Within a few hours of this post, Jarrid Wilson killed himself.
Let that sink in.
For days, I have been thinking about little else. As I scroll social media, I find myself being bombarded by well-meaning Christians who are spouting out the typical evangelical response to tragedies such as this one. You know exactly what I'm talking about! Things like:
Pray for your Pastor, because they are taking the arrows meant for you.
The ones who smile the most are usually hurting the most.
And, of course, my favorite...
He was never saved to begin with.
No, I am not kidding. This is really what people are saying.
Four days ago, an incredible young man-only months older than I am-lost his life. And instead of falling on our faces, broken over a devastating loss that could have been avoided... that should have been avoided, we are all taking to social media to argue about whether he belongs in hell for what he did...
I am disgusted... and I can't take it anymore.
I have spent all week debating on whether or not I even wanted to comment on this. Not because I think there aren't things that need to be said, but because I genuinely believe that there is so much disrespectful, inconsiderate, and religious nonsense being spouted, that I wondered if adding my thoughts would even contribute to the conversation. But I don't think I can be quiet about this.
Before I get to what I want to say, however, I would like to acknowledge two things that I will not be addressing in this blog:
First: I will not be addressing whether or not I think Jarrid Wilson is in hell...
I am not avoiding this conversation because I do not have opinions. I have very strong opinions. Opinions that some of you may agree with and some of you may not. However, regardless of what I think, Jarrid cannot benefit from me sharing those thoughts here. Whether he is at the feet of Jesus, finally free from the pain and confusion that tormented him, or suffering a much worse fate, nothing I type here can help his situation. And nothing I say in response to this question can help the situation of anyone else facing similar suffering.
Suicide is a very serious conversation. It is not something to be taken lightly, or talked about callously. And even more importantly... real human beings are still suffering.
Jarrid may be gone, but the people who loved him are not. And how we talk about this will effect how well they heal.
That should matter to us.
Second: I will not be addressing spiritual warfare surrounding christian leadership...
Do I believe that there are things at work in the spiritual realms that effect the way our lives are shaping here? Absolutely. Do I believe that the enemy has a particularly focused aim at those who have dedicated their lives to the shepherding of God's people? Yup.
However... do I believe that is the reason christian leaders suffer from mental health problems, marital failures, and moral corruption at such an alarming rate?
I think it is time for the church to remember that our enemy is a defeated one. His antics do not have power to disrupt the fullness of God's people. Can we attribute the occasional failure or loss or tragedy to his activity? Sure. But to suggest that a pandemic level defeat in the body of Jesus (meaning the ever-worsening rate of christian leaders who are abandoning the faith, falling into moral disrepair and losing their lives to hopelessness and depression) is solely the result of the enemy's activity is to suggest something about the church that I just don't think I can agree with.
No... our enemy does not have the power to dismantle the church.
But perhaps we do.
It is time for us to look at things a little differently...
There is a lot I would like to say, but for it to make sense, I first have to present you with an uncomfortable truth.
Ministry has become a mask.
A few years ago, I was in a meeting with our church's Pastor, talking about life, the Word, and some of the things that God was showing me about the church, and his love for humanity. During the natural course of the conversation, he asked me a question that I have never forgotten. He said, "Michael, do you think this church is healthy?"
Let me preface my response by saying that this was probably the most incredible church I have ever been a part of. The leadership was solid, the vision was exceptional. They were ahead of the game with a dynamic children's ministry, youth ministry and a worship team that genuinely sought God. But, in that moment, it wasn't our team of incredible leaders that came to mind. It wasn't even the dozens of healthy volunteers. It was the hundreds of people who faithfully sat in their chairs every weekend with no interest in contributing anything to the rest of the body.
With them in mind, I asked our pastor what he would say about a body that had a strong heart and a strong brain, but no other functioning organs. Sober-faced, he sighed and said he would call it dead.
Why does this matter?
Simple... that is exactly what the body looks like today.
For decades, the church has been practically catatonic. The majority of the body serve no function... contribute nothing. We have made faith all about ourselves, and as a result, we have cultivated a culture where the vast majority of the church is not actually alive. But we have gotten away with it because we have lifted up ministry as the standard of christian life, using our pastors and worship leaders and other leadership to mask the fact that we, as a whole, are completely unresponsive.
We have used their passion and their depth as a mask to hide our own degeneration.
And the result? We have placed such a heavy burden on the backs of our leaders that many of them cannot keep their heads above water.
We have asked our pastors to not only lead the church, but to actually be the church, allowing us to hide behind their vision and their depth and never actually become the people Jesus died for us to become. We point to their standard and call it our own, never stopping to wonder what the consequences will be for shackling these men and women to the yoke of ministry.
We have asked our spiritual leaders to carry the entire weight of the church, and then we have judged them as they have cracked under the pressure.
It is time to change the narrative...
People will fail us more often than we would like. But they will always fail us when we ask them to do, and be, more than they are capable of. Our Pastor's were never meant to be the entire active part of the church. We were always meant to carry the weight as a collective.
We have to do better. We are putting our spiritual leaders in a position that endangers them because we are hungry for a faith that doesn't make us uncomfortable.
Things have to change.
We cannot afford to lose more young men and woman to a battle they were never expected to fight alone. We cannot afford to cast more weight on them, disregarding their needs, their struggles and their own limitations. The church is literally becoming known for its failures. And that is not because the devil has finally figured out how to make us tap. It is because we have decided that our individual comforts are worth the price of our collective failures...
Things have to change.
I am not saying that Jarrid Wilson's church failed him specifically. I have no idea what kind of body they are. Perhaps there is more to his story. But as a culture we have cultivated an atmosphere where leadership means carrying the entire burden of Christianity, and that standard has resulted in catastrophe.
Things have to change.
My intention here is not to suggest that I have all of the answers. I don't. But someone has to get the right conversation started. It is time for the church to stop blaming everything on the devil, and to accept that somewhere along the line, we dropped the ball. We forfeited our identity. We embraced structures and practices that forced our leaders to transition from being foundational to the church, to becoming the entire church. We have put a weight on them that no man is capable of carrying, and if we want things to change... we need to figure out how to put that weight back where it belongs. Which means asking some important questions and challenging the standards that have led to the crisis we find ourselves in.
We have spent so long talking about how we can better equip our leaders to handle the high demands of ministry that we never stopped to ask whether there should be high demands of ministry. What if Jesus meant it when he said:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
What if adopting the performance-driven models demonstrated for us in the world wasn't the brightest idea? What if leadership in the kingdom isn't demonstrated from a pedestal? What if the pastorate didn't come with a responsibility to lead the body from the stage? What if leadership is relational? What if the weight of the church should be carried by the church? What if there is a way to chase Jesus where noone is so far removed from one another that they have nowhere to turn when they are overwhelmed? Or better yet, what if biblical community is so satisfying that noone gets overwhelmed? What if we can protect our pastors by not crushing them to begin with?
There is so much to talk about, and so many life-changing answers to find. I won't pretend I know them all, or that I can even say I have experienced them all. But what I do know is this... if the conversation never happens, nothing is going to change.
Clearly something is not working. It is time to challenge every standard until we figure out what.