The mental health crisis among persons with autism

I strongly suspect that many reasonably knowledgable disability advocates have little or no appreciation of the extent to which persons with developmental disabilities, especially individuals with autism are vulnerable to mental illness. A recently published study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders illustrates the extent to which the prevalence of mental illness among young adults with autism represents an epidemic with serious implications for the medical and mental health communities – and for anyone involved in ministry in the autism community.

A team of Canadian investigators reviewed the demographics, clinical profiles, and health service use patterns of young adults in Ontario between the ages of 18–24 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), other developmental disabilities (other DD), and those without ASD or other DD (non-DD) using administrative health data. Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • 52% of young adults with autism had a psychiatric diagnosis, compared to 39% of persons with other DD and 19% of the non-DD population.
  • Young adults with autism were 2.34 times more likely to see a psychiatrist than peers with other DD, and twelve times more likely to see a psychiatrist than peers without developmental disabilities.
  • Young adults with autism are 4.58 times more likely to access psychiatric services through an emergency room and experience rates of psychiatric hospitalization more than ten times higher than those reported among their non-DD peers.

This study echoes earlier research we’ve reported on in this blog, including a study reporting that adults with autism and no intellectual disability are over nine times more likely to commit suicide when compared to their age-matched peers, another study of 10-14 year-olds with autism in which 70% of kids with autism were found to have at least one mental health disorder such as anxiety, ADHD or depression and 41% had at least two comorbid mental health disorders and a report that kids with autism were 28 times more likely to experience suicidal ideation than age-matched peers without autism.

It is important to note in looking at the Canadian data that rates of mental illness are elevated in general among persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. In that study, mental illness was roughly twice as common and use of psychiatric services was five times more common among persons with non-autistic developmental disabilities compared to the general population.

What are the most important take home points here for pastors and disability ministry leaders?

Mental health ministry is inseparable from special needs ministry with children and teens or any ministry serving adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Many of the strategies used in promoting emotional regulation and self control among children and adults who struggle in those areas represent mental health-based interventions.

Children and adults of typical intelligence with autism spectrum disorders will be more appropriately served by mental health inclusion ministry. When our Key Ministry team was in the process of developing a mental health inclusion model, we sought to develop a model that would account for the challenges persons with autism face in attending church associated with their primary condition (sensory processing, social isolation and expectations for social communication), challenges linked with the mental health conditions arising from associated mental health conditions (stigma and the reluctance to self-identify, anxiety, executive functioning deficits) and a challenge common to both types of conditions – overcoming negative experiences of church in the past. An effective inclusion ministry has to be prepared to help overcome all of the obstacles they’re likely to encounter across all of the activities essential to the life and mission of the local church.

We need to fully appreciate the unique struggles and challenges experienced by children and adults at all points along the autism spectrum. The condition that has spurred the development of much special needs ministry in recent years (children and adults with profound language delays, intellectual disability and stereotypic behavior) is fundamentally different than the experience of persons with restricted interests and behaviors and social communication deficits but normal to high intelligence. Our models of ministry to this point have failed to recognize the unique needs – and unique gifting of persons at the high end of the spectrum.

Perhaps one of the reasons the church has struggled to effectively minister with many persons with autism spectrum disorders is that we don’t do a very good job of welcoming and including children and adults with mental health-related challenges common among persons with autism?


Key Ministry has developed an array of resources for pastors, church staff members, volunteers and families interested in supporting kids with autism spectrum disorders, including articles, blog posts, interviews with prominent ministry leaders and training videos. We encourage you to share these resources freely with church leaders or families that would find them helpful!


Posted in Autism, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three point two percent…

Three point two percent. According to a study authored by a Baylor University professor, those are the odds of an adolescent who attends church less than once a month becoming a weekly church attender in young adulthood.

The data was included in a larger study in which the authors were using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to examine how often young adults who were involved in institutional religion as adolescents return to religionmeasured by religious service attendance and religious affiliationafter leaving in emerging adulthood, and how this return is patterned by family structure in young adulthood. They found that the majority of young adults who regularly attended religious services as adolescents don’t return to regular religious service attendance, regardless of their family structure.

As someone who spends the majority of his work life with teens and their families, I suspect many church leaders fail to appreciate the extent to which traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage. sexuality and the sanctity of life is antithetical to the worldview commonly held by the generation that is entering the work world and starting families. If the majority of teens raised in the church aren’t returning, what chance do we have with teens who lack such a foundation? What should we do?

We need to become very intentional about doing everything we can to get families of children and teens into weekend worship services as often as possible. Our focus as an organization is in helping churches to welcome and include families of kids with disabilities, with an emphasis upon families of kids with “hidden disabilities” – mental illness, trauma and difficulties with social communication, but this is a larger issue for the church than simply disability inclusion. If I were serving on a church leadership team, I’d devote as many resources as possible to reaching as many families with children and teens in my surrounding community as we could.

We have to get far more serious about spiritual formation among the families who do attend church regularly. We can’t dilute our message or our teaching to be more “seeker-sensitive” or we’ll end up with attendees with faith a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m reminded of Jesus’ commentary from Matthew 13 on the Parable of the Sower…

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.  As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,  yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

I worry that the kids of this generation are going to face challenges to their faith that my generation hasn’t had to face to this point. It does little good to get kids and families to church if nothing transformative of life-changing at church. We need to get serious about about preparing our kids to practice their faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile culture.

KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

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Mental health, children, youth and the church

Our team at Key Ministry is delighted to be partnering with Fresh Hope and long-time friend of our ministry Colleen Swindoll-Thompson for a special day of dialogue and conversation regarding the mental health needs of children, youth and families in the church.

We’ll be coming together for a one-day seminar on Mental Health, Children, Youth and the Church on Thursday, October 12th at Nebraska Christian College in Papillon (a suburb of Omaha) sponsored by Fresh Hope for Mental Health. The seminar will take place from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM Central time and lunch will be provided for attendees at the conference site. A live streaming option is being made available for those who would like to participate in the conference but are unable to travel to Omaha to attend in person.

I’ll be sharing Key Ministry’s model for church-based mental health inclusion at the seminar. Pastor Brad Hoefs will be introducing Fresh Hope for Teens, a Christ-centered mental health support group model for youth with mood disorders.

Early-bird registration is available for $25 through October 5th, and increases to $30 during the week leading up to the seminar. Registration for the conference live stream is $15. Continuing education credits will be available.

I look forward to seeing and meeting many friends of our ministry from across the Midwest in Omaha on Thursday, October 12th!


shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

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As Iron Sharpens Iron…The Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders Facebook Group

A place to learn, share and encourage.

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)

On occasion, God has prompted me to do some pretty unlikely things. Raise “happy” chickens in suburban Chicago? (Thank goodness I have forgiving neighbors.) Fork over $10,000 I didn’t have to free hundreds of young girls trapped in slavery in Ghana? (Thank goodness He has a generous Church.) Create a national non-denominational online forum for newbie and “seasoned” special needs ministry leaders? (Apparently, God has a good sense of humor.) It’s amazing what God thinks we can do in the face of such unlikely odds.

As a technophobe who barely navigates her way around email (never mind today’s tangle of social media), the idea of my starting a web page I didn’t know how to create to bring together hundreds of people I didn’t know was simply absurd. Funnier still was the fact that at the time, I wasn’t even involved in special needs ministry. But God was insistent.

So I rolled up my digital sleeves and hammered out a very basic Facebook page with a no-nonsense name, Special Needs and Disabilities Ministry Leaders Forum. SNAD-Leaders for short.

Five years old in June, SNAD-Leaders has over 800 members and growing. It has proven to be an interactive, informative site where leaders (both newbies and well-seasoned) can ask their honest questions, wrestle with differing perspectives, offer input, empathize over shared frustrations, and try to help one another in the name of Christ.

And have I mentioned God prompts us to do the most unlikely things? Two years ago, God prompted me to turn yet another direction. It was time to step off the frenetic treadmill of special needs advocacy. No more articles. No more blogs. No more presentations. No more platform building. No more special needs ministry leadership at church. No more interviews. And no more SNAD-Leaders. God made it clear. I needed a timeout – a season of rest, both for myself and for my family.

Until now.

Several months ago SNAD-Leaders lost its administrator. And although I love interacting with our online community and have come to care about our members as dear friends, one thing hasn’t changed. I’m still a hopeless technophobe. I was sure God had another plan in mind.

When I asked Steve Grcevich, (an early SNAD member, co-admin and friend) to take the reins of SNAD-Leaders I knew it was a perfect fit. Steve would have the heart to care about SNAD, as he has since it began, and he would have the experienced staff and knowhow to take it to levels of effectiveness and resourcing I never could.

However, when he answered my question, it was a surprise. Would I step in again as the admin for the site but this time as an employee of Key Ministry? And with a team who could partner with me to provide all the techno-whats-its, gee-whizery, and expertise to make it even better?

So, starting this month, SNAD-Leaders is entering a whole new chapter. While our focus will still be dialogue and discussion, there will be some changes ahead. The appearance of the page will be updated. We’ll provide more opportunities to share resources, information, articles and curricula. We’ll add webinars to facilitate greater interaction and  discussion with experienced disability ministry leaders on the latest issues and most common questions. I am truly, truly excited.

God has a long and glorious history of asking His people to do the absurd or to undertake the improbable. I think He utterly delights in prompting us to do the most unlikely things. But it’s only when we say “yes” that we get to see just how amazing He really is.

Know someone who would like to be part of the group? SNAD-Leaders is a “closed” Facebook group in that membership is limited to persons serving in some leadership capacity in a church or parachurch ministry engaged in disability inclusion. Prospective members will be asked two questions…

What position do you currently hold or role do you play in your church’s disability ministry?

How did you hear about our Facebook page and why do you want to join?


Kelli Anderson is a freelance magazine writer, blogger, podcaster and the newest member of our Key Ministry team. Kelli is the author of Divine Duct Tape, a sixty day devotional that comes from her own experience as a mother of three teens, two with Asperger’s Syndrome. Many of her articles focus on the practical how-tos of supporting and embracing families of special needs children, especially those who struggle with social, emotional and developmental disorders.

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“A gateway drug to the devil”

A news story making the rounds in California in recent weeks points out the potential for pastors and church leaders to cause harm through uninformed and untruthful statements regarding mental illness and dramatizes how much work still needs to be done to better educate the Christian community about mental health-related topics.

From Fox News:

A bipolar California kindergarten teacher — who was told by a pastor her medicine was a “gateway drug to the devil” — has been missing since she got into a car accident Monday.

Jamie Tull hasn’t been heard from since shortly after she crashed. Tull’s husband, Apollo Tull, told The Modesto Bee his wife called him in tears, saying “I’m not going to see you again.” Soon afterwards, Jamie drove off the road, into fences and a cattle gate. After the crash she told her husband where she was.

Apollo called 911 and drove to the scene. When he arrived, he found police, but no sign of his wife.

Jamie’s father was interviewed by a reporter from KTXL-TV in Sacramento:

According to Devenport-Tull’s father, his daughter has bipolar disorder. He says she has not taken her medication for about six months because a pastor and his wife told her that pills lead to demons.

Her father also told FOX40 that Devenport-Tull was taken against her will about 10 years ago in Southern California. Three years after she had returned she was diagnosed as bipolar, prescribed medication and was considered high functioning until she stopped taking her medication.

Fortunately, Jamie’s story had a happy ending:

The former Modesto school teacher who went missing nearly three weeks ago in Merced County was found alive Friday morning, authorities said.

Jamie Tull, 33, was discovered in a field about a half-mile east of where she crashed her vehicle off East Childs Avenue just past South Cunningham Road, according to Merced County Sheriff’s Department officials.

According to the Modesto Bee, Jamie is very fortunate to have been discovered by authorities when she was:

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Refiner’s Fire

Wanda Parker is a senior saint. She has a remarkable story to share.

Wanda has faithfully served the Lord for over forty years in a variety of ministry roles. She’s served as a children’s ministry director/family pastor in three different churches in Southern California. She worked with Campus Crusade (now Cru) to develop a ministry model for kids in the inner city. She’s helped develop a ministry curriculum for children living in difficult circumstances. For the last sixteen years, she’s been involved with KidTrek, a ministry she founded to help churches reach families in crisis. She’s even served as a guest blogger for us!

Wanda and I have been following one another’s blogs and social media platforms for a number of years. As is often the case for those who seek to faithfully serve God, Wanda has experienced far more than her share of adversity in recent years. Wanda’s husband (Joe) has experienced a series of medical conditions that left him unable to work. After 49 years of marriage, Wanda and her husband lost their home and found themselves living in an unfamiliar city (Atlanta) 2,000 miles away from the people who surrounded them throughout their adult lives. Wanda’s Facebook posts have been a reflection of the remarkable faithfulness and perseverance she’s demonstrated through difficult circumstances. But I didn’t know the half of it. I’ll let her describe what happened next…

Friends began to write me offline, call or come for a visit and I would tell them more of my story which I hadn’t told on Facebook – e.g. more than Twenty years of Terror when I continually cried out asking God to take me home.  Because of those 20 years I truly believed that my senior years would be easy. After all I had done my suffering. NOT!

The friends who connected off-line shared their own struggles. I was overwhelmed with how many who walk with the Triune God are going through pain and there is nowhere to share it, nowhere to get support. There are some things that can be shared openly; however there is much that is kept hidden for fear of judgement or because it involves others – depression, anxiety, betrayal, children not walking with God, addictions (sexual, drugs, gambling). The list is long.

I began to study what the Bible has to say about suffering and discovered it is more of a gift than I ever understood before.

Then some friends began to encourage me to share my story – to write a book. I prayed and prayed. What I feel the Lord has led me to do is write a Blog.

Wanda has begun to share her experiences of faith and  suffering through Refiner’s Fire. Her life experiences and witness will be a great blessing and encouragement to all families affected by disability, both visible and hidden. Along with her story, Wanda has shared lists of her favorite books, music and Scripture for persons who are suffering.

I began to follow Wanda’s story as it is being revealed at Refiner’s Fire and have found myself taken aback by the way God’s presence within her has been so powerfully manifested through extremely trying circumstances. You’ll be encouraged by the words of someone who’s been through the fire and emerged to live a life that gives honor and glory to God. Check it out today!


shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Resources, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook and church

Photo courtesy of

FAKE NEWS ALERT: Mark Zuckerberg never claimed that Facebook would take the place of church. But he did give a speech a couple of weeks ago that ought to spur lots of thought and conversation among those who recognize the transcendent value of Christian community.

Mark was speaking at a gathering for leaders of online Facebook communities. The purpose of his talk was to publicly announce a major Facebook initiative to engage a billion Facebook users into what he referred to as “meaningful community.” I’d encourage you to read the transcript of his speech or better yet, watch for yourself by going to Mark’s Facebook page and clicking on the video from the June 22nd, 2017 Facebook Communities Summit.

Let’s look specifically at what Mark said in reference to the church…

We all get meaning from our communities. Whether they’re churches, sports teams, or neighborhood groups, they give us the strength to expand our horizons and care about broader issues. Studies have proven the more connected we are, the happier we feel and the healthier we are. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.

Zuckerberg is right about people deriving meaning and purpose from our communities. I happen to believe that there’s something uniquely meaningful about community with other Christians for the purpose of honoring and serving God. That’s why I’m the only guy on this sunny, 80-degree day at our swim club typing on a laptop while my friends and neighbors are enjoying a good book or cold, adult refreshments. I sense I’m fulfilling my purpose when I’m pointing people to the One who might provide them with meaning, purpose and fulfillment that will last forever.

That’s why it’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.

Zuckerberg is simply pointing out the obvious. A significantly smaller percentage of the population experiences community through the church now compared to one or two generations before. And there are lots of reasons for the decline.. You can read about some theories here and here. The research strongly suggests that growth or decline in individual churches is related to what the leaders think about Jesus and his resurrection, divine judgment, and the importance they place upon evangelism and outreach.

As I’ve traveled around and learned about different places, one theme is clear: every great community has great leaders.
Think about it. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.

Zuckerberg is onto something here. Our ministry has been blessed by the presence of a number of phenomenal writers and group leaders. Most volunteer their time. Communities work when talented servant leaders are passionate about their cause.

Let’s look at some other ideas from Zuckerberg’s speech:

Every day, I say to myself, I don’t have much time here on Earth, how can I make the greatest positive impact?

Mark poses a great question. If our purpose, as described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, how might each of us accomplish that purpose each and every day? Zuckerberg is dedicating his life and the company he leads to helping more people experience community. How much more motivated should we be to help direct people to everlasting community in the presence of their Creator, Lord and Savior?

Right now, I think the most important thing we can do is bring people closer together. It’s so important that we’re going to change Facebook’s whole mission to take this on.

I think the most important thing we can do is to point people to Jesus, and be about the work of making disciples through coming together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all communities are equal in significance.

So I started asking the question: if 2 billion people use Facebook, then how come we’ve only helped 100 million of them join meaningful communities?
Well, it turns out most people don’t seek out communities in the physical world or online. Either your friends invite you or on Facebook we suggest them for you.

How are we doing at “inviting?” Earlier in this post, I referenced a study showing an unmistakable link between the importance leaders place upon encouraging non-Christians to become Christians as a determining factor in church growth or decline. If the church is in decline and the numbers of people experiencing Christian community through the church is in decline, whose fault is that?

I’d prefer to think of Facebook and other social media tools as an opportunity for those of us who have come to experience real community with other believers for the purpose of giving glory and honor to God. Our Key Ministry team provides online communities to help connect families of kids with disabilities with churches because we think the church is God’s primary plan for making disciples. We plan to take full advantage of every tool Mark provides to point people to the most meaningful community they’ll ever experience. What about you?

My friendly challenge to each of you…We have between 11,000 and 12,000 followers of our Facebook page for churches and church leaders, and nearly 15,000 followers of our Facebook page for leaders. Let’s help Zuck with his effort to help people find meaningful community through Facebook. I’d ask each of our readers to use their Facebook account (or e-mail, text, telephone, or best yet…a face-to-face encounter) this week to extend an invitation to someone you know to experience Christian community. Invite them to coffee, church, a small group, a Bible study or an online community.

We offer Facebook groups and would love for you to join us! Our groups include:

  • Adoption and Foster Care Community
  • Autism and Asperger’s Community
  • Homeschooling Parents of Kids with Disabilities
  • Mental Health Community
  • Ministry Families Impacted by Disability
  • Parents of Adult Children with Disabilities
  • PTSD and Trauma Community

Click here to join our Facebook groups!


KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

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The Gospel and Depression…Gillian Marchenko

It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers. (1 Kings: 19:4 )


I’m confused. How can he suspect depression after one conversation?

Of course, he can’t know for sure.


Mental illness is difficult to diagnose. Careful screening and training is a must. One may assert depression for other reasons; a couple of  down days, a lack of motivation towards faith and life in general, or sometimes a serious excuse for a disinterest in a close relationship with Christ or all out rejection of the gospel.

I sound harsh. Who am I to understand people’s hearts and lives (I don’t always understand mine)? My job is not to pontificate that some people don’t have depression. Situations exists (difficult and stressful times in one’s life) that lead to depression. It’s the real deal. I don’t own a corner on this topic and probably shouldn’t write about it. But we live in a culture (both in and out of the church) that fosters an indifferent attitude towards depression. And frankly, it weakens the legitimacy of mental illness and offends the battle 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. face.

Depression is a bona-fide illness, one that is similar to a person who takes insulin for diabetes or breaks her leg.


My husband is acquainted with outward indicators of depression because of me. I’ve had major depressive disorder for over a decade, and possibly, my whole life. We can’t know if Jean has depression. But regardless, she is hurting. She needs help.

I locate her after the service and we find a place to talk.

“How am I supposed to live?” she asks. Her jaw clenches and dull, charcoal eyes stare through me. “I pray. I read scripture.” She points to her chest. “Nothing breaks through.”

Jean is not the only one who asks this question. It’s in my veins every second, pumping doubt and fear to my heart and mind like blood.

Lord, how am I supposed to live?


I speak about depression. I write books. But shame exists deep within. Part of the reason (outside of the battle of the mind) is because the stigma is alive in churches. “You are less spiritual than others,’ my illness whispers in my ear. “You can’t be a Christian and depressed,” I believe the enemy chimes in.

And so I, and others like me, tend to cower in the back rows of churches, in the corner pews, or at home on Sunday mornings instead of worshiping with the family of God.

The truth? We know that the stigma is wrong, but we tend to believe it anyway. God will deliver us if we ‘do’ more.


What do people think about the gospel and depression? Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes take the issue of one’s inability to be a Christian and depressed head on in their book, Dealing with Depression: Trusting God through the Dark Times as noted in this blog post from the Gospel Coalition. Collins and Haynes begin by “reassuring sufferers that being a Christian and being depressed are not mutually exclusive…” They way I read the interview, the authors note the vital role of the spiritual life in depression (I will add, it IS important). But they subscribe to the belief that although faith is a component of health, it’s not about Christians with mental illness praying harder, repenting of sin, trusting God more, and getting their spiritual act together.

It’s crazy, really (bad choice of words), that people are still uneducated, biased, quiet, and judgmental. Close your eyes, open the Bible and point. Chances are you don’t have to read far to come across a person with a distraught soul. King David, Jonah, Job, Hannah, Paul. God used these people in big ways despite their afflictions. Since when did being ‘together and healthy” become signs of faith? What scripture backs up the theology?


In 1 Kings, I read about the prophet Elijah’s lowest point. “It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (Chapter 19:4 )

Is it terrible that it gives me comfort to know that someone in the Bible says this kind of stuff to God?

God’s response is gracious. Elijah falls asleep and an angel of the Lord awakens him twice, providing sustenance through food and water. God comes close. He nourishes him. He sits with him.

Pay attention to the story. What an amazing correlation to important elements of the gospel. ‘I am no better than my fathers,’ (realization of sin), God responds with grace (forgiveness), an Angel of the Lord (many commentators  believe that this is Jesus) provides him food and water (communion with God through the bread and the cup).

Elijah asks God to kill him. God saves him instead. He sits with him. Jesus has conquered death. He does not leave him or forsake him (Hebrews 13:5).


I’m still learning, but here’s what might help:

  • Sit with them in the pain.
  • Don’t fix, act, or judge.
  • Don’t appease yourself by offering trite Bible verses and walking away.
  • Nourish them with your presence (either near or far depending on how they are doing).
  • Come close to them like God did with Elijah (a ‘stick-with-themness’).
  • When appropriate (maybe when they are coming out of an episode. Maybe not directly. Pray about that one!), point them back to Christ.

Every pain and affliction we experience comes back to the gospel. God is the great physician (Psalm 103:3). He promises that we are and will be whole in the presence of our Savior because of his work on the cross. Speak the truth in word and deed to your hurting friend, but always, ALWAYS from a place of support, love, and understanding that it is not up to them to ‘heal thy self.’


“I’m sorry, Jean. Your pain is real. I can’t do much, but can I sit with you for a while?”

Jean wipes her eyes and nods.

How are Jean and I supposed to live? Remember that God came close through Christ and that through the gospel, he’s not going anywhere. Acknowledge that scripture is full of hurting, sick, imperfect people trying to serve a perfect Savior. Our healing is not up to us. God has a purpose with our lives. We are not a waste.

“Even the apostle Paul said that in weakness we discover the glory, power, and grace of God.” – Scott Sauls.

Church, believers, I urge you. Educate yourselves. Don’t dismiss. Sit with those among you with mental illness in word and deed. Find them at the back of the church or hidden in pews. Reach out to them at home on a Sunday morning. Affirm God’s love and presence in their lives by being a person who doesn’t judge or walk away. Search the scriptures and ask God to confirm the theology of weakness (illness) and grace.

The theology of illness and grace is still a mystery to me. But I sat with Jean that Sunday morning, certain that Jesus was sitting with us, too.


Gillian Marchenko is an author, national speaker, wife, mother, and an advocate for individuals with mental illness and special needs. Her most recent book, Still Life, is a remarkably authentic story of perseverance and faithfulness. Her candor in sharing her experience with depression will be of great comfort to many who have bought into the falsehood that their suffering has resulted from a lack of faith. Buy Still Life at InterVarsity PressAmazonBarnes and Noble, and bookstores across the country.

Posted in Depression, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I’m grateful for Pastor Bob

I never had an opportunity to meet Pastor Bob Hopper. Bob came to my church this past February expecting to serve for two years as our church’s transitional pastor. God had different plans for our church and for Pastor Bob. He went home to be with the Lord following a cardiac arrest late Monday evening.

During my time serving with Key Ministry, I’ve come to appreciate the extent to which people serving in ministry invest their hearts, minds and souls into their calling. That’s especially true of the pastors and staff who serve our church.

When a church or ministry organization assembles a team of gifted and talented people that begins to impact their community for Jesus, a couple of things usually happen. First, they’re guaranteed to encounter significant adversity. I’ve become a big believer in spiritual warfare as a result of our team’s experiences over the past fifteen years and through observing the experiences of many of our faithful ministry colleagues. The other thing that happens is that day-to-day disagreements with very bright, opinionated teammates exert a great emotional toll when they arise in the context of serving Jesus.

I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have a church that’s been a continual source of support throughout the time I’ve been serving with Key Ministry. I don’t get to spend as much time with my friends from church as I would like, but the camaraderie and encouragement I sense when we do reconnect helps keep me going. I’m pretty tired by the time Sunday rolls around. The opportunity to experience great worship music and excellent teaching free of the dysfunctional relationships and toxic politics I hear of from too many of my ministry colleagues has been a great blessing. The church is a great support to me in my ministry work.

While I’ve been reaping the benefits of an excellent church, the people responsible for leading our church have been paying quite an emotional price for sustaining excellence. We lost our longtime senior pastor this past summer. Another outstanding teaching pastor preached his final sermon on the day prior to Bob’s passing. Other staff members are hurting. And for the most part, I doubt any of us who aren’t directly involved with the day to day operation of the church would have ever noticed.

I’m grateful for Pastor Bob because of the care and concern he showed to the other pastors and ministry directors who serve so that my family and I can be blessed through our involvement with church. From the words that were shared at Bob’s memorial service this past Thursday night, he provided them with great comfort and support. My sense is that he was a true servant leader. In his short time at the church, leaders felt valued. If his last couple of sermons were indicative of his communication with our church’s leadership, I can understand why many seemed more encouraged and empowered.

In my line of work, we consider it a great honor when other physicians ask us to care for their children and family members. We’re a pretty demanding lot! Pastor Bob clearly demonstrated the experience, wisdom and integrity sufficient to earn the trust of the very gifted pastors and ministry leaders who serve our church. He was a pastor to hurting pastors…and for that, I’m grateful.

At Bob’s memorial service this past Thursday night, the people of our church were asked to come up to a microphone and share how they’d been blessed by his ministry. I thought I’d share my thoughts here with a larger audience.

I have a request to make of our readers… Most of us never fully appreciate the sacrifices our pastors and ministry leaders make in order to serve us. I think a neat way for each of us to honor Pastor Bob’s memory would be through sending a text, e-mail, social media message or best yet, a handwritten note of encouragement to a pastor or ministry leader who has provided us with encouragement and comfort. He’d appreciate that.

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The quiet ministry of a special needs grandparent

February 22, 1995.

When Mary Evelyn woke up that day, she had no way of knowing her life would never be the same. She got up, got dressed and went to breakfast with her husband. Her husband became a passionate student of the Bible after accepting Christ two decades earlier and had begun teaching Bible classes for fellow Catholics. After breakfast, she accompanied him to a nearby church where he’d been invited to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of a neighbor of theirs who attended his Bible classes. Just as her husband stepped down from the altar after completing the eulogy, he experienced a massive heart attack and was dead by the time his body reached the floor.

At around the same time in a world-renowned pediatric hospital 75 miles to the northwest, Mary Evelyn’s only grandchild (at that time) was about to leave the neonatal intensive care unit for the first time on her 100th day of life. Shannon was nineteen ounces when she was born 15 ½ weeks earlier than expected after her mother’s blood pressure rose to dangerous levels. Shannon would ultimately spend eight of her first thirteen months of life in the NICU, and was connected to a ventilator well into her early childhood.

Mary Evelyn may have found herself without a husband by the end of that February day twenty-two years ago, but she most certainly had a purpose. Shannon needed lots of care and support. Her premature birth and the years she spent connected to a ventilator resulted in profound speech delay. Before going to school, Shannon spent all of her time with in-home caregivers, her parents and Mary Evelyn. As sometimes happens in such circumstances, Shannon’s mom and dad are no longer married. When Shannon’s mom needed to go to work, Mary Evelyn was often there to get Shannon off to school and to greet her when she arrived home from school. She helped with meals. She was an extra set of eyes, ears and hands for Shannon’s mom.

As she got older, Mary Evelyn developed more and more challenges with mobility. She eventually moved in with her daughter and Shannon. As she entered her ninth decade, she experienced a number of serious health concerns, including a stroke. Their little family cared for one another. Mary Evelyn continued to provide invaluable support to her daughter in looking after Shannon after she herself became a recipient of home-based healthcare.

When the ambulance came for Mary Evelyn this past Wednesday night shortly before she went to be with the Lord, Shannon found herself home alone at night for an extended period for the first time in her life. Mary Evelyn’s daughter could well have experienced great relief at being relieved of the burden of caring for an elderly parent. Her first response was to wonder how she’d be able to care for her daughter without her mother’s support.

How many grandparents quietly, day in and day out, without fanfare or special recognition provide an irreplaceable blessing through the care they provide to children with disabilities? How many lend the additional hands necessary for their families to function after decades of raising their own kids? And what do we do to support them?

When my father’s ministry ended on February 22nd, 1995, my mother’s ministry began. She, like many grandparents and extended family, stepped up to help without ever thinking of their actions as ministry. Jesus is pleased and my father is proud.

Well done, good and faithful servant!


KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Special Needs Ministry, Stories | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments
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