Rick Warren, Mental Health & Embracing Brokenness

April 11, 2013 by

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.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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10 Responses to “Rick Warren, Mental Health & Embracing Brokenness”

  • Kathi
    April 11, 2013

    Thank you for this wonderful article. As a pastor’s kid who struggles with depression (and has struggled with it most of my life) I have experienced people’s slight hesitation or lack of knowing what to say when they find out I’m “flawed”. I agree that the Church should be a place where anyone who is struggling with an illness, addiction, or any other hurts can feel welcomed with open arms and shown Christ’s love. In face, the Church should be the first place people want to go when they are hurting. The outpouring of love and support for Pastor Warren and his family has been wonderful to see. I hope that we all continue to lift them up in prayer, as well as our own pastors and their families.

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      April 11, 2013

      “the Church should be the first place people want to go when they are hurting.”


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  • Matt
    April 11, 2013

    Great post!

    For more than half of my life, depression has been a part of my reality. And this is comming from a guy who works in ministry as a church creative.

    Hope comes in knowing that what I view as a mess God sees as whole, the knowledge that my abnormal brain chemistery is part of His design, and the realization that it is my illness that enables my giftedness. There is a reason why depression is common among artist, writers, musicians, & other dreamers. It is percicely this vision of the world through a broken lense, of seeing things not as how they are but how they could be, that makes us creative. Knowing that I have purpose and rest in Christ is what keeps me moving forward from day to day.

    The Church must be a place where brokeness is embraced. Even before we know we are broken.

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  • Trees
    April 11, 2013

    Both my wife and I are on staff at a church. I work in communications and PR and she is a professional counselor.

    It’s unfortunate that for many of us, we think Jesus Christ needs us to be/look perfect – like He needs our help or that we’ll tarnish the message of the Gospel with the reality of our lives. Though I struggle with keeping up appearances like many Christians, I have to ask myself, “Now, who saved you? Oh that’s right, I didn’t – Jesus Christ did.”

    I’ve interviewed dozens of people who’ve shared their stories of loss, addiction, depression, and sin. Yet it is that very openness that speaks to so many and welcomes the lost and yes Christians, who are also hurting, back into the love of Christ. We want to believe that being a follower of Christ somehow immunizes us from this still-broken world.

    It’s unfortunate it is taking such a high profile and tragic loss for the Church to be having this conversation. The reality is that stories like this are more common in our churches than we’d like to admit. Helping others walk through issues like this and move closer to Christ, is what we’re all called to do.

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  • Will Song
    April 15, 2013

    I wonder how much His faith had to do with his depression? I was brought up a presbytarian. I depressed for many years because of it. My depression wasnt something I realised was caused by my christian beliefs until I left. Thinking that you are tainted by evil at your core, that you must deny yourself basic thoughts and desires involving self authorship and the power to make things happen, supressing your sinful self for Jesus and wishing the holy spirit, to work through you. This is kind of self denial caused a lot of emotional pain, and a shutting down. I was helped by reading a book by Marlene Winell called Leaving the Fold. It helped me to wake up and see hope in the world for the first time. The world as it is, not some place of evil about to be destroyed in the second coming. Not as a punishment for original sin. But as somewhere I can thrive through MY own abilities an instincts. Needless to say, my depression lifted. I sometimes still struggle with it. But then I remember the world has worth and Hope In itself. I can work towards the things I want. I am capable.

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