Recently on a Sunday morning, a wonderful, young pastor left his pulpit after preaching in the first worship service, sat in his car before his second service, and killed himself. This man with a loving wife, two young children, and a church that was in a building campaign, ended his life.
|Pastor Teddy Parker Jr.|
The questions that are circumnavigating the globe in the aftermath of this tragic event are why would Pastor Teddy Parker, Jr. take his own life? How could a man who gives hope lose it? How could a hope peddler lose the very product he peddled? How can a pastor of all people take his own life?
As information was disseminated, it came to light that Pastor Parker was Bipolar, also known as Manic Depressive. It is a mental disorder that causes people to swing between two extreme emotional poles. People challenged with Manic Depression can be extremely happy one moment and extremely depressed the next. The emotional state of such a person vacillates like a pendulum between two emotional poles from elation on the positive end and deep sadness on the negative end of the spectrum. Unlike the average person, when people are challenged with Manic Depression, they tend to struggle with finding emotional stability and balance. Three modalities are typically used to treat Manic Depression. 1) Medication, which aids in the control of brain chemistry, 2) ECT (electromotive therapy), which is a form of treatment where electrical currents are sent to the brain that can reverse brain chemistry and bring relief, and 3) Psychotherapy, which is an approach that typically uses cognitive and interpersonal therapy to aid in helping the patient control their emotions. If you didn't know the extent of this disorder, don't feel bad. If one of my master's degrees wasn't in counseling, I probably wouldn't know anything about this disorder myself.
The extreme shock and numbness that people continue to experience in the wake of Pastor Parker's death is that a pastor, God's man, this champion of good, struggled with this psychological disorder. More importantly, Pastor Parker's challenge has brought the issue of the need for Christians, leaders, and especially pastors to seek help for their private psychological and mental struggles. Yes, even pastors need help!
Please, allow me at this point to share something from an article I wrote a few years ago after a scandal erupted and people almost lost their minds when a preacher was caught being flawed. Yes, I said caught being flawed. In your spare time read the article "The Inconvenient Truth - Part 1". Here's part of what I had to say about the humanity of preachers.
"Preachers shouldn’t present themselves like they should be worshiped and followers shouldn’t worship them. Again, I know what the scripture says about leadership, along with the respect that is due unto them and I fully comply; but worshiping preachers and pastors is unacceptable. Peter visited Cornelius, an Italian who was seeking God (Jehovah). God profoundly communicates with both men and coordinates a plan that would bring them together. As Peter approaches Cornelius, he bowed on his knees to honor him in Acts 10:25-26, “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.” Yes, Peter declared what all leaders and pastors should declare, “I’m just a man.” I may be anointed, but I’m just a man. I may prophecy, but I’m just a man. I may release miracles by God’s power, but I’m just a man. I may be called to lead a church, but I’m just a man. When our leaders start correcting people like Peter did, some of this hero-worshiping will stop. I implore every Christian and unbeliever to keep worshiping God and following good leadership."
Yes, preachers are subject to error and make mistakes but it doesn't make them any less holy or accepted by God. Pastor Parker's death has created a dialogue that cannot be overlooked. I'm a supreme believer in the supernatural, but I also know that we can't spiritualize everything. There comes a time that after you've done the work of God, you need to talk to somebody about what's ailing you and there's no shame in that.
|Pastor E. Dewey Smith Jr.|
While I would have preferred that Pastor Parker still be with us, his death has ignited an awakening within Christendom.
As God would have it, Pastor Parker was friends with one of God's emerging generals in His Kingdom in the person of Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr., pastor of The House of Hope (Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church) in Decatur, Georgia. Pastor Smith is a man of irrepressible tenacity and legendary homiletic expertise, who has an undeniable passion for God and people. Pastor Smith kindly tended to Pastor Parker's family and graciously eulogized his friend. (To view the dynamic Celebration of Life for Pastor Teddy Parker and witness Pastor Smith's dynamic eulogy, click HERE.)
Pastor Smith then picked up the servant's mantle and started a national conversation about mental health among clergy, leaders, and laity. During the first webinar, which consists of two parts, Pastor Smith is aided by two mental health professionals along with pastors and leaders who've dealt with extreme psychological hardships. The webinar was informative, insightful, and cathartic. It was refreshing to hear the poignant and candid advice from Christian professionals in the mental health field who understood the culture of the church and African Americans. The message was clear and concise -- pastors and leaders must unashamedly seek help when needed and discard unrealistic expectations from people and society. The panel of pastors and leaders who openly expressed their failures and psychological challenges greatly squelched any viewers feelings of inadequacy about struggling. Additionally, Pastor Smith's transparency in how he dealt with his own past and present issues greatly empowered me and others to continue to fight our own personal battles. (View this great discussion by clicking EMOTIONAL HEALTH)
I must admit, Pastor Parker's life story is personal for me. Obviously as a pastor and leader, I can identify with leading while bleeding and other unique complications that go along with the pastorate; but my empathy for Pastor Parker goes beyond superficiality. In the last fifteen years as a pastor, I've had many dark emotional days. Although I'm in a good place spiritually and emotionally today, I honestly am still recovering from my own personal storm.
After founding a church in Missouri and leading it for eleven years to a respectable level of success, God re-positioned me to the Atlanta, Georgia area to plant a new church. I came to a place where very few people knew me, I had no public notoriety, my income wasn't established, and all the success I had in Missouri meant nothing. Basically, I moved a family of four along with a small core group to plant a church on a Word from God. Needless to say, after moving, life became more complicated. There were many days we didn't even have five dollars for gas. At other times food was very scarce and upon contracting an intractable malady, I struggled in pain every day for two years. I preached in pain, even as I traveled between Atlanta and Memphis, which is where the other church I pastor is located.
|Pastor A. G. Green|
I racked in pain sometimes every hour on the hour from something that a ten minute surgery could correct; but because I didn't have insurance or money, I suffered. I then had two small churches, no money, poor health, gossiping family and friends who didn't understand our plight, plus a deflated ego. I've often told many people I died a thousand deaths in the last three years. One day I had a vision while my body was wrought with searing, tortuous, almost indomitable pain that had me on my knees, crying aloud for help from God. In this agonizing moment, I had a vision of a gun pointed at my head ending my misery. I was tired of the pain and tired of being a failure in ministry and death looked like the best option. Most of my friends, family, and peers would consider me to be a rock. However, I must admit, death loomed over my conscious thoughts like buzzards over a crippled animal. I wanted no part in continuing to pastor and live in pain. During this time, I would travel laid on my side in a backseat of a car because I couldn't sit down without being in pain. I would travel to preach both in and out of town, while in almost unbearable pain and would return home feeling like a miserable failure. I would preach and prophecy until people could hardly stand and after church traveling home, I would be depressed before I could get down the street. As pastor Smith said, "It is possible to preach well and not be well." It has been God's grace, love from close family, and my desire to win that kept me going. The past few years of heartache and challenges have helped me to learn more about myself and others. With the advent of an epiphany occurring in the afterglow of Pastor Teddy Parker Jr's death and the emergence of dialogue concerning psychological health for pastors, I realize I don't have to struggle alone.
For those of us who are still here on this planet, what Teddy Parker struggled with as his past tense is our present tense. I am not better than him and what he dealt with, I must still conquer. Pastor Parker is no longer on this plane of existence. He's moved beyond space and time into a celestial place that's transcendent of the trappings of flesh and blood. What he left as the essence of being human, I still live with and I yet must contend with all the challenges that go along with possessing such a nature. Like a cruise liner that's held by an anchor, so is our true existential nature attached and connected to the physical realm. Our spirit must still deal with flesh and the convolution of a dark, sin-infested world.
So, I'm presented with a question I must ask myself because of Pastor Parker's death. Who am I? My simplistic analysis led me to this conclusion: I'm a spirit. I'm a man. I'm a son. I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a believer. I'm a pastor. I'm a leader. I'm a builder. I'm a visionary. I'm a fighter. I'm a winner. I'm an emotional being. I'm imperfect. I'm a recipient of God's grace. I am Teddy Parker Jr.!