The term “mental health” for many years was considered off limits in our churches. Christians who struggled with mental illnesses or emotional issues were perceived as spiritually weak and lacking a strong trust in God. However, in this age of fast and overwhelming information, mental health issues are front and center not only in the culture, but in our churches. Mental health problems cannot be ignored in the church.
What exactly is “mental health?” According to Mentalhealth.gov, “mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”
We live in world that thrives on information. Our culture is overloaded with news, social media, and internet feeds that allow the world to overindulge our minds. The church and Christians are not exempt. As powerful and dynamic as our brains are, they were not built for a non-stop flood of overwhelming information. As the world and its information dominate our minds, the Word of God takes a backseat. We tend to need God less as we find our identity in the world and all that we think it has to offer us.
Many have bought into the idea that mental health issues and the Bible exist in two different universes. Not so. Today, we have more mental health medications than ever, yet the state of mental health among the population is perhaps worse than it has ever been as the world has more and more avenues to feed our minds corrupt information. The world’s answers are not sufficient to satisfy our souls.
The Bible places a tremendous focus on the soul of man. The soul is defined as our mind, will, and emotions. It is the heart of man. The Bible’s focus is the heart of man. No other document or religion comes close to the Bible’s concern for the souls of men, both here on earth and in eternity. The Bible is a mental health Book that is rivaled by no other document. Ignore it, and we will have problems. Big problems.
The further we move from the Book written by our Creator that tells us how our mind, will, and emotions are to successfully function, then the obvious result can only be increased mental health problems. Mental illnesses such as prolonged and even life-crippling stress, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsions, paranoias, anger, etc. eventually have a spillover effect on physical health. These strong emotions release adrenaline, cortisol, and other chemicals into the body that can and will cause physical illnesses. Physical illnesses then further increase mental and emotional stress and soon we find ourselves rapidly spiraling out of control.
God’s Word is a powerful tool for strengthening our mental health. I am not saying that Christians will avoid mental health issues. In fact, those who faithfully live for the Lord will suffer significant bouts of mental health problems. The Christian life, by design, moves in opposition to the world. This will lead to stress, discouragement, disappointment, and suffering. God knows this, and therefore His Word prepares us for this challenge.
God warns us of the mental health problems we will face and He provides solutions in His Word. The Apostle Paul suffered several mental health “breakdowns” in Scripture. His solution was always a return to God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and a host of other Old Testament prophets and leaders suffered mentally. God alone was their solution. Jesus experienced a tremendous mental health “crisis” in Luke 22:44 as He sought the Father in prayer shortly before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Sweating drops of blood is a condition that is experienced during periods of extreme mental and emotional anguish.
Mental health issues and “illnesses” are part of life, and apart from God’s Word and ways, they worsen over time. John states in 3 John 2, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” God wants our soul (mind, will, and emotions) to prosper or to succeed and that we find good health. Struggling through mental health issues is expected and even directed by God, therefore His Word provides the solutions.
In fact, a 2011 study by the American Journal of Psychiatryfound that people of faith and prayer were 76 percent less likely to suffer periods of significant or major depression and that religion and spiritual connections to God should be considered during mental health or psychiatric evaluations, (https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2011.11091407. Again, I am not saying Christians will not suffer mental health issues, but they do have tools to overcome and avoid long-lasting mental health problems that the world is ignoring.
What is concerning, however, is a recent Center for Disease Control report that revealed “the suicide rate among children aged 10 through 14 has nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017, while the suicide rate among older teenagers has increased by 76 percent between 2007 and 2017, new federal data show,”(https://www.christianpost.com/news/suicide-rate-kids-ages-10-to-14-nearly-tripled-last-decade). Life apart from our Creator is unfair and unsustainable.
Churches, pastors, and lay leaders live in a world that is screaming for help and emotional stability. While there are certainly many mental illnesses that may be beyond our scope and medical expertise, the vast majority of mental health issues are not. Sin, guilt, and shame are weighing down many followers of Christ who sit in our churches week after week in silent pain. Their silence and refusal to deal with these issues only increases the harm to their souls and their bodies. The longer they wait to address these issues, the greater their strongholds become. Left alone and unexposed these strongholds will eventually manifest themselves as “mental illness.”
How can you as a pastor, teacher, or other church leader help? Here are ten things that will guide you to develop and maintain a mentally healthy church:
1. Keep your emphasis on the Word of God and not the world’s solutions to mental and emotional problems. Medication has a place, but not first place.
2. Hold people accountable for sin (don’t embarrass people—keep private sin private).
3. Teach and train your congregation to daily read and meditate on God’s Word. God’s Word is food for the soul (mind, will, and emotions).
4. Teach and train your congregation to pray continually in all situations. Prayer has a tremendous impact on our mental well-being as it calms the mind and emotions.
5. Teach and train your congregation to develop a daily quiet time. Typically, this is a mid-afternoon event. This is a time of active rest for the brain (not a nap). Active rest means you are awake, but your brain is disengaged from chaos. This allows the brain to “default” or reset. It clears the fog of the day and stimulates creativity and brings order to your thoughts.
6. Teach and train your congregation to serve others.
7. Teach and train your congregation to take breaks from ministry when burn out is near.
8. Offer and encourage frequent fellowship. Human interaction in this age of social media is very important. Social media causes isolation and is a mental illness contributor, especially in our children and teens. We need each other more than ever.
9. Teach and train your congregation to establish healthy boundaries concerning social media, T.V., and other information overload.
10. Offer counseling. You are the best counseling option available if you are adhering to God’s Word as the standard.