It’s safe to say, my recent Instagram post regarding pastors falling has started a difficult and important conversation in the church. I have received hundreds of encouraging comments and messages. I have received hundreds of kind yet disagreeing and/or inquisitive comments and messages. Then, I have received hundreds of the vilest, most hateful and disgusting comments, threats, and insults known to the human tongue. Sadly, the last category of comments was carried out almost exclusively by those wearing the title “Christian” in their social media profiles.
That said, I thought it would be edifying for those in the first two groups if I had offered clarity to the common criticisms and questions I have received these past few days. As you know, you can only communicate so much in a single Instagram post.
So first, I would like to address my friend, Jarrid. For those that don’t know, Jarrid was a true friend for many years. We spoke just seven days prior to his death. I wept the day I heard. I wept the morning after. There hasn’t been a day since where his death has not consumed my mind. Our home has gathered together every morning to pray for his wife and children in this difficult season. Ultimately, I want you to know, I am truly heart-broken.
Due to my and Jarrid’s last conversation, my heartbreak quickly turned to anger. In our call, while Jarrid loved his ministry he expressed the intensity and overwhelm he was experiencing in his position as a pastor over the young adults at Harvest. As a pastor, I am fully empathetic to the incredible physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual demands of pastoral ministry. Pastoring is one of the hardest callings of human life.
We all grieve in different ways, for some, it may be isolation. For others, it may be discussion and writing. For me, it’s problem-solving. Jarrid’s death made me angry. It drove me to locate the problem and reveal it. I knew Jarrid’s struggle. I think everyone knew Jarrid’s struggle. Jarrid was hurting and he was very open about it. But more than that, he told me he was ready to step back from full-time pastoral ministry. What he really wanted was to spend his time on his true passion—helping people heal from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts through his non-profit Anthem of Hope. His phone call to me last week was centralized on this transition. He wanted my help to move from where he was to where we wanted to be. He needed rest and he knew it.
But whoever knows Jarrid knows this. He’s a good soldier. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. No complaining. Just pure faithfulness. Years ago, He worked for me full-time for 15 months. I saw him almost every day for 15 months! I know this man deeply! He doesn’t quit. He’s passionate. He cares. He feels. He loves.
But this is part of the problem. Sometimes zealous leaders need to be told to rest. I am very, very similar. To be honest, I often (like many men) perceive rest as a weakness. If I’m not extremely careful I can just keep saying yes to everything. This is especially true when it comes to pastors in ministry. How do you say no to more of God’s work? No, I can’t do that funeral. No, I can’t help you with that theological question. No, I can’t help your marriage. No, I can’t pray for you today. If you’re a pastor, you know the tight rope of this walk. It’s the reason why 60-80% of pastors quit within 10 years.
When I heard that Jarrid performed a funeral for a person who committed suicide just 24 hours prior to his own suicide, it added fire to my frustration. While I don’t know if the church requested him to do this duty or if he volunteered on his own, I believe it is, at the very least, a wakeup call for more wisdom, accountability, and a process to identify and help eliminate trigger points for those who are serving, hurting and don’t quit.
In short, my post is simply a call for church reform according to Scripture. It’s my opinion and experience that today’s audience-centric churches will run pastors raw. Serve, labor, love, perform, and sacrifice until you can’t do it any longer. Over the years, I have heard many pastors (who are grossly underpaid) talk about their desperate need for a break yet have no financial way of achieving it. In other words, we have built an institutional church machine that doesn’t accommodate but actually compromises the health the Bible requires for New Testament pastors.
What I mean by that is this, the Bible has laid out specific physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual requirements for New Testament Christians who sit in the formal office of pastor and the church should always be helping to uphold and nurture those requirements. In the Bible, these individuals are called pastors and bishops and overseers and shepherds. John Piper offers a comprehensive write up explaining how all these biblical titles are referring to the same role. Now to be clear, the office of pastor is different than the gifting of a pastor. Many have a pastoral gifting. In some ways, all Christians are called to mutual pastoral care. However, that is very different than the those who are called by God, anointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), and appointed by the church to oversee a flock of God’s sheep (1 Peter 5:2). These individuals are expected to meet and maintain certain criteria found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In these requirements include traits like sober-minded, self-controlled, doctrinally sound, disciplined, tested, holy (and so forth).
Ultimately, God has high requirements for those who shepherd the flock in which He died to redeem. That said, these shepherds are not perfect people. However, they are blameless people (1 Timothy 3:2). These are people who exhibit the truth of a healthy Christian seen in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” These are individuals who can look back to the flock and honestly say what Paul said to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (NIV).” Again, these are not perfect people but they are qualified people.
Why would God require this and how does it pertain to this conversation? First, He wants to protect His shepherds and He wants to protect His sheep. We need to create a church culture who recognizes and desires to place shepherds in the church based on qualification and not just gifting (or education). Secondly, we need to create a church culture that allows for pastors to rest and heal when they need to rest and heal. We need to build an environment where shepherds can, without shame and guilt, say, “I need a break. I’m hurting. I need to pull away for several months to heal.” This request should not only be granted but supported, celebrated, and paid (which, by the way, can only occur if churchgoers give)! We should offer them free counseling, discipleship, sabbatical, prayer, community, and the other 100 one-anothers that are listed in Scripture.
This is what I believe Jarrid (and many other pastors) needed and wanted but just couldn’t do. This is the heart of my post. It’s a heart for pastors. If you’re a biblically qualified shepherd and you’re experiencing long term mental illness or suffering or pain or addiction or brokenness, step-back. It’s okay to rest. Your pastoral calling will be there when you’re healed and recovered. A pastor should not have to fear that they will become irrelevant or unneeded or forgotten. They don’t need to feel that they’re failing or lazy or weak. They just need to recognize they need to step away and repair. Just like a soldier who goes to war must eventually return for rest, a pastor who fights in spiritual war sometimes needs to repair, take on bandages, rest, heal, and nurture themselves back to the minimum health requirements for effective battle.
Hear me when I say this, mental illness is real. That said, we have a God who heals and a Gospel that can transform the mind. We have a Jesus who breaks chains and jail cells and rattles dungeons and unlocks shackles. I’ve seen many men, including myself, rest in the Scriptures and be healed from daunting depression and anxiety. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Jesus Christ and His Word can transform the downtrodden and tired. He can redeem all things! Let us allow our shepherds the time to heal so they may serve with strength and biblical qualification once again.
Additionally, as a side note. I don’t think Greg Laurie or Harvest church had any malicious intent. They loved Jarrid. They cared for Jarrid and Juli. I attended Harvest when I lived in Riverside years ago. Greg is a godly man trying to fulfill God’s will. That said, it doesn’t mean that biblical church reform isn’t needed and that we must look at church and examine it against Scripture.
I have heard many people’s statements regarding the timing of my post. For those who don’t know, I published my post just two days after Jarrid’s death. While the activating factor of this post was Jarrid’s story, my statement had been building in me for weeks. As many Christians know, we have been seeing an abnormal number of Christian pastors fall these past 18 months. This fact in combination with Jarrid’s story tipped me over the edge.
That said, would it have been wise to wait another few days to post? Maybe. Probably. It’s hard to differentiate passion and calling of the Holy Spirit—especially in emotionally charged moments like the death of a friend. I heard many folks say, “I agree with what you said, just not when you said it.” To this, I can say, “I hear you.” Looking back, would I have waited another few days if I could do it again? Yes. So, I apologize for the promptness of the post. I truly never intended to cause a disruption in the mourning process. Like all pastors, I am not faultless. I have learned something in this experience that I will take with me.
Brokenness and Biblical Shepherds
Outside of timing, the number one criticism I received goes something like this, “So you’re saying that men like King David, Moses, Elijah, and Charles Spurgeon weren’t qualified to be shepherds?” My answer is this: First, King David, Moses, and Elijah are not New Covenant shepherds of local Christian churches. These men are not pastors they were God-appointed prophets and kings to Israel under the Old Covenant. This is very different. Second, Jesus commissioned the Apostles to write new instructions to ordinary Christians for how a local church is to be shepherded. These instructions are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In fact, at the end of chapter three (1 Timothy 3:14-15), Paul even tells us why he wrote these instructions for shepherds. He says, “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” That word “ought” is an important word. Paul is telling us there is a way to and a way not to conduct ourselves in the house of God (churches met in houses). Ultimately, God didn’t give New Testament Christians the qualifications for being a prophet or king to Israel, He gave us qualifications for pastors in New Testament churches. That said, the sorrow of King David or Elijah should not be compared to the clinical and chronic depression of a New Testament local church pastor.
Now, what about Charles Spurgeon? He was a man plagued with long seasons of mental illness. I’ve read much of his writings and know his content and story well. Does the Bible disqualify him in these seasons of darkness? I don’t know, you tell me. Read those passages in 1 Timothy and Titus then read some Bible commentaries on those passages. Does it sound wise to put a man who experiences constant cycles of 72-hour sessions of insomnia and belligerent weeping from fear of lawsuits and public attack in the center stage week after week after week? Would it not have been wise to have him take a sabbatical in these seasons? Many actually attribute his early death to his inability to rest. We must remember, just because something good happened while doing something the Bible says is not good, doesn’t make the unbiblical thing right. In other words, just because Spurgeon suffered through it doesn’t mean it was the best decision. Personally, I would have much preferred that someone convinced Charles to pull back and heal which I believe would have allowed his ministry to thrive much longer than it did.
That said, this is all hearsay because it’s an incident of the past. As for you and I, we get to examine our shepherds in our local churches against Scripture. Not as a way to pull these men down but as a way to keep them healthy to maintain the work that God has called them to do.
Mental Illness and Physical Illness
Many of you have asked, “If illness disqualifies you then why didn’t you step down when you had Lyme Disease?” For those who don’t know, my wife was bitten by a tick in 2018 and contracted Lyme disease and it’s co-infections which were passed on to me. I was in bed for nearly 100 days in the winter of 2018-19. It was a difficult time of suffering for our family. That said, Veronica and I continued on with our ministry and here’s why…
The Bible does not require physical wellness for shepherds but it does require mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness for shepherds. That said, physical illness can quickly turn into mental, spiritual, or emotional illness. Pain and sickness have a way of nurturing fear, worry, anxiety, and sorrow. For those who have suffered deeply, you know how the lies of the enemy attempt to drown the truth of God. To be honest, I came very close to stepping out of ministry in early April 2019. One of the symptoms of Babesia (the co-infection I had) was anxiety. The parasite attacked the central nervous system and if I wasn’t ready for a raging spiritual battle I would end up in my bed crying.
After a miraculous spiritual breakthrough in the understanding of God’s purpose for suffering and a new treatment that offered fast improvement, I began to see the light again. Today, I am 90-95% well and I only deal with a mild symptom or two every few days. In all of this, I still support my thesis which is because pastors are people and because God has qualifications for pastors when difficult, real-life attacks occur and wound those of us in the pastorate, we should have the support and encouragement to step back and repair those wounds.
I hope this article has brought clarity to my post. Some of you will disagree with me. Some of you will disagree with the Bible. That’s fine. This side of heaven each of us have a choice on how we view God and His instructions for our lives. Having said that, please recognize that thousands of people have been encouraged by this post and the discussion that came from it. We do not all have to conform to one perspective. Unity doesn’t require uniformity. In fact, the term university means unity in diversity. It’s something this country is built upon and I hope we can continue to build upon that virtue here.
May God bless you with love, compassion, and understanding of His Word,
(PS: The donation link below is hardcoded into every post page on our website. This is not my attempt to earn donations.)