In my years of ministry experience, I have dealt with either suicidal threats, suicidal attempts, or suicidal death at least once each year over the past 25 years. This year (2017) it was twice and both were young teenagers. One was a boy and one was a girl. One resulted in a preventative visit to the ER and the other resulted in a funeral. I have preached funerals of those who have committed suicide and have walked families through the steps necessary to get help. One of the hardest parts of ministry is often convincing parent(s) or legal guardian(s) that help is needed. Families often respond, “She’s done this before,” “He’s just wanting attention,” or “All teenagers make suicidal threats.” First, not all teenagers threaten suicide. Some research indicates that only 16% of teenagers threaten suicide, and half of them follow through on their threat. I am not okay with a 50/50 chance they may or may not follow through on a threat. That is why we can never dismiss any threat of suicide as insignificant. We cannot fall into the trap of believing this is “normal teenage behavior,” because it’s not! Here are some questions, thoughts, and helps…
What if I am having suicidal thoughts? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can even chat with someone online at http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx
What if I know of someone who has threatened suicide? In some cases and in some states you may be legally obligated to inform authorities of the threat. For example, as a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, I have agreed to adhere to a “Code of Ethics” that would prompt me to take protective action when threats of suicide are known. In ALL CASES you and I both have moral obligation to inform authorities of the threat. Here’s what to do and what to expect…
What NOT to do if you know someone has threatened suicide…
Here are some additional thoughts and resources about suicide...
Do the right thing.
God's word begins with "head knowledge." We sometimes dismiss "head knowledge" as unimportant simply because we believe "heart knowledge" seems better. However, "head knowledge" is essential to our faith. You cannot have faith in something that you know nothing about. The problem isn't "head knowledge," but problems do arise when all we have is "head knowledge." Our faith begins with knowledge of God's word.
Where does it go from there? Our "head knowledge" must then be moved to "heart knowledge." Your meditation of Scripture will move God's word from "head knowledge" to "heart knowledge." When we eat, we cannot simply chew our food and then spit it out and expect to gain nourishment. We must consume the food. It must move from our mouth to our stomach. In the same way, when we read God's word, we cannot simply chew on God's word and allow it to remain in our minds. When we meditate upon Scripture, it is the process of moving what we have placed in our minds into our hearts. Biblical meditation is to fill your mind with Scripture and allow it to move to your heart. When we fail to move "head knowledge" to "heart knowledge," then we become prideful. The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that "knowledge puffs up."
Interestingly, "heart knowledge" is not the final destination either. Once God's word has become the meditation of our heart, it must move to our feet. Pastor Christopher recently shared this quote, "Missions is really nothing but worship that tied its shoes. It is worship that kept going, that continued to its logical conclusion." We "tie our shoes" when we tithe. We "tie our shoes" when we share the Gospel. Here's the problem, many in our church pews have never learned to tie their shoes. They depend on others to tie their shoes for them. Just as "knowledge puffs up" when it fails to move from the head to the heart, our faith is dead when it fails to move from the heart to our feet. James 2:17 declares, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." What type of fruit does a dead tree produce? Exactly! It doesn't produce fruit. We are called to produce lasting fruit for the Kingdom of God. This task will never occur if we don't tie our shoes!
What step can you take to begin learning to tie your own shoes? Here are six Spiritual HABITS that I have identified that can help you "tie your own shoes"...
Hang Time with God: Daily time reading God's word and in prayer.
Accountability in a Small Group: Join a group of like-minded believers who are committed to God's word.
Bible memorization: Meditate on God's word.
Involvement in Ministry & Mission: Every believer has a ministry in the church and a mission in the world.
Tithing: Biblical stewardship begins with giving God the first fruits of all your increase. Have you trusted Him with 10% of the first fruits of your income?
Sermon Application: After each sermon ask, "What does God want me to do in response to hearing the word?"
Guarding my marriage and family are important to me. I have been in vocational ministry since 1993 and since then I have watched many pastors lose vibrant ministries because they forgot to minister to their own family. I said to my wife-to-be (1992) as I watched the pain she endured as a daughter whose parents were divorcing and her father lost his pastorate, that she would not endure that same pain as wife. Since then, I have set boundaries to protect my marriage and family.
Last week I learned of yet another pastor who resigned from his church due to a long-standing affair. This was the third brought to my attention this year alone! This one was especially painful because it was someone I have known for 20 years and considered a role-model for my own ministry. He was someone I had great admiration for and someone who had invested in my own life and ministry. As a fellow Gen-Xer, we appreciated the same things. My heart breaks for his family as they navigate the days ahead.
I don't believe any of these pastors woke up one day and said, "I think today I will become an adulterer and crush my family and destroy my ministry." No, we get there by making choices that open the door to sinful behavior until the day comes when we have lost our family and ministry. Success in ministry is not defined in terms of numbers or feelings. Success is not about he size of your church, or youth group, or worship team. Success in ministry is largely defined by the success of your family. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). All men would do well to memorize Proverbs 5:15, "Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well." If she's not your wife, she's another man's cistern!
Here are some safeguards that have allowed me to see my 25th wedding anniversary!
1. Guard your weekends as time with your family. I realize there are going to be some Fridays and Saturdays that ministry will demand, but guard those days carefully. My phone recently rang three times while I was having dinner with my wife in Lexington one Friday evening. I allowed the calls to go to voice-mail. The message was not a crisis, but simply a request for advice. I responded with a short text that simply explained that I would be happy to speak with them on Monday, but my weekends are reserved for my family. I make exceptions for crisis situations such as death, threats of suicide, or medical emergencies.
2. If you have a "day off" during the week take it. My day off is Fridays. It's easy for a pastor to head to the office to get caught up on some of the tasks that have been piling up. It's easy to find ourselves spending more time with our church than with our family. Some pastors have made the church their mistress. The church (the bride) already has a bride-groom (Jesus)! I have been on staff at multiple churches, but I only have one wife! She has been there with me every step of the way.
3. Never counsel someone of the opposite sex alone without accountability. I attempt to schedule all counseling sessions during office hours. However, when this isn't possible, I ask one of the other pastors to sit in one of the adjacent offices while I am counseling an individual. The office door remains cracked open the entire time.
4. Never have lunch with the opposite sex alone. I recently had a lunch appointment with a couple in our church. I was informed at the last minute that her husband would not be joining us. Simply ask to reschedule the appointment.
5. When making home visits, take someone with you. I usually ask one of the other pastors to accompany me during home visits. It's a great time of discipleship and mentoring and provides accountability.
6. Make sure your social media and communications have accountability. Group messages are best, but if you find yourself in a private text messaging conversation make sure you have accountability.
7. Find accountability with another pastor-friend. I have had the blessing of having the same mentor for about 30 years! We hold one another accountable. We've had tough conversations.
What safeguards have you found helpful?
Dr. Chris Dortch has been in ministry since 1993. His blog is aimed to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."