45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NLT
The truth of the matter is that the Church can be the wrong place to have a mental illness. This is a generalization, I know. But many times it is true. We have a strong tendency to offer only token acknowledgement of “the least among us.” We will smile and nod, and, oh so quickly move away; we feel we’ve performed our ‘duty’ as a Christian. We are somewhat relieved to ‘get away’ and dodge the problem person.
Stereotypes abound for the mentally ill. Afterall, they can be demanding, unpredictable, and dangerous. The worst are those who are dirty, unkempt. They say things that are odd and out-of-place. Have weird delusions and paranoia. They move to the margins, and usually sit in the back. But as a general rule, the mentally ill get ignored.
“People with mental illness sometimes behave in ways other people don’t understand and can’t make sense of. People with severe depression sometimes stay in bed all day, unable to manage the most basic motivation to move. People with anxiety disorders can be gripped by irrational or even unidentifiable fears that don’t incapacitate other people. Those affected by psychotic disorders may see things that aren’t real, hear voices that don’t exist, and sometimes lose the ability to discern reality at all.”
Amy Wilson, Christianity Today, 4/10/13
Often, a believer must find valuable help outside ‘the four walls’ of the Church. Some resources are often found with wise psychiatrists and caring therapists in clinical care. Medications (which are a godsend) give the afflicted much relief. The local Church just don’t always have the resources but that is o.k. It isn’t their role exactly.
However, the Church of Jesus has the only ‘real corner’ of the spiritual side of things. The body of believers encourages, teaches and guides. Without it, the mentally ill Christian would be severely effected. The local church feeds us spiritually. It can’t be replaced. It has ‘the goods’ for discipleship. It has the Word of God and motivating worship. It has elders and other leaders who shepherd each believer, into a holy life. It provides fellowship which the believer with a mental illness must have.
It’s also a place of ministry: each one using his/her gift in the corporate body of the saints. This is vital. The broken believer has an opportunity to serve, which is such a factor in the walk of the disciple. We need them in our fellowships, and they need to be there too. God blesses those who will serve Him in this. Fellowship is critical for disabled believers.
As Jesus’ representatives in this present moment, we need to extend our hands. We may not fully understand the afflicted, but we can reach through the issues (ours and theirs) and administer the love of Jesus. We might pray that this scourge of mental illness be lifted out of our society.
Please follow this post up. Check out: https://brokenbelievers.com/the-weak-treasures-of-the-church/
6 thoughts on “Ignoring a Mentally Ill Believer”
The world over, the church is failing the mentally ill. Because of the NHS, everyone in the UK has equal access to help, and I’ve noticed here that stigma in society is lessening, but not in the church. Back home in the US, I think part of the issue is that every doctor and therapist has a different idea of what works or doesn’t, and I think this paralyses the church even further into inaction. I’ve always felt if I were an alcoholic or drug abuser that I’d find more acceptance. It’s ok to have a mental health issue, but not if you relapse. Unlike an alcoholic, if I relapse it isn’t within my control, yet I’m still blamed for it. I don’t see the issue getting better in the US anytime soon. There is to much fear and hate in our nation for the level of compassion mental health requires from the church.
People with severe depression sometimes stay in bed all day, unable to manage the most basic motivation to move. People with anxiety disorders can be gripped by irrational or even unidentifiable fears that don’t incapacitate other people.
This describe me almost perfectly. I am wondering where in Chicago I can find a Church that will embrace me as a member of God’s family…A Church that is easy for me to get to…i do not drive and I am Agoraphobic.
” People with severe depression sometimes stay in bed all day, unable to manage the most basic motivation to move. People with anxiety disorders can be gripped by irrational or even unidentifiable fears that don’t incapacitate other people.”
This describes me almost perfectly. I am wondering where I can find a church that I can actually get to on my own (i am Agoraphobic also) in Chicago that will love me and embrace me as a part of the God’s family.
I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I often find it difficult to control my emotions because of the BPD and am currently feeling shunned by my pastor about a deep emotional issue that is very painful for me. I have met with him privately in his office and he won’t address it at all. I am SO BLESSED on the other hand because my Behavioral Clinician is a Minister and she and I agree a lot when it comes to Theology. She is doing an altered version of dialectical behavioral therapy with me. DBT was created by Marsha Linehan who herself had BPD but his it for a long time. She later said that… BPD is like the emotional equivalent of a third degree burn. BPD sufferers simply have no emotional skin… My paraphrase.
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This is something we’ve seen with our special needs children. While we are at home in our current church, it has not always been that way with other churches, where autism and mental retardation and such are not accepted. When my 13 year old son was just a toddler, my son and I were told to leave because he cried unceasingly. He hadn’t been diagnosed with autism but showed significant needs by that time and I was a brand new believer. That hardened my heart for a while to church, as if my son was not allowed, why would I be? As my son and 2 step children (all of whom have autism spectrum disorders, one has also mental retardation and bi polar disorder) have grown, we’ve seen the condescending looks, especially in older saints, we’ve had one pastor tell us to institutionalize one child, and another pastor’s wife tell us we don’t discipline them enough or they’d toe the line.
We are now home in a fundamental baptist church that loves the kids and treats them as family. All 3 have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior according to their own words, and 2 of the 3 can lead someone to Jesus. Never under estimate the person who is “different” in the pew, they may not act like you, but they need to know about Jesus just as much as the rich man, the poor man, and any other man. Jesus died for them just as much as He did for the affluent and influential.
Thank you for this, Bryan. Two points:
+ In the upper midwest region of the United States we prefer to deal with people who are calm or cool or not too emotional. We walk the other way when our non-conforming sisters and brothers cry or shout or refuse to back down from the passion that (perhaps) God has put in their hearts. We pass judgment on what they would share with us and refuse to consider the truth of what they want to share (examining the evidence) because of the way they speak or present themselves. This makes us less compassionate and wise in our dealings with the world. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for the church to avoid passing judgment on the “messenger” before we carefully examine the truth (or not) of what they share.
+ As is true with the economically challenged (poor) among us, we sometimes shove those who struggle with emotional and mental health away from our churches and force them to get help only from professionals, often at public expense. And then we complain about dear and precious people who use public services. God calls the church to step up alongside those who are suffering. I wonder how many local churches truly pursue the suffering instead of tolerating them or perhaps helping once but then rejecting them.
Lots more to say but that’s enough for now.
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