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When family pastor George "DB" Antrim III took his own life this May, he left behind a wife of 17 years and two sons, the youth group he had led for two years, and, indeed, the whole community of Waukee, Iowa. His was the first death Westwind Church had faced in its five years. "I had no idea how horrific that day would be," said pastor Brandon Barker, who read aloud Antrim's suicide note one Sunday morning as congregants wept openly.
Antrim's death was the latest in what is being called a "rash" of pastor suicides: the Illinois pastor who shot himself in front of his mother and son last fall; the Georgia pastor who took his life in between worship services; and Isaac Hunter, the Orlando pastor who killed himself last December amid a church resignation and divorce. In a note he wrote two years ago, Hunter epitomized one of the great lies of suicide: "I have become what I never wished to be, a burden on those I love the most."
Suicide—and its frequent companions, depression and despair—has received renewed attention among U.S. church leaders. At a conference this March that drew 9,000, Rick Warren called mental illness "the last taboo," and recently it hasn't seemed that taboo at all. High-profile pastors Perry Noble and John Mark Comer have written candidly about their wrestling matches with depression. About half of self-identified evangelicals now say more than prayer and Bible study are needed to defeat mental disturbances. Efforts like Duke's Clergy Health Initiative target the risks involved when a pastor's well-being depends on ministry "success." We've put programs and hotlines in place.
These are all good, but the church's response to suicide has mostly stayed on the functional level. And because suicide is as much a spiritual crisis as it is a psychological one, we'll need to infuse our practical resources with solid spiritual ones.
A 2013 book by ...