6. Pastor suicides
In 2018, CP’s coverage of pastor suicides sparked a national conversation that delved into a rarely discussed topic.
Our deep focus on the subject began early in the year, with a feature highlighting the isolated world of pastors and the alarming number of them who have taken their own lives in the last five years. It also examined the enduring silence on the issue and the reasons behind that silence.
In August, because of our background with the subject matter, CP was one of the first news outlets to report on the suicide of young megachurch Pastor Andrew Stoecklein while he was at workinside the Inland Hills Church his father founded in Chino, California.
With his death, Stoecklein became the face of pastor suicides in 2018.
The pastor, who left behind his wife, Kayla, and three sons, took his life approximately two weeks after he returned from a sabbatical to work as Inland Hills Church's lead pastor. He had been away on an involuntary four-months-long break to deal with depression and anxiety.
In his first message back from sabbatical on Aug. 12, Stoecklein revealed that even though his church was doing well financially and they were attracting record-setting attendance, he had been falling apart for several months.
After his father died from cancer in 2015, Stoecklein, who turned 30 in May, took on leadership of the megachurch. He and his family were soon forced to move after threatening encounters with stalkers. He also developed health complications, which led to a mental breakdown in April. He was forced by the elders of his church to take a sabbatical at that point.
In his Aug. 12 message, Stoecklein also encouraged his congregation to be more aware of the mental health crisis in America and attempted to use the story of Old Testament prophet Elijah to illustrate that mental health is a common subject in the Bible.
"Elijah, he pinpoints the pain. He acknowledges that he is filled with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. And you see mental illness on display. Now that is something that we don't like to talk about much, do we? Especially not the church. And what's odd to me about that is from cover to cover in Scripture, it's filled with men and women who've struggled with their emotions and feelings and have been honest. And we have these Scriptures that have been preserved to read and relate to these feelings and emotions," he said.
Stoecklein attempted suicide on Aug. 24 inside his church, police said, and he was pronounced dead a day later.
His death triggered a strong show of support from prominent Christian leaders and others, many of whom did not know him, such as Saddleback Church co-founder and best-selling author Kay Warren whose son, Matthew, died by suicide at age 27 in 2013.
"Pastors are human & susceptible to mental illness. Some, like dear Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, bravely share their struggle. Others keep it hidden. Just b/c a pastor talks about their own mental health doesn't mean they aren't still at risk. Pray 4 ur pastor," Warren said.
Leonardo Blair contributed to this report.