Dale Partridge has recently given his opinion about people with mental illness in leadership in the wake of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson.
It is not accepting or tolerant or understanding or compassionate to hire a man to shepherd a flock of God’s people who is openly struggling with mental illness.
According to Partridge, it is a clear cut case. If a person is open about their mental health struggles, they do not belong in church leadership.
Is this true? Should people who are open about mental illness be pastors?
It is not an easy yes or no, certainly not as clear cut as what Partridge says. There definitely are people who shouldn’t be pastors.
I would even go as far as to say that people with severe struggles with suicide ideation shouldn’t be placed in high stress job situations, inside or outside church.
I would even say that there are some church contexts that are unhealthy. I have heard of megachurches that have high turnover rates of pastors because they need all their staff to go far beyond a normal work week to keep the machine running.
However, there are church contexts where it is healthy for people to work in. I was at church when my father was dying and my second child was being diagnosed with autism. Instead of squeezing more work out of me, my leadership gave me another week off and supported me through the process. I was in the right place to cope with my brokenness.
I would say there are healthy and unhealthy church contexts for pastors, whether they struggle with mental illness are not.
It may be that a pastor who is with mental illness needs to get out of the megachurch and find a nice small church that will love them and support them.
In terms of mental illness, I would say a larger portion of pastors currently serving have some form of mental illness, whether anxiety, depression or something else. And most of those pastors have some concept of self-care and are able to cope.
A pastor who is diagnosed with diabetes may have to adjust the way they do ministry. They may have to skip some of the desserts and build in time for exercise. The same is true for people with mental illness. The mental illness is not to be ignored but is to be dealt with in proper ways.
There are gifted pastors who have mental illness. A hero of many pastors is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon struggled with depression and yet was one of the most successful pastors to ever serve.
I would say that Partridge’s comments are not just wrong, they are dangerous. If a pastor who was secretly struggling with mental illness read his view, they would not tell their leadership because they don’t need unemployment added to their problems.
Partridge is adding to the stigma of mental illness. We help pastors continue their ministry when they receive a diagnosis of physical illness. Why not do the same for a diagnosis of mental illness?
Please watch this interview of my friend Deane Proctor, who openly deals with mental illness.