As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
John 9:1-3 (ESV)
Last week, we discussed a blog post from Ed Stetzer examining the perception held by some practitioners of “Biblical counseling” that prayer and Bible study alone are sufficient to “cure” genuine mental illness. Since that time, I’ve been pondering the extent to which perceptions regarding mental illness among church leaders are responsible for the tradition of excluding individuals and families impacted by mental disorders from what we think of as disability ministry.
Is it possible that the historical exclusion of kids and adults with mental illness from “disability ministry” stems from the view held by many church leaders and attendees that much of what we classify as mental illness is a byproduct of either sin problems or a lack of faith?
I’ll throw out an observation that will likely open a big can of worms…When we consider the kids and families traditionally served by disability ministry, there’s a general agreement that the children (or their parents) bear no responsibility for their disabling conditions. Is the dividing line separating who we do and don’t consider appropriate for inclusion in disability ministry grounded in our perceptions that the child, adult or their parent/caregiver willfully contributes to their condition?
I’ll take this a step further…Theologians have debated the existence of an “age of accountability” at which kids become responsible for their moral judgments and decisions, and the extent to which intellectual disability mitigates responsibility for “sin.” I’d argue that most of what the typical church offers with respect to “special needs ministry” involves serving and including families and adults with significant intellectual disabilities, because we have general agreement that their capacity for moral judgment and self-control is significantly compromised.
Are kids and adults less “worthy” recipients of intentional ministry outreach if we believe they bear some moral culpability for the conditions from which they suffer?
Key Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!
Thank you for this post. Twenty years ago I was told repeatedly by many people that I just needed to pray harder and that if my relationship with Jesus was better, my severe depression would be healed. I bought into that for awhile and did everything humanly possible to pray, study the Bible, go to church and so on. But my depression was not healed. I left the church for several years, but returned hoping that not all Cheistians thought that way. Of course, I also didn’t tell too many church friends about my mental illness.
Fast forward to the present. I now have 2 children with severe mental illness. Last year, my daughter was forced to join a Sunday School class in which she knew no other child. I tried in vain to explain that she had severe social anxiety and needed to be in a class where she had a friend. Because of that, she wasn’t happy in Sunday School and ended up quitting the children’s choir too. We hardly ever go to church any more. I write this with tears in my eyes because I want to find a church where my kids and I are accepted, and yes, even given “special” treatment from time to time. (One of the reasons the church wouldn’t let my daughter switch classes was that it wouldn’t be fair to other kids who want to be with their friends.) I am so close to just giving up on church.
I guess I got off topic of your blog post, but the idea of mental illness or any illness being caused by sin is still very prevalent in out churches, as is the idea that we should be able to pray it away.
Thanks for sharing! sadly, you weren’t the only person who shared this type of story with our team this week. I used your comments as the centerpiece of tonight’s post…
Rhett Smith has an interesting take on this stuff…here’s an interview he did with us on his book, The Anxious Christian…
Message me directly…I’d like to try to connect your family to a church in your community prepared to welcome you and your family… firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to perceptions by the church that those in depression or some type of mental illness must be because of sin or lack of faith. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that and I as well ran into the same problem as Kristin above in her post. I continued to find a church who could be willing to help pray and be encouraging. It took a while but we are finally at a place where healing has begun. I am also writing a book about teens in crisis and how the church needs to respond because of my experiences of what I went through. Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention. And thank you Kristin for sharing your story as well. Keep praying for God to give you support through other people and friends who understand. Remember, the church is filled with broken people who need help and no one is perfect but we can be the beacon of light for others in the same boat as us and move the church in a positive way to respond.
Hi Stacy…great topic for a book! Would be interested in your observations about what churches can do when teens are in crisis that would be most helpful.