life, please seek help immediately. Seeking help is not a spiritual failure. You do not have to go it alone. If my arm were broken, I would seek medical attention. Shouldn’t I also seek help for internal struggles?
I encourage you to “guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We guard our hearts through prayer, Scripture reading, worship, exercise and rest. If you find yourself in the immediate throes of depression, seek help. You are not in this alone.