Shine Light on Darkness of Mental Illness

On Sunday, August 19, Andrew Stoecklein preached a sermon called “Mess to Masterpiece.” It was his second Sunday back at Inland Hills, a church in Chino, California, after taking a four-month sabbatical to address his struggles with anxiety and depression.

He had been open about his ordeal and encouraged the congregation that if anyone was dealing with a mental illness, “There is hope, and there is help. That’s what this series is about because God wants to meet you in your mess.”

He explicated Philippians 1:6 to remind everyone in the megachurch, founded by his late father, to be “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Stoecklein died the following Saturday by suicide.

News of his death has led pastors to plead with their colleagues through social media and in online articles to get help and to take care of themselves. Congregations have been encouraged to let their pastors be real people with frailties.

But it appears he did seek help and also had the support of his family and church. His wife, Kayla, had said publicly how proud she was of her husband and father of their three young boys. It was the church leadership that stepped in earlier this year and told Stoecklein that he needed to take a four-month sabbatical for his own well-being. The church appeared to have readily welcomed him back.

In his final two sermons, Stoecklein was exuberant, and there apparently was no indication that he was in psychological distress, according to family and church members. It is clear from his sermon that Stoecklein knew all the resources that were available to him. He knew what people with mental illnesses need to do to get help.

The truth is, however, that sometimes the darkness does overcome the light. That is why we need to shine brighter lights to help people see a path forward.

A friend of mine who is an ordained minister and therapist told me this week, “Perfectionism, internal conflict, depression and anxiety are bad enough, but often times pastors do not feel they can or have permission to ask for help so there seems to be no outlet. I am always saddened by these events because the good news of the Gospel is that we don’t have to do it alone. Our good news is that there is a gracious God who loves us. There are trained therapists, doctors, and spiritual directors who will care for us. Even if we have hidden secrets, we are loved by God!”

Theresa Marks, ECC director of pastoral care and advocacy, says the ministry wants to help pastors who are struggling, adding, “No one is going to lose their credentials or call because they contacted us and asked for a referral.”

She emphasizes, “Ordered Ministry is about ensuring the pastor is personally healthy. If they’re healthy, then they can be vocationally healthy.”

Ministers can have a confidential conversation by calling 773-442-6584.

I previously worked for the National Alliance on Mental Illness teaching trainers of peer-to-peer groups for people with mental health issues and their families. They have a lot of excellent resources, including how the faith community can help remove stigma and promote mental health. It is a good place to begin looking for information.

What else have you found helpful? Please share them in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this story. Mental illness is that — an illness, just like cancer, diabetes or any other medical condition. In some people their livers or kidneys or cells don’t work right, while in others their brains and emotions don’t work right. Depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are not signs of weakness or sin. Rather they are outcomes of a physical body not functioning as it should. For many years the Church did not acknowledge this, but we are doing better. Clearly, we must do much better so that people who are struggling feel comfortable seeking help and those that aren’t struggling feel comfortable acknowledging this illness and offering comfort, just as we would if a friend were diagnosed with cancer. Peace to the memory of Andrew and peace to his family and friends.

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