May 2015 is Mental Health Month. In recognition, Key Ministry will be presenting a series of blog posts… Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church. By the end of the series, we will have created a template for churches to follow in pursuing families impacted by mental illness or trauma. We begin today with a discussion of how churches can take the first step in launching an intentional process of mental health inclusion.
Mental health inclusion will likely be a process as opposed to a program. The challenges each person or each family encounters to church attendance and spiritual growth will be far too diverse to be addressed by any program…and programs that result in kids or families being singled out for “special” treatment are likely not to fly for reasons we’ve discussed earlier on this blog. We’re looking to establish a mindset for doing mental health ministry that may impact how your church approaches other areas of ministry.
I’d suggest the first step in a mental health inclusion initiative would be to involve everyone serving in a leadership position over an identified area of ministry in your church in the process. Mental health inclusion is truly a family ministry. When Mom or Dad struggle with a mental condition that interferes with church attendance or engagement, their kids aren’t going to connect with your children’s or youth programming.
Churches that are organized in what leaders refer to as “silo ministries”…systems or departments that operate in isolation from one another-may be at a distinct disadvantage in developing synergy for inclusion efforts. We’re familiar with churches that launched adoption initiatives without including their disability ministry staff despite the proliferation of data suggesting that the children being adopted are more likely to experience conditions that may impact church participation. I know of one congregation that offered groups for families of kids with special needs as part of their online church initiative without any involvement from their special needs ministry team.
The strategies we’ll be sharing as the series progresses will require the input and expertise of every department or ministry in the church. It only makes sense that ministry will be more impactful when everyone on the team is pulling toward a common goal.
All of the strategies we’ll share will fall under one of these general categories…
- How do the environments in which we do ministry create real barriers to engagement for kids with mental illnesses and their families?
- How does a church most effectively communicate their desire to welcome persons impacted by mental illness or trauma and their families?
- What can each area of your ministry do to connect relationally with families impacted by mental illness both inside and outside your church?
- How can your church better serve persons with mental illness?
- How can you help the people of your church to assume ownership of mental health ministry?
One more suggestion…I think it would be wise to consider including a spiritually mature member of your church with firsthand experience of mental illness as part of your mental health inclusion team as well as the parent of a child or teen affected by mental illness or trauma. Research tells us that families impacted by mental illness very much value the support of their local church and no one will be able to provide a more beneficial perspective than someone who is part of your Christian community while living with the challenges presented by a mental health condition or trauma.
Inclusion isn’t a program…it’s a mindset for doing ministry.
Editor’s Note: This series is intended to hash out ideas to be presented in a book for church leaders on mental health inclusion we hope to publish later this year. We don’t have all the answers yet and very much desire the collective wisdom of pastors, church staff, lay leaders and families with firsthand experience of mental illness. As we did with our last series, we’ll be assembling a private, online Facebook group to discuss the topics to be presented. If you’d like to be part of the group, send me a message on Facebook (or a friend request with a message if we’re not already Facebook friends) and I’ll add you to the group.
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!