RIVERSIDE, Calif. (RNS) — Pastor Greg Laurie urged his grieving congregants at Harvest Christian Fellowship on Wednesday (Sept. 11) to have compassion for people dealing with mental health issues as the church copes with the news that one of its pastors died by suicide.
“Sometimes we want to just say, ‘They’re just not spiritual or they don’t love the Lord,’ and that’s just a ridiculous thing to say because they may have a struggle you know nothing about,” Laurie said.
RELATED: Pastor, author and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson dies by suicide
Hundreds filled the pews at the church’s midweek service, two days after the death of preacher and mental health activist Jarrid Wilson.
Wilson, co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope, was open about his own depression. He often posted on social media about his battles with mental illness.
Just hours before his passing, Wilson had posted a series of tweets that dealt with suicide, including one encouraging followers to remember that loving Jesus doesn’t always cure illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety.
“But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort,” he wrote.
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This is one of the hardest services I have ever spoken at, as we remembered and reflected on the life of our associate Pastor, Jarrid Wilson who died Monday. However, when I entered the sanctuary and saw these amazing people worshipping it buoyed my faith. It was a night filled with tears and prayers, worship and the Word. We will have another service tomorrow night at Harvest OC. I asked @kaywarren75 Warren to speak as well. Kay is the wife of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. The Warrens lost their son, Matthew to suicide some years ago and she had the perfect words for us in our hour of mourning. Thank you, Kay!
Citing Scripture, Laurie preached about the tendency to hold certain people to elevated standards, “expecting them to be everything for us.” He advised to instead “look to Jesus Christ. … He’s the only one who will sustain you.”
Laurie said Wilson “knew that suicide was the wrong decision.”
“He knew it was not the answer. He was doing what he could to prevent it and to bring this issue to our attention,” Laurie said. “We need to remember what he told us on his best days, not his worst.
“He made a wrong decision, but he was forgiven by God,” he added.
Laurie also stressed the importance of seeking help when feeling depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“We don’t need to do life alone. We have each other. We have the church,” Laurie said.
In his sermon, he aimed to normalize mental health.
“We would not say of someone who died of cancer, ‘Why didn’t they overcome their cancer? Why didn’t they get the upper hand on it?’ … Just as there are issues like that, there are also mental issues that can be medical,” Laurie said.
Kay Warren, whose husband, Rick Warren, is head pastor for Saddleback Church, was a special guest Wednesday. The Warrens lost their son to suicide in 2013.
She described Wilson’s death as a “catastrophic loss.”
“In the face of a loss like this, we can’t put any pretty little bows on it,” Warren said.
She urged church members to “be gentle with each other” as they grieve Wilson’s death. She acknowledged that some may feel confused after the suicide, while others may feel anger toward Wilson and God.
“That one moment of deep darkness and despair (does) not negate what he believed, it doesn’t negate his life and it doesn’t negate his ministry,” Warren said.
Rolaundra Coleman, 38, of Riverside, attended the service and said she was surprised when she learned of Wilson’s passing, but she added, “Mental illness doesn’t take any prejudices against who you are.
“I think that the church needs to do more talking about mental health,” Coleman said. “We act like, you know, if you have mental health problems then that means your relationship with the Lord isn’t what it should be. That doesn’t coincide.
“It’s good to go to church, but just church alone, you need to accompany it with more action,” Coleman said.