By Chris Moon
When a prominent pastor committed suicide last year in Southern California, Paul Alexander couldn’t help but take notice.
A lot of people he knew had a connection with the young pastor—Andrew Stoecklein—and they were deeply moved by the news. Alexander, a licensed marriage and family therapist who assumed the presidency of Hope International University in August, has spent years studying and teaching about depression and ministry.
It only made sense to help. Depression is something many ministers struggle with—even though, Alexander said, it is “not comfortable or common to talk about it.”
Alexander contacted Gene Appel of Eastside Christian Church—which is Alexander’s church—and asked if the staff would benefit from a seminar on the subject. Ultimately, 75 Eastside staffers attended a seminar Alexander created about depression and ministry.
“It seemed to address a real need and open the door for us here,” Alexander said.
Alexander now has given his seminar at 14 churches in the past year. He also presented it earlier this month at the Spire Conference in Orlando. He figures he has spoken to 1,100 pastors in the past year. (Alexander will write about this topic for the February issue of Christian Standard.)
At the seminars, participants complete a survey that provides additional research for his presentation.
Both the seminar and Alexander’s presentation cover what he calls the “nasty nine” of stressors that impact a pastor’s emotional health.
Three of those nine stressors tend to push pastors toward depression more than the others—a lack of margin for true soul care, unresolved trauma and grief in their lives, and the feeling that programmatic success within their church is all that matters.
Alexander said 6 percent of Americans are clinically depressed. Research remains unclear as to how many pastors suffer from depression, but some studies indicate pastors may be three times more prone to depression than other adults.
Alexander said his seminars have been well-received. He has two planned in the Portland area with the Northwest Christian Evangelistic Association.
“It’s a very pastoral hour,” he said of each seminar. “It’s a very quiet, calm moment. It feels by the end of the seminar a bit like a worship service. There’s just a subdued and thankful response.”
Depression tends to be a taboo subject in the pastorate, Alexander said, because pastors are the ones who are supposed to help others with their problems rather than admit to problems of their own.
Alexander said he has received feedback indicating pastors continue to think about his seminar and the topic of depression for weeks afterward.
“The seminar provides an open door for pastors to be more open,” he said.
Since that first suicide that caught Alexander’s attention, two more pastors have taken their lives in his region.
“Everybody knows someone who is close to one of these men,” he said. “It’s a timely seminar.”
Churches or groups interested in hosting a seminar on depression and ministry by Alexander can contact Joe Grana (firstname.lastname@example.org), dean of the college of ministry and biblical studies at HIU, for more information.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.