With the news of another pastor ending his own life we are seeing posts of compassion, messages of consolation, and statements about the pressures of pastoring. Many are asking or answering the question about what you, the congregation, can do to encourage and support your pastors. These are good and necessary conversations, but as is so often the case in the church, at times our attempts to answer the hard questions actually produce poor counsel and can even set dangerous precedent.

Yes we grieve in the loss of any life. Yes we pray and do what we are able to support wives and children and congregations suffering this unimaginable loss. Yes we sympathize and weep with those who weep. And yes, we uphold the truth of the Word of God and the Gospel. Jesus saves sinners. Sinners continue to sin even after they become saints. Sinners will sin until they see Jesus face to face. But let’s not glorify or gloss over sin, especially the sin of murder. Self-murder, whatever the cause, reason, or proposed justification, is nothing short of taking God’s throne for ourselves. He gives life. He takes life. We are not God (Psa. 86:10).

Beyond the discussions of mental health, depression, or dependencies that lead into the darkness, we need to be discussing the truth of Scripture.

We are hearing from people, and even other pastors, that there are pressures put on those in the ministry that are beyond what the laity can see or have experienced. But right there – in that sentence – there is the most dangerous lie of all. It is the lie that pastoring puts a target on a man and makes him more vulnerable to spiritual attack and to temptation.

Temptation and sin is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). Stress in a job is common to man. Pressures in life are common to man. Sin and sickness that lead to dark thoughts are common to man. This is life in a fallen world. This is why we need the light of the gospel.

We ALL suffer these things, and the dangerous lie being repeated over and over each time that this kind of thing happens is that which states that pastors are above the congregation, exalted in a position over the average and normal Christian. Their pressures are more. Their depression deeper. Their calling heavier. Their duty more demanding.

But that is not the truth.

If you want to know what to do to support and encourage your pastor start with this: do not put him on a pedestal and think that he deals with more stress or pressure than any other member of the Body of Christ. There is, or should not be, a distinction between “clergy” and “laity” as we so often find it in the church in this regard. The authority of a pastor in not found in the man, or even in the position. It is found in the Word he preaches and is commanded to live out as an example for the church.

Pastors have a duty to speak the truth. They speak the truth to people as they preach God’s Word and they speak the truth to God as they pray for His church, those for which they will give an account. They are to be qualified men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) and these qualities are a matter of character that grows from their own time in and obedience to the Word that they are charged with preaching. They are to set an example to be followed and we are to follow them as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). But they are not above the congregation.

Pastors lead by serving, and equipping others to serve (Eph. 4:11-13). But they are men. They are shepherds, but also themselves sheep. Don’t glorify the pastorate as if these men are Super Christians. Don’t exalt these men to the point that their fall means more damage to the church than any other member’s sin.

Some have said that Satan goes after pastors more. If that is so, it may be because too many pastors are too high profile and the celebrity pastor cult needs to be exposed and ended. The truth is that Satan would much rather spend his time attacking the prayer warriors, the every-day believer who is growing in grace and being salt and light under the radar, those influencing things from the closet and not in the lime light. Satan is a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). He does not roar any more for pastors than for other faithful believers. And putting a pastor on any kind of pedestal is to take glory away from the Chief Shepherd and only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ her Lord.

So what can you do to encourage and support your pastor?

The Bible tells us to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1 – along with praying for all men), to obey the Word they preach, being submissive to their direction and leadership (Heb. 13:7, 17), to recognize them and love them in their work (1 Thess. 5:12-13), to strive to maintain peace within the church (1 Thess. 5:13), to honor them, remembering that they are worthy of their wages (ministry is work, after all), and not to receive a false accusation against them because as with any church discipline there needs to be at least 2 witnesses (1 Tim. 5:17-19; Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:9-14).

Is the job demanding? Yes. What job isn’t? Is he above reproach and qualified? Good – give God the glory and encourage him to continue to grow in holiness. But do not make him more of a man or more of a Christian than he is. This opens the door for the most dangerous temptations in ministry of all – for the pastor to begin to believe that he is special, gifted, unique, invulnerable, talented, and that the ministry depends upon him. These are the men who sin flagrantly and within weeks or months “restore” themselves despite church discipline in reaction to their disqualification.

Remember, God uses the foolish things to confound the wise, and the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:18-31). A foolish message rarely needs a naturally talented mouth to be broadcast! Even a donkey can do it (Num. 22:28-31).

As for you pastors – be men, but even more, be men of God! Ask for help, be vulnerable and accountable, set an example. Be faithful. If you can’t do these things, step aside, you are unfit and disqualified. And long term service while disqualified does more damage to the church in the long run than any single instance of sin, no matter how devastatingly selfish.

Paul fought every day to live in victory over the flesh that remained in him (1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 13:5). So must we all, pastor or not, to the glory of God alone.

For a resource on dealing with suicide please be sure and pre-order Pastor Bruce Ray’s timely new book Help! Someone I Love Died by Suicide.