How to Love Someone Who Is Suicidal at Your Church

Someone at your church shares that he wants to "end it all." What should you do?

How to Love Someone Who Is Suicidal at Your Church
Doug Reed
Jan 18, 2024

What role does suicide awareness have in the ministries of today’s church community?  Consider Tony, an active member of your men’s bible study group.  He’s a successful executive with two teenage sons, attends regularly and actively contributes to discussions.  Lately, he seems withdrawn, and his participation decreases dramatically.  As his pastor, you take him aside after class one evening and ask if all is ok.  He shares a string of problems all centered around losing his job.  He comments that he should “end it all” so that his family can use his life insurance proceeds to move on without him. 

What should you do?  When someone talks about suicide, you may not know what to do or if you should take him seriously.

When one is struggling with depression and other illnesses that may lead to suicide, his world can feel bleak, and hope can be hard to find.  In the New Testament, we read many stories about Jesus healing others of their physical illnesses or impairments.  But does this apply to mental health?

  • Depression, like many illnesses, is a disease.  Depression is not a sign of faithlessness or lack of commitment to God.  While the Bible may not mention depression specifically, David, Job, Elijah, Moses and even Jesus mention experiencing moments of despair.  Instead of treating depression as a sin, we should instead view it as a disease that can be treated.
  • While Jesus can heal all things, this does not mean that medical and mental health treatment is not necessary.  Pastoral care is not the absolute cure for depression and suicidal ideation.  Proper metal health treatment coupled with God and faith can help provide hope.
  • God wants good things for us.  Like David, Job, Elijah, Moses, and countless others in the Bible, God wants good things for us.  It is not God’s desire or will for anyone to die by suicide.  It’s more than possible to come through these trials without shame while experiencing God’s ever-present love. 

When addressing suicide, it’s very helpful to become aware of several myths. 

  • Talking about suicide will increase the chances that someone will act on it.  The opposite is actually true – talking about suicide may reduce, rather than increase, suicidal ideation.
  • Suicide is the easy way out and people who take their own lives are seen as weak or selfish.  People do not die of suicide by choice.  They experience intense emotional pain and find it impossible to see a way out.  
  • Suicide is not preventable.  While sometimes unpredictable, suicide can be prevented.  Reaching out to someone who has expressed suicidal thoughts, reducing access to lethal means, and helping to secure treatment are among the ways we can work to prevent suicide.

When talking with your church community about suicide, it is important to use appropriate language than conveys hope rather than judgement.  Be direct.  Talking about suicide won’t cause the person to act on suicidal thoughts.  Talking will help them feel less isolated and scared.  Be hopeful.  People can and do get better.  Remind them that God loves them and wants good things for them.  Encourage them to seek help.  Resources and treatment are available for every situation, regardless of financial means, geography, or family support.

Dr. Scott Engle reminds us that suicide is not a mortal sin and is not aligned with God’s will.  As Christians, we are mandated to help others and provide Christian counsel, just as Jesus sat with people in their pain.  When you feel the nudge of “something’s not right,” remember that you are not alone; let the Holy Spirit guide you and give you the right words to console, comfort and support.

Beacon of Light is developing a comprehensive mental health programming and curriculum to equip churches everywhere to better meet the mental health needs of their communities.  Contact Beacon of Light here to access programming as it becomes available.