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Darrin Patrick’s Death, His Love for Pastors, and How We Need One Another

Darrin’s death is not the last word on his life. His love for pastors—and his concern for their mental health and thriving—can be part of our response today.
Darrin Patrick’s Death, His Love for Pastors, and How We Need One Another
Image: @Ryan Kwon / KieferPix via Shutterstock

Darrin Patrick has died.

Darrin is probably best known for planting The Journey Church in St. Louis in 2002, eventually growing to six locations. He was a husband, father, speaker, and author.

Darrin and his spiritual mentor Greg Surratt led the Pastor's Collective podcast and he was serving as a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church.

But, most importantly, Darrin was married to Amie and they have four children.

Darrin’s Journey and Focus

Darrin was very open about his journey—and specifically asked me to help share his story a little over a year ago. His story of leaving the Journey is painful and messy, but he wanted people to know about it.

He wanted people to learn from his pain.

Darrin died from a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.” I know that has caused some people to want more details—to use language that is more precise and to provide added details. And, as you can tell from the statement, the situation is confusing. Seacoast Church shared, ““Darrin was target shooting with a friend at the time of his death. An official cause of death has not been released but it appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No foul play is suspected.”

Thus, it is important to let families communicate the way they are comfortable. Families grieve in complex ways—and right now, they owe nothing to the rest of us. We just owe them our prayers.

The family is grieving and I am respecting their grief and their communication choices.

And, from there, I am going to take Darrin’s admonition from a year ago and fast forward it until now—hoping that even this moment might be a catalyst for pastors to get help that Darrin always wanted them to get.

Darrin and I talked recently and his last text to me (after our call) says, “Let’s do something together!!”

I focused on those two exclamation points for some reason while I cried. We talked about caring for pastors and he ended our conversations with the enthusiasm he often had, particularly as he cared for pastors.

He ended with those exclamation points.

!!

Our Friendship

The journey of our friendship was both fun and life-giving.

We would laugh that our early friendship led to a motion to investigate me from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. We were in a fight back then, and battles often bring people together. It did then, but that was not the last battle we’d walk through. Years later, we sat and cried together in a St. Louis restaurant after his removal from The Journey Church.

We talked a lot. We cried together more than once.

Since learning of his death, I’ve cried. A lot.

And, I remembered what Darrin’s passion was—helping pastors in hard times. His death has been hard for many of us, coupled with the stress and pain of the times we are in.

So, I’ve thought about pastors and church leaders who are struggling with burnout and mental illness and isolation. A lot.

The only thing I can think of to do right now is to do what Darrin dedicated his last few years to do—to press on through the pain, helping all of us remember that our pastors are not immune to stress, burnout, and mental health issues. To honor Darrin, I want to remind all of us that we don’t have to walk this journey alone.

Do not think his final moment is the last word on his life. He cared about pastors and his death reminds me that we need to care about them as well.

Pastors and leaders are struggling. Many of those pastors and leaders keep silent in their struggles for the sake of their churches, their families, or (at times) even their own pride. Whatever the reason, too many of our leaders are simply not finding the care and resources they need. Many seem to have it all together—but they don’t.

I don’t—and as I write this through tear-clouded eyes, I am guessing you don’t either.

The reality, though, is that our pastors are people who hurt, too, and who don’t have it all together.

And the devastating reality is that the struggles that many have with burnout and mental health are compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. We feel more alone than ever.

To honor Darrin, let me share two important truths I want our churches and leaders to implement immediately and embrace wholly.

First, don’t always believe what you see.

It may seem like your pastor or leaders have it all together. But it’s important to remember that we can’t assume anything. In 2002, Darrin planted The Journey Church, which experienced remarkable growth and launched a number of multisite campuses. But in 2016, he was confronted by the elders of that church.

You might ask, “Why tell that now?” Well, because Darrin asked me to, and I walked through some of that pain right here on The Exchange. You can read more of Darrin’s story here, Amie’s story here, and Greg’s story here. He wanted these published and we walked through them together.

Darrin wanted his pain to help you.

To help me.

The truth is that pastors and leaders have daily struggles that are constantly pressing on them. This comes in the form of taking care of themselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically, as well as caring for their churches and staff they lead. Many also feel pressures from family and friends. And most caring burdens of others who confide in them to a degree that many of us cannot fathom.

Like all of us, Darrin still struggled. We talked some about those struggles—his and mine, actually.

If you think your pastor is okay, make sure. Keep asking and praying. Offer opportunities for retreat and for spiritual care. How can your pastor or leader have accountability and support? Mentorship and care? Never assume.

Second, make soul care a priority.

I understand that our churches are under pressure to balance a number of priorities—discipleship of our people, solid teaching, good worship, thriving small group ministries, our children and youth, our outreach, hospitality… the list goes on.

But, to be frank, a church is only as healthy as its leaders. When our leaders suffer, we all suffer. Last year the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center hosted the GC2 Summit on leadership, burnout, and mental health. (You can see the sessions here.)

I know in Covid years that was a long time ago, but it was just five months back, and we were talking about the struggle and pain that pastors walk through.

That GC2 summit on pastors and mental health sold out. If you weren’t there, I wish you could have felt the energy in the room. Our pastors need care. Many are burned out or on the edge of burnout. Many face challenges in their leadership teams and in their congregations.

And, then Covid came and it got worse.

Darrin would want us not just to know that but to do something about it. And, caring for pastors is what Darrin and I talked about in our last phone call, the follow up text I shared earlier.

Pastors are not immune and do not have to be alone

Darrin would want you to know that, especially during this season of more isolation, we must press into caring for our pastors. It cannot be optional. Here at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, we have partnered to launch the Resilient Church Leadership initiative because we see a growing wave of burnout and pastoral crises.

Darrin openly shared about his struggles, and in a sense he represents thousands of other pastors and leaders who are struggling. How can our churches prioritize caring for these leaders? Let’s make caring for leadership a high priority.

I cried more on Friday than I have in many years. I cried again today.

When I told Donna, we remembered the last time we went to dinner, the four of us, and laughed about the Enneagram and our kids. And, we talked about the struggles we all had.

Now, I cry for the end of a faithful, joyful, and authentic life. And I cried for the church. God’s church.

Let’s press forward together as God’s family, caring well for those who shepherd us well as though they were our very own family. Because they are.

Darrin, I love you, friend. I hope this counts as doing something together.

!!

To learn more about Darrin’s journey, and his ongoing advice to pastors, visit the Pastors Collective podcast.

I invite you to join me in giving to support Aime and the children in this difficult time.

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