Last weekend Saddleback mega-pastor Rick Warren shared the terrible news that his 27-year-old son, Matthew Warren, committed suicide. Matthew had a history of depression and had long struggled with suicidal thoughts. Our hearts go out to Rick and Kay Warren, their family and their friends.
It’s been encouraging to see the outpouring of support for the Warrens and a flood of blog posts addressing mental illness.
There has also been criticism. It’s sad, but when celebrities struggle someone is always there to kick them while they’re down. In this case, some people are shocked that the “purpose driven” pastor could have a son who committed suicide.
Gasp! Rick Warren isn’t perfect?!
The idea of pastors’ kids who aren’t miniature pastors in training has always been fodder for ill-hearted prodding. But for someone like Rick Warren, who is more than a mere pastor, but a preacher of hope and a peddler of purpose, it seems all the more painful. How could someone like that lose a son to depression? How is it that Rick’s message has helped so many people across the world but couldn’t seem to help his own son? Why can’t he help himself? (Starting to sound familiar: Matthew 27:42)
They’re horrible questions, aren’t they? But I have to admit I asked some of those questions myself.
Aside from being mean, those questions are simply unfair. Yet they are still asked.
I think part of it has to do with this expectation that Christians have to be perfect. But we’re not. So we avoid things like mental illness, depression, pain, struggle and failure. Those things are the opposite of perfect, so we don’t dare talk about them. When those things suddenly come to light, as they always do, we’re shocked and hurt and we don’t know how to deal. We lash out with questions based on poor reasoning.
Part of the problem is our expectations. If we could just tear down that bizarre idea that Christians are supposed to be perfect, that church is a place for happy, smiling, perfect people, then these realities might not be so difficult.
Churches must embrace brokenness.
- Church should be a place where it’s OK to struggle with depression.
- Church should be a place that’s home to the recovering and relapsing liar.
- Church should be a place that welcomes the alcoholic.
- Church should be a place where leaders can have faults.
- Church should be a place where we’re not afraid of pain.
And not just in a back room, everybody knows it but we don’t talk about it kind of way. And not in a generic, ‘oh I’m a sinner too’ kind of way. We need to be honest and up front about our brokenness. It’s more than a marketing issue—it goes to the very core of our faith. But should also flow from the top down and inhabit how we communicate. Our communication should reflect our brokenness.
It’s by embracing our brokenness that we can unseat these dangerous expectations. We can cut off those ugly questions before they start. We can allow our churches to truly be places of welcoming and love, not just for the perfect, but for the rest of us.
May our prayers be with Rick and Kay Warren, their family and their friends in this difficult time. May our churches be welcoming places for hurting people.