Many churches have walked away from the growing mental health problem.
I don’t need to get into the statistical weeds on this one. Go look it up for yourself. Mental health is a growing problem with little “good” solutions being offered. The sad part is most of the church community has walked away from this. I believe there are three reasons. Two are embarrassing.
1) We were taught to walk away from people with mental health problems.
All the way through school I heard one common theme when it came to counseling. Refer. We were basically taught that we are unqualified as pastors to help people with mental health problems and so we should just pass them along to the professionals. So that’s exactly what an army of “well trained” young leaders, including myself, have done. We don’t do anything with mental health because we were taught not to. After nearly 17 years in ministry here is the problem – very few actually go get the professional help you recommend. Either they can’t afford the “real” help or they are too embarrassed to embrace it. So they live with a growing addiction, depression, or anxiety until it’s too late.
2) We want to run smooth, uninterrupted, perfect productions.
The sad truth is messy people make it really hard to run a “flawless” service. It’s quite ironic how many churches that carry tag lines like “all are welcome” really don’t mean it. Often what they are really saying is, “Those of you who are like me and don’t fit in another church are welcome here.” From young hipsters sporting lumberjack clothes who feel like outcasts in churches that rock Gaither music, to the elderly person I talked to the other day who now feels like an outsider in her church because it is geared for a younger generation. Though I honor people trying to create ministries that reach people like them, the reality is they are still functionally (how they design services and ministries) working to only reach “outcasts” that look like them. I am going to be a bit bold – they are probably not the last, the lost, and the least in culture. What are these ministries designing for the bipolar homeless vet living under the bridge? We have a long way to go too, but we are trying to build ministries with eyes that aren’t locked on ourselves. Our church has an inner city campus, and its true inner city, not a hipster church in a needy area that just displaces those who are really in need. Pastors Eric and Cathy (the leaders at that campus) are the real deal. They hear threats, deal with people that are high, and assist in hard domestic situations on a regular basis. I wish people viewed this type of ministry as “cool.” Many want to belong to churches that DO a ministry like this, but don’t want to BE at churches that are like this.
3) We are afraid of liability issues.
Yes, churches get sued, I know ours has. The moment we choose to do ministry in messy places with messy people, we better believe it will be risky at some level. Here is what we have to believe – that disobeying the Great Commission and Great Commandment is MORE DANGEROUS than being sued or working with messy people.
I have a theory. I know it may sound strange, but I think the church CAN help.
I believe we need to adopt a new approach concerning mental health in the Church and stop abdicating our responsibility to be Jesus in hard situations. At our church we are going to do a few things right away, but remain very open to other suggestions! So please share.
We are going to:
- Realize we are failing at honoring the mandate from Christ to love those who are in real need.
- Assume we can make a difference instead of assuming we can’t.
- Maximize small groups that deal with hard situations. Instead of treating small groups like Celebrate Recovery as a weird stepchild of the church it will receive the honor it deserves.
- Utilize local professionals for emergency situations. However, we will work to provide a safe system for people when they return to normal life.
- Continue to build a church that provides space for imperfect people.
- Realize our powerful potential! When people find true love, forgiveness, community, and purpose for life in Christ it truly does change everything.
*Image via http://news.rutgers.edu