How Churches Minimize The Complexities of Mental Health
Years ago, I realized that as a church leader I did not know enough about how to think, pray and teach in a way that addressed the emerging realities of mental health. I sensed we were just scratching the surface of a complex and growing area of research that required our renewed attention.
One hurdle I needed to address resulted from my own theological training. For too many, learning about the Bible and the work of pastoral leadership is presented in binary categories. For example, concepts about God, how to live and even how to interpret parts of the Bible were stated as either Good or Bad, Black or White, Right or Wrong. While this can be helpful at times, it can be a set-back when guiding those with deep disorientation and sadness.
These approaches can force people to make a choice to clarify how to feel or act when all they may need is time to revisit certain fears and weather the storm.
CHURCHES MUST MODEL GROWTH AND LEARNING
Pastors and spiritual leaders need a renewed vision rooted in their responsibility to grow and acknowledge areas of growth as it relates to Mental Health. It may come as a surprise, but the topic of mental health is not clearly defined in the Bible. One can’t just look up the words ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’ and find a few Bible verses to tweet.
It has never been more important to map a thoughtful and theologically-grounded approach.
One way to affirm a learning approach is to admit when previous methods have not been helpful. I want to focus on three that I have noticed in the context of Christian community.
I. DON’T SAY: JUST READ THE BIBLE MORE
When guiding someone with mental health struggles, a ‘read your Bible more’ approach often moves people to a place of isolation and confusion.
Often this stance is rooted in a view that the Bible is a “fix-it manual”. It misses the truth that God doesn’t just “fix us” but draws us into a loving community that becomes the space which restores our inner world.
Healthy churches that inspire hope will move from saying “Read the Bible more” to saying, “Let's learn the Bible together’”.
II. DON’T SAY: JUST PRAY MORE
For years, I often thought praying more was the solution to everything.
When we take that view, we fail to realize that even the most ancient prayers of God’s people provided room to embrace the messiness of our human condition.
Rarely did things suddenly get better. Prayer was not a tool that instantly made everything better. It was a timely practice of turning to God in our pain and disorientation to rest in his unfailing love.
Churches committed to create safe spaces for those struggling in silence and sadness move from saying “Just pray more”, to “Let’s wait and listen to God together”.
III. DON’T SAY: JUST BE POSITIVE AND TRUST GOD MORE
We are addicted to presenting ourselves as positive people. Imagine what it is like to live with a mental illness in that kind of world. Churches should be celebrating the Good News that teaches us to live with a deep sense of joy alongside those who are sad, angry and even negative at times. Churches that confuse faithfulness with fun create new hurdles for those working through anxiety and depression.
Let’s admit that a ‘do it yourself’ mantra might work for fixing a leaky pipe but does not apply to the gentle work of caring and loving well.
When it comes to mental health no one gets better by themselves. That’s Good News. It means we can and must come together and acknowledge our universal need for empathy, kindness and patience as we learn and love.
Read Dr. Domenic Ruso’s full article here - https://domruso.medium.com/how-churches-minimize-the-complexities-of-mental-health-ec737d93f588
Dom is a PAOC pastor, married with a great family. PhD in Historical Theology. Foolish & courageous enough to Church Plant. Join the party at the180.ca & domruso.com