In the eighth segment in our series…Ten Things I Wish Church Leaders Knew About Families and Mental Illness, we’ll look at why helping people to feel like they’ve been chosen is critical to the success of outreach and inclusion efforts when families have mental health concerns.
Allow me to digress today to draw an analogy for church leaders from recent events in the city Key Ministry calls home.
As some of you may have heard, a certain highly skilled basketball player from Northeast Ohio who “took his talents to South Beach” four years ago decided this past Friday to return to our region to raise his family and play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His announcement followed by two days the news that our city was selected to host our first major political party convention in eighty years.
To say that the locals were jubilant is a bit of an understatement. We’ve been through very difficult times here in Northeast Ohio. Our area lost tens of thousands of people in recent years. Thousands lost jobs when one of our major banks was absorbed during the mortgage crisis. The majority of the people live in parts of the region “favored” for winters that are extraordinarily bleak and snowy in comparison to other Midwestern cities. Anyone old enough to drive to the game the last time ANY Cleveland team won a championship in a major sport is now eligible for Medicare.
The real reason for the city-wide celebration…Nobody ever chooses us! But in a 48 hour period, we were chosen to host a Presidential nominating convention and the best basketball player in the world publicly declared his desire to play here and raise his family here.
Kids with significant mental health conditions and their families desperately want to be chosen. Life for them is often punctuated by bitter disappointments…not being chosen for the team during pickup games at recess, not being asked to Homecoming or Prom, not getting into the college of their choice, and with increasing frequency, kids and adults with mental illnesses are confronted by insurance and medical bureaucracies that choose to deny access to the best clinicians and treatments for their conditions.
I’d encourage church leaders to put themselves in the shoes of a parent with mental illness, or the parent of a child with mental illness. I’ve had a number of discussions with someone who was very active in their local church but experienced a series of setbacks that led to their absence from a small group and weekend worship…this person was most discouraged that no one from their church ever reached out to them. No one took time to see why they stopped coming or if they needed someone to pray with them. No one brings casseroles when your teenager is hospitalized in the psychiatric ward.
People who struggle with mental illness (or their caregivers) very much want to be pursued. For someone to recognize that they have value. Isn’t that the mission of the church? Aren’t we the hands and feet of the Savior who pursues the lost sheep? Don’t we serve a God who chose us and is lavish in the grace he extends to us? From Ephesians 1…
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:3-10 (ESV)
Maybe church leaders could learn something from Northeast Ohio’s “prodigal son” in the way he reached out to our community upon his return?
I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
Reach out to people who have been marginalized, recognize their value, help them to use their talents for something larger than themselves. That would work. It also looks a lot like the first century church.
Photos from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Wikimedia Commons
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Thanks for your thoughts. I’m a pastor here in Cleveland, so definitely appreciate the Cleveland insights. http://www.refuelblog.com
LOVE this post straight from your heart, Steve! Thanks and well done especially with the current, personal reference to “drive your point home”!
Thank you for sharing this. I have come across this many times that parents struggle to be fed or ministered to when instead they feel judged by those around them that don’t understand mental illness. We must learn and show grace because mental illness is becoming more prevalent among teens and even younger. The Church should be the lead in showing how to meet those needs and be a support for those that feel lost.