Pastoral ministry is often fast-paced and high-stress, from weekly logistical and administrative responsibilities to speaking engagements, unexpected late-night calls, counseling sessions and crisis management. While church members may be aware of some of the challenges their pastors face on a weekly basis, many seem unaware of the taxing effect such a workload has on ministers.
Ministers themselves are often hesitant to share such burdens with others.
“This problem has always existed,” said Chuy Ávila, SBTC church planting associate “The problem is that, for cultural reasons, it hasn’t been treated so openly as we are attempting to do. We wanted to provide a safe platform where we offered pastors the possibility to identify themselves with one of the areas we covered, even when they might not dare to express it publicly.”
SBTC en Español talked openly about such problems with a number of experienced ministers and counselors as panelists. The discussion was recorded through Zoom and can be viewed online. The panelists included Edgar Trinidad, pastor of Second Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas; Mario Martínez, pastor of The Good Shepherd Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas; Eric Puente, a trained pastoral counselor as well as the interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; Armando Vera, pastor of Power of God Church in McAllen, Texas; and moderators Chuy Ávila and Bruno Molina, an evangelism associate with the SBTC.
From the beginning of the panel the often-avoided question was placed on the table: Why do pastors commit suicide? Puente noted that a fast-paced lifestyle filled with chronic stress, among other factors, can put a pastor’s life at risk. Martinez added, “It’s of uttermost importance not to spiritualize the matter. It’s really delicate … [involving] factors that are outside of our control and are not necessarily related to spiritual/religious elements.”
Indeed, pastors often face loneliness in ministry, Ávila said. “The pastor is often everyone’s friend, attempts to be everyone’s friend, but very few seek to intentionally befriend their pastor.”. The panelists emphasized that one must have friends while doing ministry—particularly, trustworthy friends also in the ministry and who are able to understand the nuanced issues ministers face that are not as well known among church members. “Being in isolation or wanting to go solo is the worst thing a minister of the gospel could do, “Martinez said. “‘It is not good for man to be alone.’”
The panelists also recommended that all pastors have an emergency contact number belonging to a trained counselor they can call if they need help; a prayer team within the local church specifically and actively praying for the pastor; and a support group of other pastors with whom they can be accountable.
Implementing all of these preemptive steps might be difficult, especially in a profession where one’s job is tied to one’s own moral performance, which in turn can discourage vulnerability among pastors. Nevertheless, as Puente pointed out, pastors have the example of Christ, who was open about his emotions, his sadness and his tears, particularly in Gethsemane.
Puente emphasized that in the gospels that “Jesus is speaking to you and to me.”