I finished reading Dr. Lewis Brogdon’s Dying to Lead. This five part book on clergy suicides is eye-opening. I would recommend this book to all clergy, denominational leaders, and churches. The topic of clergy suicides covers many facets of life for clergy and churches. I realize there are many emotionally healthy churches and clergy in America, and around the world. Yet, it does not take much time for a church or a clergy person to become unhealthy emotionally. Being on guard for clergy emotional health is good for clergy self-care and for the church to have information and resources to support their respective clergy.
In Chapter 1, “Dying to Lead,” Dr. Brogdon covers the recent history of clergy suicides. Yes, we clergy want to help people. But it appears knowing our limit on helping people helps clergy to remain healthy. Of course, moral failings can add to the risk factors for clergy suicide. Knowing how churches and clergy can adequately and healthily work through moral failings may reduce clergy suicides. After all, clergy are human, just like every other person in the church.
Dr. Brogdon continues to explore the idea of “Pastors and the Growing Problem of Suicide” in chapter two. The real-life knowledge that clergy battle depression helps us to understand the growing, and frightening, trend of clergy suicide. Factoring in the national move away from active church participation by people in general, the need for results for clergy becomes a difficult scenario in which to live, for some clergy. The real world situation for some clergy can cause us to pause as a church. Dr. Brogdon does help us look at this topic and hopefully begin a conversation within a local church and denominations about life as a church and how clergy fit into that life.
Chapter three, “Helping Trouble Pastors,” covers the topics of clergy misconduct and nihilism. Dr. Brogdon lays out a good view of the effects of clergy misconduct and how it is not handled well by clergy and churches. The idea of how nihilism creeps into a clergy persons life is eye-opening. Rejecting our beliefs as clergy can lead us to live without hope, thus ending up in a clergy suicide. The spiritual aspects of a clergy persons life is brought to the forefront in this part of the book. Watching over each other as clergy persons is necessary for each clergy person. It seems that clergy self-care, a topic that can be taught and reviewed throughout a pastoral career, involves this watching over each other. I was glad to read information on this topic that was recently released by one of the United Methodist general agencies.
Dr. Brodgon changes course in chapter four, “Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?” He does extremely well in examining the Bible and Christian theology as it regards the sanctity of life. From this chapter I found myself thinking about the mind of God. I don’t know God’s mind on the topic of suicide. He is the judge of us all. Yet, in our thinking as Christians we do more judging in regards to suicide than we need to do. Oh, if we could give clergy and other Christians more grace than judgmental attitudes and words!
Finishing up in chapter five, “Prayer for Pastors, Families,and Churches,” Dr. Brogdon gives us wonderful examples of ways we can pray for one another. It is through our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit by which clergy can find good self-care and churches can be church as they encourage their clergy.
I recommend this book. May the conversation about clergy suicides begin so more Christian brothers and sisters who are clergy may find the support and resources they need to keep on living!