Last month a church in southern California lost their senior pastor to suicide. A friend of mine asked if I had heard about Inland Hills in passing and then said, “oh nevermind, it’s too sad. I don’t wan’t want to think about it.” My first thought was a scandal of some kind, and I didn’t investigate. Then, another friend shared something on Instagram that grabbed my attention.
View this post on Instagram
Inland Hills Church grieves with heavy hearts as our Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein was welcomed into Heaven on Saturday night after battling depression and anxiety. It’s not the outcome we hoped and prayed for, and today we grieve as a church family. In his time leading Inland Hills, Andrew reached so many with his warm wit, passionate heart for God, and teaching that always, always pointed others to Jesus. The loving husband, father, son, and friend that he was will continue to inspire us in leading others into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. And in this tragedy, we encourage anyone who is hurting emotionally to ask for help. If you or anyone else is struggling, the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a potentially life-saving resource. May we be a beacon of hope for the community, to rescue the hurting and honor the God that Andrew served so well. Andrew, we love you. And we always will. #godsgotthis #inlandhills
This stunned me. It is such a sad story. But it doesn’t hide, mask, or mis-color what happened. The church did something it should always do; it told the truth. I have thought about this post (and this poor family) so much over the past two weeks. The clarity of their message continues to impress me with the trust they have in people to handle the truth, however hard.
Stories like this are powerful and timely reminders for Suicide Prevention Month.
When we begin to have conversations about tough things with openness and transparency stigmas begin to fall away. The church’s plain message left no one to guess, gossip, or wonder what happened. It didn’t cover his death with a whispered shame and hide the family away. His wife has written on her blog,
“Your story is paving the way for an even bigger conversation about how the church can better come alongside people with mental illness, including pastors. God is using your story and this tragedy to do miracles in the lives of other people. As much as I don’t want to, I can’t help but see God’s hand in all of this….Only God can turn the greatest tragedy in my life into triumph.”
This is a message of hope, purpose and sympathy. The kind of message we need. The kind of message that points forward with a need and looks back with love.
A quick story …
My uncle is a senior pastor at New Heights church in Washington. When a member of his congregation died by suicide, he was intentional to say at the funeral that this man’s life would not be remembered only for the tragedy of his death. He spoke of the wonderful aspects of the mans life, his accomplishments, his friends and family. At the end, he asked the family, sitting up front, to stand and turn around and look out over the community touched by their loved one’s life. He then asked that community to applaud the legacy of their friend.
I promise you that that funeral experience will never be forgotten by anyone who was in attendance that day.
In that moment, the true legacy was remembered and honored. People didn’t leave forgetting he’d died by suicide, but they did leave remembering and knowing that his LIFE was what had been so important.
These are transformative ways of talking about suicide, and these are the ways we need to talk about not just suicide, but all of life. Imagine an honest world, honest people, truth all around. When we can tell the truth in our most painful experiences, we open the doors wide for others to no longer live silently in pain. When we recognize where meaning lies in spite of the distraction of tragedy, we let the light shine where it should.