Why Jess Cummings came to Inclusion Fusion Live

Editor’s note: I’ll be writing more in the next week or two about our recent Inclusion Fusion Live conference, but there’s one story from last weekend I can’t wait to share.

Mary Schordock is a long-time member of our church who was serving as a volunteer at the conference. We had a large team of volunteers who were ferrying guests back and forth from the conference to their hotels and to the airport. Mary told me about a young woman she was assisting with transportation who for her birthday asked her family for a plane ticket from Seattle to Cleveland so she could be with us for the conference. I was so touched that Jess Cummings made such an effort to join us that I asked her to do a video describing why she came. She preferred to do a guest blog.

I believe I can speak for our entire ministry team in saying we were incredibly encouraged that God is using our blogs and resources to encourage and inspire folks like Jess who are called to disability ministry and to guide her into community with her brothers and sisters in Christ who share similar passions! Here’s Jess:

When I learned that Inclusion Fusion would be a live event instead of an online video conference, I was immediately interested. As more details were posted on the web site, I knew I needed to be there. I was ready to do whatever it took to get there, but my family stepped in and sent me to Inclusion Fusion Live as my birthday present.

The church experiences of people affected by disability is a topic about which I am quite interested, and not just because I am a Christian who happens to be blind. I have spent a lot of time talking with other adults with disabilities; we share stories, both amazing and challenging. While my experiences, and those of my friends with disabilities contribute to my perspective on church life accessibility, my biggest motivation for involvement in this movement is my students. I teach children with visual impairments as a profession. I want them to have access to churches that are intentional about involving them in all aspects of church life.

It was almost in indescribable experience to spend time with people who are doing disability ministry work. There is something about being with people who “get it.” These people know disability comes with challenges. I learned a lot, directly from parents about the kind of support that is helpful, versus what has been hurtful or problematic in the past. At the same time, the pervading spirit of the conference was that the church has a unique view of disability to offer the world because of Jesus. The message wasn’t news for me, but to be with others who were so passionate about this idea was a profound experience.

I’m not sure what my involvement in disability ministry will look like. In any case, I am grateful to Key Ministry and this conference. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration.

Posted in Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why church is difficult for persons on the high end of the autism spectrum

April is recognized as Autism Awareness Month. and Monday, April 2nd has been officially designated as Autism Awareness Day. In my blog posts this month, I’d like to call attention  to a critical need that has been greatly overlooked in the North American church. We need churches committed to welcoming children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum of typical to high intelligence and affording them opportunities for using their considerable gifts and talents to advance the mission of the church.

Nearly half of the one in 68 children and teens identified with autism spectrum disorders have measured intelligence in the normal to high range (IQ >85), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. What gets in the away of them being part of the church?

The challenges they experience are quite similar to those common among persons with a primary mental health disability. We have lots of outstanding ministry models for persons on the autism spectrum with intellectual disabilities, but far less in the way of resources for those with more subtle disabilities. We know that persons on the high end of the autism spectrum are at substantially greater risk of experiencing one or more mental health conditions compared to the general population.

One study of adolescents reported a prevalence of comorbid psychiatric disorders of 74%. A recent study examining psychiatric comorbidity in young adults reported 70% had experienced at least one episode of major depression, 50% had experienced recurrent depressive episodes, and 50% met criteria for an anxiety disorder. In general, children and teens on the high end of the autism spectrum are more likely to have issues with ADHD and anxiety, while depression and anxiety are more common among adults.

That’s one reason why the inclusion model we put forth in Mental Health and the Church was designed in such a way that it can be applied to persons on the high end of the autism spectrum. Most of the seven barriers to church involvement described in that model for persons with primary mental health conditions also apply for persons on the high end of the spectrum. Let’s look at five…

Anxiety: A core difference in brain functioning in persons with anxiety involves their propensity to overestimate the risk of entering new or unfamiliar situations. Consider the discomfort someone with anxiety might face in visiting a church for the first time. For many on the high end of the autism spectrum, such anxiety is compounded by the real challenges they’re likely to experience in accurately interpreting the reactions they elicit from others.

Executive functioning: Here’s an excellent summary from the Center for Autism Research of some of the challenges persons on the high end of the spectrum might experience as a result of executive functioning deficits. Among the issues they highlight…

  • Planning, organizing, and/or sequencing thoughts and maintaining attention.
  • The appearance of being stubborn because of difficulty “shifting gears” when a change of plans or activity occurs.
  • Difficulty controlling  impulses or regulating behavior when they are upset or frustrated.

Sensory processing: The most current research indicates that 69-93% of children with autism experience symptoms related to sensory processing, and the sensory processing differences seen in association with autism tend to persist over time. The level of ambient noise and presence of multiple conversations in close proximity, along with the bright lights and loud music common to many worship worship services may result in great discomfort for kids and adults with autism.

Social communication: Churches are intensely social places. Consider the extent to which someone with a condition impacting the ability to process non-verbal communication – body language, facial expression, tone and inflection of voice is disadvantaged in a typical church! How might the people of your church respond to someone who doesn’t follow social convention regarding appearance or dress, or struggles to follow common rules of social behavior, such as knowing when to speak or how to take turns while speaking? What challenges might they encounter if they’re expected to attend a Bible study or small group with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place?

Social isolation: The well-known pastor, speaker and author Carey Nieuwhof speculates that in the near future, personal invitations will be about the only way that non-Christians will show up at Christian churches. Where does that leave people with a condition in which one of the two core features is the need for support with social interaction? When I think of my patients on the high end of the spectrum, their greatest source of distress is the loneliness and pain resulting from not being desired as a friend.

I’d like to conclude by encouraging you to check out this anonymous blog post from a young adult in college describing her experiences in looking for a church in which she would feel accepted and welcomed.

I do not even know how to approach joining a church now since it is so evident that no one at my old church in my old city wants anything to do with me. For all the talk on forgiveness, I am apparently too eccentric and egocentric to be forgiven and to be accepted. Moreover, if not even loving Christians can put up with me, the rest of the world seems scary.

I once volunteered at a Christian youth centre, but I was told I had to leave after a few days for being too clumsy. I applied to several Christian schools, but I have found them to be the least accepting of my disabilities.

I have this vision that if I ever get married, it will be an empty church.

Interested in additional ministry resources on supporting persons with autism at church? Click here for a menu of resources we shared on Autism Awareness Day 2017.


Please consider joining us at Bay Presbyterian Church in suburban Cleveland on April 20-21st, 2018 for Inclusion Fusion Live. This two day disability ministry conference features 25 speakers and 40 presentations, including all-day intensives on autism, mental health inclusion and respite ministry, praise and worship during the Friday night and Saturday sessions and program tracks for church leaders and families. Ministry intensives are offered for a modest fee that includes meals and support materials. Friday night and Saturday sessions are provided free of charge to pastors, church staff members and families, but registration is required.

Hope to see you in Cleveland for Inclusion Fusion Live!


Posted in Autism, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental health ministry training at Inclusion Fusion Live

We’re only a little more than a month away from Inclusion Fusion Live, a disability ministry conference sponsored by Key Ministry and hosted by Bay Presbyterian Church on April 20th-21st, 2018. Inclusion Fusion Live will feature over two dozen speakers and approximately forty talks, workshops and ministry intensives covering a broad array of disability related topics of interest to pastors, church leaders, staff members, ministry volunteers, family members and caregivers.

I’m especially pleased that we’ll be offering an all-day training for churches interested in developing a mental health inclusion strategy and making available five additional workshops and presentations for ministry leaders and families with interest in mental health ministry. Here’s a listing of what’s in store for Inclusion Fusion Live attendees…


Friday, April 20th – 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM

DEVELOPING A MENTAL HEALTH INCLUSION STRATEGY IN YOUR CHURCH – Ministry Intensive || The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in five U.S. children and adults have a diagnosable mental health condition, and attributes of common mental health conditions often create barriers to church attendance and engagement for persons with mental illness and their families. Participants in this intensive, led by myself, Catherine Boyle of Outside In Ministries  and Jolene Philo will be introduced to a model for outreach and inclusion of children and adults with a broad range of mental health conditions into weekend worship services and other ministries and activities that serve as catalysts to spiritual growth. They will be provided with the necessary tools for crafting a mental health ministry strategy consistent with the unique mission and calling of their church.

Registration for the day-long intensive is $49 until April 6th ($69 after April 6th) and includes lunch, materials, a copy of my new book Mental Health and the Church and Key Ministry’s Mental Health Ministry Planning Tool. Interested in bringing your entire ministry team? Contact Beth Golik (beth@keyministry.org) about special group rates. Click here to register.


Saturday, April 21st – 8:30 AM – 3:00 PM

What Am I Supposed to Do With This Kid? Understanding How Trauma Impacts Development and How You Can Help or Hurt the Healing – Dr. Sherri McClurg || Whether at home, Sunday School School, or elsewhere, as families respond to God’s call to care for the orphan we are seeing more vulnerable children up close and personal. It doesn’t take long to realize that early childhood trauma has taken a toll on the child and traditional forms of parenting don’t have the same effect. Come learn how early childhood trauma impacts development, and strategies for helping grow and nurture a child who comes from a place of hurt, mistrust, and loss. This is a great workshop for parents, foster parents, teachers, and anyone working with kids exposed to trauma.

Editor’s note: Sherri is an outstanding child psychologist and colleague who was helped me lead our practice for the past eight years. She also serves as Executive Director of New Horizons for Children, the largest short-term orphan care ministry in North America. She’ll do a great job in helping participants understand the relationship between trauma, neglect and problematic behavior often manifested in adopted and foster children.

They Do Remember: Impact of Early Medical TraumaJolene Philo || This workshop provides basic information about trauma and PTSD in children. The first half of the session defines trauma and PTSD, debunks popular myths about the condition, and explains causes of trauma and PTSD risk factors. The second half of the workshop describes symptoms of PTSD and reviews effective methods of treatment. It also explores measures designed to prevent childhood trauma from becoming PTSD and provides a resource list. Parents are encouraged to participate in the question and answer period at the end.

What Can You Do to Promote Mental Health Ministry in Your ChurchCatherine Boyle || In this session, attenders will come away with a template to help start a mental health ministry. The presentation includes: how to identify mental health champions in your faith family, recommended first steps to launch your ministry, important community contacts for your church and ideas for graciously handling resistance to mental health ministry.

Helping Your Child or Teen with Mental Health Issues to Grow SpirituallyDr. Steve Grcevich || One in five kids in the U.S. meet criteria for at least one mental health disorder. Common attributes associated with ADHD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders and post-traumatic stress often present subtle, but very real barriers to church participation and spiritual maturity. In this session, we’ll help pastors, ministry leaders and parents recognize the ways in which common mental health conditions may interfere with spiritual growth and identify strategies for helping kids impacted by mental illness to become the adults God created them to be.

The Depressed Special Needs Dad: How to Support and Understand Him – Jason Hague || Fathers of autistic children often grapple for years with depression, causing immense stress on the entire family. Jason should know: he was one of them. In this session, Jason will share that journey, chronicled on his blog and the subject of his upcoming book, “Aching Joy: Following God through the Land of Unanswered Prayer.”

From Jason…

When my son drifted into the fog of severe autism, I went into a fog of my own, and I would still be there if it wasn’t for my church family. My pastoral staff helped me to recognize and verbalize my own disappointments and fears, and gave me space to walk through them toward joy. In the end, the power of a godly community helped me to recognize the goodness of God, and helped me to rediscover celebration. In this short session, I will encourage the body of Christ, whether pastors or laity to use their power to give hope to fathers who feel powerless.

The Friday evening and Saturday morning worship and conference sessions are being made available free to church to pastors, church leaders, ministry volunteers and families, but advance registration is required due to space limitations. Click here to register for any/all of the conference sessions you wish to attend. For an overview of the entire conference, click here. Speaker biographies may be found here. A complete list of breakout workshops and main stage panels and speakers is available here.

Please share this post with pastors, ministry leaders and family members who would want to be part of Inclusion Fusion Live!


Key Ministry is a mighty organization operating on a very modest budget. Hosting a conference for hundreds of pastors, disability ministry leaders and families, and making nearly all of the conference available for free is a very costly undertaking! Would you consider becoming a sponsor for Inclusion Fusion Live, serving as a exhibitor or making a donation to help underwrite the cost of the conference? Our team, along with the churches and families we serve very much appreciate your prayers and financial support!

Posted in Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inclusion Fusion LIVE – A disability ministry conference for church leaders AND families

Registration is now open for Inclusion Fusion Live – a disability ministry conference hosted by Key Ministry  on April 20th-21st, 2018 at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio.

The conference theme is Every Church Can Do Something. Our intent is for pastors, church staff members and volunteers to leave the conference fully equipped with the necessary resources to launch new ministries or expand the scope of existing ministries for children, adults and families affected by disability.

To that end, we’ve designed this conference very differently than the Inclusion Fusion Web Summits we hosted in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The conference will consist of three sessions over two days.

The day session on Friday, April 20th features three all-day ministry intensives. The $49 registration fee for each intensive includes materials and lunch, and attendees will leave equipped to take something new back to their churches. The ministry intensives include…

Buddy Break Basic Leadership Training (BLT) – This full-day Basic Leadership Training (BLT) is led by Marie Kuck of Nathaniel’s Hope constitutes the first step in your church launching a Buddy Break ministry. The BLT will equip your team to lead this monthly parents’ day out/respite program for kids with special needs. Join the Buddy Break network within 6 months and your $49 registration fee will be applied to the cost of a Buddy Break Start-Up Kit. It’s turnkey! The Buddy Break team will be with you every step of the way! Workshop materials and lunch are included in your registration. Buddy Break operates the largest church-based respite care network in the U.S., having trained staff from over 120 churches in 26 states and Puerto Rico.

Autism Spectrum Disorder: What it is and PRACTICAL Ideas to Try – Participants in this intensive, led by Victoria White of CLC Network will gain an understanding of six key differences in persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and discover practical tools and ideas to welcome and include them in church settings. These ideas are applicable with children, youth and adults and facilitate congregations in  receiving the gifts of persons with ASD. The intensive closes by presenting a powerful and unique perspective on behavior management ideas. Ample time will be provided to discuss application of the tools and ideas presented with persons already served by your church’s ministries. Leave with practical strategies for serving persons with ASDs considered “best practice” in church settings. Materials, lunch, and give-aways are included in your registration fee. While the intensive is focused on churches, attendees working in schools will also benefit from the training.

Developing a Mental Health Inclusion Strategy in Your Church – The National Institute of Mental of Mental Health reports that one in five U.S. children and adults have a diagnosable mental health condition, and attributes of common mental health conditions often create barriers to church attendance and engagement for persons with mental illness and their families. Participants in this intensive, led by Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry and Catherine Boyle of Outside In Ministries will be introduced to a model for outreach and inclusion of children and adults with a broad range of mental health conditions into weekend worship services and other ministries and activities that serve as catalysts to spiritual growth and will be provided with the necessary tools for crafting a mental health ministry strategy consistent with the unique mission and calling of their church. Registration includes a copy of Mental Health and the Church by Dr. Grcevich, along with Key’s Mental Health Ministry Planning Tool. Lunch is also included. Additional speakers will be announced.

The sessions on Friday evening and Saturday will be kicked off with times of worship and prayer and will feature 22 breakout sessions, along with fifteen “Quick Takes” – fifteen minute, TED talk-like presentations from the conference main stage, and three main stage panel discussions.

Dr. Grcevich and Marie Kuck are serving as Friday night’s featured speakers, with Barb Newman of CLC Network and Sandra Peoples of Key Ministry featured on Saturday.

Saturday’s breakout sessions will be organized into two tracks…one for church staff and volunteers, and a second track for family members of children and adults with disabilities.

Our speaker lineup is also scheduled to include…

  • Barb Dittrich
  • Lamar Hardwick
  • Stephen “Doc” Hunsley
  • Lisa Jamieson
  • Jolene Philo
  • Ryan Wolfe

The Friday evening and Saturday sessions are offered free of charge, but advance registration is required because space is limited. Click here to reserve your spot at each session.

Can’t make it to the Cleveland area to attend in person? We’ll be live streaming the worship services, our featured and “Quick Takes” speakers and our panel discussions on our main Key Ministry Facebook page.

On behalf of our Key Ministry team and our participating speakers and organizations, I look forward to welcoming all of you to Cleveland for a time of fun, fellowship and lots of learning on April 20th and 21st!

One last note for our friends and ministry supporters. Putting on a disability ministry conference of this size and scope is a leap of faith for us. Opening the conference to ministry leaders and families while offering 40 of the 43 scheduled workshops, panel discussions and presentations free of charge is a major leap of faith. Whether or not you can join us for Inclusion Fusion Live, please keep the conference in your prayers and consider making a financial gift to our ministry to help offset our expenses.


Posted in Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental illness and violence…What does the data say?

Photo credit: New York Times

When incidents such as yesterday’s school shooting in Florida occur, I’m sick and tired of the immediate calls for more gun control as well as the insinuation that mental illness is to blame. When we perpetuate the idea that mental illness is a root cause of the violence in schools we do children and adults with mental illness and their families a disservice.

It feels like our society is looking for a quick and easy solution that allows us to maintain our denial of the root cause of the violence that has visited our schools with alarming frequency.

As church leaders, we have a responsibility to speak with integrity regarding what she know to be true from the available research.

I was asked by one of our local Christian stations to come on the air specifically to discuss the relationship between mental illness and violence. I did a literature search to examine the research on the topic, and put together some key takeaway points based upon my findings…

  • The available research suggests that persons with mental illness are two to three times more likely to exhibit violent behavior than those without mental illness, but the vast majority (93-98%) never become violent.
  • In one large study, 2.9% of persons with serious mental illness alone committed violent acts in a year, compared with 0.8% of people with no mental disorders or substance abuse. Persons with cooccurring substance use disorder and serious mental illness had a higher rate of violence (10.0%)
  • Mental illness and violence are related primarily through the accumulation of multiple risk factors – historical (past violence, juvenile detention, physical abuse, parental arrest record), clinical (substance abuse, perceived threats), dispositional (young, male) and contextual (recent divorce, unemployment, victimization) among the mentally ill.
  • One large study of adult psychiatric outpatients with serious mental illness being served in the public mental health system without a history of violent victimization or exposure to neighborhood violence who were not abusing drugs or alcohol, had annual rates of violent behavior similar to the general population without mental illness – about 2%.
  • Mental illness is strongly associated not with an increased risk of homicide, but with an increased risk of suicide. Each year approximately 32,000 people in the U.S. are killed with guns-about 19,000 of them by their own hand.
  • A huge disconnect exists between public perception and reality regarding the risk of violent behavior related to mental illness. A 2013 national public opinion survey found that 46% of Americans believed that persons with serious mental illness were “far more dangerous than the general population.”
  • Psychiatrists lack the ability to accurately predict which of their patients will become violent. One study examining psychiatrists’ predictions of violence based on clinical assessments performed in emergency rooms demonstrated they were only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin and no better than chance in predicting violence in female patients. In order to prevent one stranger homicide, 35,000 patients with schizophrenia judged to be at high risk of violence would need to be detained.

The bottom line…If we could eradicate all mental illness, we would reduce acts of violence by approximately 4%. 96% of the violence that currently occurs in the general population would continue to occur.

If you’re interested in reading further on the topic of mental illness and violence, the two best review articles I found were this paper from Dr. Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University and a more concise review published in 2016 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


Interested in being part of a book study led by Dr. Grcevich on  Mental Health and the Church:  A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions?

Beginning February 20th, he’ll be posting daily discussion questions, sharing interesting links and resources and, from time to time, interactive video chats. To join this free (but closed) Facebook group, type “Mental Health and the Church Study Group” in your Facebook search box, ask to join the group and answer the two questions about why you want to join.

Mental Health and the Church is available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The stories you’ve shared about mental health and the church

Two weeks ago, we invited readers of our blog to share their experiences of attending church as someone impacted by a mental health condition – either individually, or as a family member. We’ve begun to assemble the stories within our ministry website as a resource and an inspiration to leaders seeking to develop a mental health inclusion strategy within their churches.

I’d encourage you to read through all of the stories. Here are two excerpts of stories shared by our readers…

We had two children. One was diagnosed as a toddler with autism and the other had a post-college diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

I look back at the megachurch we attended and little was offered in support for us as a family…

The difficulties have been immense as a single mother and for my children: traversing medical and behavioral health care, advocating for appropriate educational services, finding a career that is flexible, financial struggles, exhaustion,loneliness, finding adult lifespan services,…to be honest, the church offered nothing to me or my children (even when I brought a need forward). I never felt like I belonged there. Needless, to say, I left after my older child transitioned to college after high school.


This is from the mother of a young woman with a mental health condition closely associated with complex medical concerns…

Our 22 year old daughter began exhibiting serious mental health problems when she was in 8th grade. Our family was going through several major crisises at that time including a job loss, two youngest entering public school from homeschooling. Our resources were strapped to say the least. We attended a small church in our college town. We found very little support from the leadership at the church except “We will pray for you.” Adults who had known her since 3rd grade that could have reached out, instead withdrew, and began to encourage her peers to not spend time with her. We later found out that many of these peers had bullied her for several years with many adult church leaders knowledge and without sharing these concerns with us. We also found that the longer she struggled emotionally and spiritually the less welcome we felt, and many people verbally stated her problem was a spiritual problem. A few close friends walked with us and prayed with us through the tears, but the youth ministry was woefully inept to come along and step into her life and help her. As she now recounts bitterly, “They were too busy trying to save me, that they ignored the things I needed the most like friendships.”

We eventually left the church for a different church where she felt more welcomed by adults and peers, but many peers thought of her only as that “troubled girl” from school. The youth leaders did more to make her feel welcomed, but still had very little resources or understanding of mental health issues. Church and youth group had the air of being a place for the “good kids.”


This past week, I was interviewed on a couple of radio programs – In the Market with Janet Parshall and on the Brian and Kathleen Morning Show on our local Moody Radio station in Cleveland. In each case, the hosts of the show took calls from the audience for a significant portion of our time on the air. I was especially moved by the words of one caller. The exchange begins at the 35:55 mark in the interview if you don’t have time to listen from beginning to end.

I was hospitalized this summer for twelve days…

I was treated terrible at the church I was attending. I was not visited one time in those twelve days, and I was told basically by a pastor that if I didn’t like it, twice that there was a door and I could leave.

I found a good church and I’m in a good church.

Mary Ann, Wooster OH

As I shared with the Brian and Kathleen and their listening audience, the most troubling aspect of the stories shared by Mary Ann and others is that their experiences reflect poorly upon the character of God as reflected through the words and actions of the church. We can and must do a lot better in sharing Christ’s love and the message of the Gospel with our friends and neighbors with mental illness and welcoming them into the fellowship of the church.

The time is now.

Click here if you have a story you’d like to share of your experiences of church – positive, negative or a little of both, as someone affected by mental illness.


Interested in being part of a book study led by Dr. Grcevich on  Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions?  Click here if you’d like to be included in the closed Facebook group where the study will begin on Tuesday, February 20th.

The book presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles and is designed as a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.



Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Resources for readers of Mental Health and the Church

Editor’s note: Readers who preordered Mental Health and the Church should be receiving their physical and electronic copies of the book today. Would you please join with our Key Ministry team that God would use these new resources to greatly increase the number of people who come to know Jesus, profess their faith in him, and contribute their gifts and talents in service of the mission of the local church?

Now that our model to assist churches in developing a mental health inclusion strategy is publicly available, I’d like to spread the word about some of the tools and resources our Key Ministry team has developed to assist readers serving on ministry teams seeking to implement the ideas presented in the book.

The first resource is our free Mental Health Ministry Planning Tool. It is intended to help ministry leaders implement the ideas presented in Mental Health and the Church. A key idea presented in the book is that individuals and families impacted by a broad range of mental health conditions encounter seven common barriers to church involvement – stigma, anxiety, executive functioning, sensory processing, social communication and social isolation. The tool is designed to help church leaders consider how each of the seven barriers manifest within the specific ministry areas or support functions for which they are responsible – children’s, student, family, adult or small group ministries, worship team, communication team or facilities management. The tool also contains lots of questions to illustrate how the seven broad inclusion strategies described in the book may be applied to help overcome existing barriers within their area of ministry.

Readers interested in downloading this free tool may click here. You’ll be asked a few questions to help us better understand the types of help you might need in implementing your mental health inclusion strategy. The link to the free download is contained in the e-mail response you’ll receive from our team after completing the registration.

The second resource is an invitation to join an online book study Key Ministry is launching on Facebook, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, February 20th. I’ll be directing an in-depth discussion of Mental Health and the Church and interacting with readers of the book. The book study will be conducted as a “closed” Facebook group to promote a higher quality of dialogue. Members of this group, along with members of the Mental Health Inclusion Ministry Leaders Group (described here) sponsored by Key Ministry will receive invitations to live meet-ups hosted via Zoom for real time discussions of the book.

Here’s a link to a common registration form for persons interested in taking part in the Mental Health and the Church book study and/or Key Ministry’s ongoing Mental Health Inclusion Ministry Leaders group.

Finally, if your church is reading the book as a team, seeking to implement a mental health inclusion ministry strategy and would like to set up a time to discuss issues specific to your process, I may have some limited availability to meet remotely with your ministry team. If you’d like to try to schedule a time for a videoconference with your church’s mental health inclusion team, please do so through the “Contact Us” page on Key Ministry’s website.

We hope that by making available all of these resources, every church will have the tools they need to implement a mental health inclusion strategy customized to meet the needs of the people in the communities they serve!


In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

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

For such a time as this… Mental Health and the Church

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

The most incredible privilege this side of heaven is the opportunity that God provides each and every one of us to be included in His story. When we come to faith in Christ, we’re described in Scripture as “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” While we’re waiting for Jesus to return, the Holy Spirit is at work through us (if we’re willing) in the task of re-establishing God’s kingdom and restoring the world to the way God intended it to be.

The Bible is filled with smaller stories that take place within the framework of God’s overarching story. The Scripture fragment that began this post comes from Mordecai’s conversation with Esther in which he pleads with her to use her position as Queen of Persia to save the Jewish people from Haman’s plans to destroy them. The entirety of Esther 4:14 reads like this…

 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther’s life might be viewed as a series of fortunate occurrences that positioned her for her specific role in God’s plan to protect and rescue his people while exiled in a foreign land. God’s plan didn’t depend upon Esther. But Esther received a unique opportunity to honor and glorify God. We know of and admire her courage 2,500 years later because of the way she embraced her role in God’s story.

As our team gets ready for the release of Mental Health and the Church on Tuesday, I find myself experiencing a sense of awe and wonder in contemplating the tiny, little role God has given us to play in his much larger plan to extend his love and reveal his glory to the millions upon millions of people struggling with the effects of mental illness who aren’t part of his church or are estranged from his church.

We’ve been doing our ministry for over fifteen years. It’s probably closer to twenty years ago that I experienced my first “nudge” to imagine a ministry to help churches serve families of kids with “hidden disabilities,” with common mental health conditions representing the vast preponderance of hidden disabilities. The ministry didn’t proceed according to my timeline. We went years in which church leaders showed little or no interest in our services. We didn’t have the right words to describe the ministry needs we were trying to meet or the strategies we were trying to get churches to implement. Most church leaders we contacted were oblivious to the need for our ministry. In the meantime, I quietly went about my work as a child psychiatrist, taking care of lots of kids and learning the things I needed to learn to be a credible teacher and physician.

My job involves taking a lot of seemingly random observations from parents, teachers and kids and recognizing patterns in those observations that shape my understanding of why kids are struggling, and inform the plans I suggest to help. I’ve observed another pattern in the last couple of years suggesting that God is putting a larger plan in motion.

The evidence God is moving to transform ministry with individuals and families with mental illness is unmistakable. In recent years God has been placing the need on the hearts of many of his people and more and more of his followers are stepping forward. Some are famous, like Rick and Kay Warren. Some are highly respected thought leaders in the church, like Ed Stetzer. Some are pastors with a personal experience of mental illness (Brad Hoefs) or a spouse with mental illness (Joe Padilla). Some are pastor’s wives with depression (Gillian Marchenko) or magazine editors raised by a mom with schizophrenia (Amy Simpson). Some are adoptive parents of kids with serious mental illness (Kelly Rosati), children of highly respected Bible teachers (Colleen Swindoll-Thompson) or successful executives (Catherine Boyle). Nearly forty different pastors, ministry leaders and concerned Christians volunteered to help our ministry team launch our new book. Each of them has a story to share of how God is moving them to help care for individuals and families touched by mental illness in the churches and cities where they’ve been placed. It’s like they came out of nowhere. I was overwhelmed – and very moved.

I can’t help but think that the circumstances that led me into child psychiatry, the professional opportunities I’ve experienced, the colleagues I’ve met and the friends I’ve made while doing ministry were all preparation for my small role in God’s much larger plan. His timing is perfect. I wouldn’t have had the proper understanding or right words or right contacts to write this book any time before God opened the doors. And God’s timing is aligned with plans he has for so many other Christians with works he prepared for them before the beginning of time.

My sense of awe and wonder with God’s process was never greater than it was three months ago. One of the principles I’ve come to embrace is that any ministry plan that is truly from God depends upon God’s involvement for its’ success and is impossible through human effort alone. When reading through the book for the final time before it was sent to the printer, I had an overwhelming sense that the words in the book somehow weren’t mine. I’d like to think they were the responsibility of the “power at work within me” that a pastor who served as one of our founding Board members used to reference weekly in his benediction.

Here’s my challenge to those reading this post… Does God have a place for you in his movement to transform the way the church loves persons touched by mental illness? Has he positioned you to be an agent of change in your church? Is he calling you to serve people in your community hurting as a result of mental illness? Has he positioned you to come alongside someone with mental illness to help them to overcome challenges that make it hard for them to be part of a worship service, small group or Bible study?

Over the next few days, our ministry team will be sharing supports and resources we’ve prepared to help churches and individuals implement the ideas shared in the book and discover the work God is doing through the other leaders referenced in this post. We’re prepared to come alongside you or your church if you’re ready to take the first step.

Are you called to be part of God’s plan for those he loves with mental illness? Has God prepared you beforehand for this task? Have you come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Our entire Key Ministry team very much appreciates your prayers and encouragement upon release of the book. We’d ask that God would place it in the hands of everyone he wants to read it, and that the plans and ideas generated by the book lead to many children, adults and families being introduced to Jesus and coming to faith in him. 


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

We’re looking for people to share their stories about mental health and the church

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ve likely heard that we have a book coming out soon in which we share a model for churches to follow in ministering with individuals and families affected by mental illness.

Our ministry team has been compiling useful resources to assist churches interested in pursuing a mental health inclusion strategy in preparation for the release of Mental Health and the Church. New sections to be added to our website over the next week or two will include…

  • Books
  • Key Ministry resources
  • Mental health ministry organizations
  • Research
  • Sermons
  • Social Media

One resource we believe will be helpful for pastors and ministry leaders seeking to implement the ideas shared in the book are the stories of children, adults and families who have attempted to attend worship services and participate in the full range of ministry activities offered by the local church while affected by a broad range of mental health conditions.

Church leaders need concrete examples of what’s helpful and hurtful to better serve individuals like you and families like yours. Your stories can help them better understand how to most effectively welcome and minister with people of all ages with mental illness and their families. To give you an illustration of what we’re looking for, I’ll share two examples from the book. The first is from a family who stopped attending church as a result of their experiences. The second is from a family who received an extraordinarily blessing from their church.

“Kristen” shared the following in response to one of our blog posts several years ago:

Twenty years ago, I was repeatedly told 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 . . . But my depression was not healed. I left the church for several years, but returned hoping that not all Christians 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 two 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.

Emily Colson writes periodically for our Key for Families blog. She authored a blog post several years ago describing the way she and her son (Max) were treated at the movies when Max experienced the sensory stimulation as overwhelming. In response to Emily’s post, some families from her church rented out a movie theater so that Emily and Max, together with other families in their community with similar needs could have a friendlier experience.

As the movie came to a close, the Muppets began to sing what was clearly the grand finale. No one wanted the evening to end. Suddenly, people flooded into the aisles as if they were leaving. But instead, they began to dance. Everyone free. No armor. No barriers between us.

I looked around in awe and wondered if this is what Jesus envisioned when he said, “Love one another.” When He spoke those words, did he picture this very moment in a theater, when love would take our breath away and lift us out of our seats. When His love would win. God’s story of redemption is written across our lives over and over again.

Do you have a story to share – positive, negative or a little of both – that might help churches do a better job of ministering with kids, adults and families affected by mental illness? Click here and you’ll be redirected to a form that will allow you to share your story. You’ll have an opportunity to indicate if you would like to remain anonymous. Our team reserves the right to use or not use any stories submitted and to edit for inappropriate language, grammar and punctuation before posting on our website or social media platforms.

Thanks for sharing!


In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available for pre-order now with delivery scheduled for February 6 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and ChristianBook.

Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health, Stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The evangelicals I wish the world would see

I consider myself to be an evangelical Christian. I believe I meet the definition as put forth by the National Association of Evangelicals. I’m saddens me that the term “evangelical” has taken on an increasingly negative connotation, especially among younger people. I had a recent experience in an academic context in which the charge of being an “evangelical Christian” was levied against me by someone who thought my beliefs should disqualify me for a leadership position that would have represented a significant promotion.

The evangelicals I know care about the people and causes that Jesus cared about during his earthly ministry. They may not necessarily fit the narrative that many in the media would like to propagate about our community. I can’t help but think that evangelicals would have a very different image in our larger culture if more people had the opportunity to get to know some of the folks I was surrounded by during the last three days.

I was fortunate to have been invited to be part off Evangelicals for Life, a conference that took place this past weekend in Washington D.C. under the sponsorship of Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was honored to be among so many faithful and compassionate Christians who live out the Gospel in so many different settings.

I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Brown, a photographer from Nashville, and his wife, Ruth who shared the story of their daughter (Pearl) in words and pictures. Pearl was diagnosed in utero with Alobar prosencephaly, a condition resulting from the complete failure of the brain to divide into right and left hemispheres and there is a single brain ventricle instead of two.

Screenshot courtesy of ERLC

Speaker after speaker at the conference talked about the importance of caring for the vulnerable during every stage of life. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC opened the conference by sharing teaching on Matthew 14 in which he observed that ” a culture of life cannot coexist with a culture of porn or a culture of abuse”  and that ” the pro-life witness will never flourish where women are not valued.” Jim Daly, the President of Focus on the Family, spoke openly about his experience in foster care and the ministry he and his wife share as foster parents. Benjamin Watson, a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens who is a finalist for the NFL’s Man off the Year award in part because of the work that he and his wife have done in partnership with the International Justice Mission to combat human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor.

I had the privilege of participating in a panel on special needs and mental health with Kelly Rosati. Kelly has served for a number of years as the Vice President of Community Outreach for Focus on the Family. During our panel discussion (unfortunately, there is no video available), Kelly shared perhaps the most powerful illustration I’ve ever heard from a parent struggling to care for a child with mental illness of the importance of support from the church. Kelly did share some of her experiences in a presentation that was videoed on The Challenges and Rewards of Foster Care.

Screenshot courtesy of ERLC

While the conference has ended, video of all of the main stage presentations is available for free on demand by clicking here.

I wish that the men and women I was surrounded by for several days this past week were the public face of evangelical Christianity. Their lives reflect religion that is pure and undefiled.

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 Adoption, Advocacy, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment