Part of being a healthy church is how we deal with people. All people. So, given this MOSAIC’s theme of mental health, we might as well ask the question “What is a God honoring healthy church’s response to folks dealing with mental health illnesses or concerns?”
When I speak of a church response, I am speaking of both a corporate institutional response and an individual response.
I also feel like I need to say that there is probably a lot more out there on this topic that is more helpful, and authored by people with much more authority and knowledge. So consider this a starter kit for a healthy church response.
- A healthy church is a safe place for folks dealing with a mental health illness or concern.
Although this may be lessening, there is still stigma attached to mental health. We need to do what we can, both corporately and individually, to remove that stigma. Our church needs to be a safe place for anyone to find community and work through the issues of their life with God’s help including folks facing mental health illness. We have to believe that, and then we have to work towards it. That means we need to create a culture where it is ok to not be ok, where it is safe to be broken (because we all are broken to some degree), and where we are encouraged and supported as we pursue wholeness. I realize that is a tall order, but that is the type of culture we need to be creating in our churches. When it comes to mental health illnesses and concerns, we need to make sure we are helping everyone understand that things like medication and counselling are not signs of weakness or worse, signs of a faith that is lacking. They are tools in the pursuit of wholeness, and they should be encouraged whenever they are needed.
- A healthy church doesn’t just say it believes and values things, but they act on those beliefs and values.
It’s one thing to say, “We are a safe place for all people.” It is another thing to actually be a safe place for all people. Action is required. As the people of God, we need to talk about mental health illnesses and concerns, so that we can be educated and better equipped to love, serve, and walk alongside folks dealing with these challenges and those supporting them. When was the last time you heard a sermon on dealing with mental health issues? When was the last time a small group, committee, or congregation talked about and then put together a plan to come alongside a person or family who were in the midst of dealing with a mental health issue or concern? An informed and equipped care team could be put in place and practical help could be offered including funds for counselling for example. Taking steps towards being a place a helpful, safe space, not just talking about it should be the focus.
- A healthy church is prepared to respond.
I know it seems like I am repeating myself and perhaps I am. A desire to create a God honoring culture where we are all welcome to be ourselves and bring ourselves and our brokenness before God is vital. An action plan to accomplish this is vital. Conversation and resources that educate, remove stigma, and move folks to compassion, service, empathy, and action are vital. I guess the only thing I mean to add in this last point is this: sometimes more is needed than the church can and should offer. From time to time there will be folks who need specialized or professional help, and a healthy church should know where that help is available. A healthy church should be aware of counsellors, programs, and resources within their community that are available for folks dealing with mental health illness because there will be times where the most loving thing would be to point a person in the direction of these resources.
As I said, this is a very basic starter list, but I think it is important that every church begin to have more than just good intentions in these areas. We are called to love, serve, and minister to all people, so let’s take that seriously.
Director of Leadership Development and Church Health, the Free Methodist Church in Canada