In the third installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve looks at the importance of the words that pastors use from the pulpit as a key component of a mental health inclusion strategy.
Because of some very deep-seeded attitudes held by many leaders, the stigma associated with mental illness in the church may be far greater than in other institutions of society. In order to pursue an intentional process of outreach and inclusion toward families impacted by mental illness church members and attendees need to be reassured that it’s OK in the culture of your local church to talk about it.
In most churches, the preponderance of communication will be handled by the lead/senior pastor or teaching pastors. For a first-time visitor, impressions of the church will likely be shaped by your church’s web presence, what they’ve been told by a member or attender who invited them to attend, information posted on signs, kiosks, video monitors, brochures and the church bulletin, and their interactions with others, but most importantly, the words communicated from the pulpit or stage.
One indication in church culture of the importance of a program or event is the amount of “platform time” that event receives during weekend worship services. Within a church staff or volunteer base, competition for the opportunity to feature a ministry activity or event during worship services is intense because that’s when the most potential attendees or volunteers are listening. If mental health inclusion is important at your church, your team will want to engage your pastoral team to talk about it on Sunday mornings.
One way some pastors broach the issue of mental illness is through publicly sharing from their own experience. Perry Noble is the pastor of NewSpring Church, a wildly successful multi-site church based in South Carolina. Perry preached about his personal experiences with mental illness and published a book, Overwhelmed on the topic of coping with anxiety. Here’s a brief interview in which he discusses how he experienced panic attacks while preaching and shares a time when he contemplated suicide…
Here’s a link to a fabulous message that Perry gave last May on the topic of anxiety, depression and suicide.
Some pastors speak from family experiences. Rick Warren has received the most notice for his preaching on topics related to mental illness in the aftermath of his son’s suicide in 2013. How We’re Getting Through is the first message from the series Rick preached at Saddleback Church upon return from the sabbatical he took following Matthew’s death. Click on the picture below to watch the entire message from Saddleback’s website…
Here are links to the remaining messages to Rick’s series… How to Get Through What You’re Going Through
Shock: When Your World Collapses – Rick Warren
Sorrow: Getting Through Life’s Losses – Rick Warren
Struggle: When Life Makes No Sense – Rick Warren
Surrender: The Path to Peace – Rick Warren and Kay Warren
Sanctification: Transformed by Trouble – Rick Warren
Sanctification: Finding Treasure in Darkness – Kay Warren
Service: Never Waste Your Pain – Rick Warren
Here’s a message on depression from Ryan Rasmussen of First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. Ryan’s church has a fabulous disability ministry…he shares from his experiences in ministry in a great example of a sermon that grants attendees permission to talk about mental illness and addresses very specifically the sources of stigma in the church…
Before we close, I’d like to share a brief word on what not to say from the platform. In our “politically correct” culture, one segment of the population we still make fun of are folks with mental illness. We may want to avoid being flippant about common, derogatory terms like “crazy,” “insane,” “psycho” or using diagnostic terms as adjectives describing behavior patterns in others…”bipolar,” “manic,” “hyper” or “OCD.” People-first language is important when referring to mental health disabilities too! We don’t define others by their mental health condition…use “my friend with depression” as opposed to “my depressed friend.”
Some other things not to say from the pulpit or the stage…
- Don’t minimize the severity of mental illness
- Don’t question the validity of specific diagnoses
- Don’t question the legitimacy of treatments dispensed by licensed professionals
- Don’t attribute all mental illness to sin or to a lack of faith
- Don’t assume that spiritual remedies alone will be the only way in which God chooses to heal persons with mental illness
When the leader of your church talks about mental illness from the pulpit or the stage during weekend worship services, they communicate to the body that people with mental illness are valued and grant permission for members and attendees to talk with others in the church about their experiences.
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!