How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

Going my way?

This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

A great book:

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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Being Honest As I Can

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 “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”

Ephesians 4:25, NLT

I intend to be simple.  I am worried and distressed by my own confusion and a simple disorientation about my own detachment to what is spiritual.  I confess a trust in Him, but am wary of  an evil attachment to things that take me away from Him.  I know this sounds confusing, please bear with me.

I turn to Him, and yet I know that I know that a small part of me does not really belong to Him.  I want to belong, but am conscious that I just don’t work into the Kingdom.  I am a liability.  I quickly will admit to some confusion, but I have no real intention to deceive anyone.  I desperately want to be His, but I’m aware of issues that would defy such a connection.

I have an incredible infatuation with Jesus, and His teaching.  He is the most amazing man to step out out of the ‘river’ of the human race.  I see in Him so much, and deep down I want to fall on my knees and worship Him.  The things He did are honestly the most sublime in the history of man.  He is astonishing.

And yet, I continue to struggle.  I see all of this and yet I’m confronted with my own issues.  I know what I would like to be.  But if I press, I begin to short-circuit.  I do, certainly turn it over to Him.  But I also am aware of a certain antipathy or rebellion (although that word seems too harsh) against the whole idea of grace.  I can not figure ‘grace’ out.  Grace perplexes me.  It is the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the entire human race.

But I do connect with Him.  My bipolar would quickly render me a traitor.  I vacillate much more then the average person.  Ultimately, I do turn and trust Him.  He has led me to a wonderful place.  If it is all a delusion, then so be it.  But I will still believe in Him who gave Himself for me.

If that makes me a disciple, then so be it.  But I know I am the least of His.  I guess faith would venture more.  But I scrape up all that I have and a saving hope it is enough.  I look at the accounts of Him and am pretty much astonished.  Jesus did things, consistently, above others before Him and after Him.  He is quite exceptional.

I am a follower.  I will struggle, and then have to deal with that sin.  But I do believe and intend to keep believing.  I only wish I was more consistent.  I sometime wonder that in the “Book of Life’ if my name would include an asterisk.  (“Made it, but by the skin on his teeth.”)

Don’t fret, I am under His hand.  He deals with me, and fully intends to lead me, home.  I so do want that.  If on that Day, you hear someone hollering, it will be me back in the 715,426,488th row, shouting ‘I am finally here”, in the fellowship of heaven.

Some will understand this:

He who has this disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

Doestevesky

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Assurance of Salvation for the Mentally Ill

Salvation

 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs.

Romans 8:14-17, NLT

As mentally ill Christians, we are often a mixture of good and bad things regarding our faith.

  • The Good: we don’t have to be convinced of our sin.  We live in a broken world, and we’re pretty sure that we have formidable issues. We’re needy.
  • The Bad: our consistency fluctuates from day-to-day. We never know what our state of mind will be. Some of us have problems socially that hinders us. Attendance at our local church is hard.

From one day to the next many of us struggle. The existence of this ‘flightiness’ is painfully evident. And it is hard to maintain anything, much less spiritual things. But I believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes an allowance, but even pours out extra grace on the afflicted believer. The Lord loves His misfits.

But we must put no confidence in our flesh. We do bounce around; our salvation is not of our own doing. We must seriously commit to the promises in the Word of God.

faith-train

The engine must pull the other cars. We must look to the promises of God (the Bible) to stay on track. Both faith and feelings must come behind the engine. Some struggle a great deal because they are led by their feelings. Confusion will follow if we get the proper order mixed up.

  1. First facts (the Bible),
  2. then faith,
  3. and finally feelings.

The Word of God is our only safety. Even our faith is to be connected to the promises of God. For those with a disability, we are to link up to promises that God has made to us. When you encounter the truth we’re to hook up through our faith to them.

Read the Word: Psalms or the Gospels. I also draw much strength in the Book of Romans, chapter 5 through 8, especially.

We have been adopted by the Holy Spirit as sons and daughters. We are deeply loved by God Himself. He has gone and made us ‘heirs’ without any of our effort at all (Romans 8:14-17). These are examples of taking up the promises by faith. We are a people in need of stability. What God gives us is His own constancy. Read the Word, fresh just for you.

 “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”

2 Peter 1:4, NLT

“In the darkest of nights cling to the assurance that God loves you, that He always has advice for you, a path that you can tread and a solution to your problem–and you will experience that which you believe. God never disappoints anyone who places his trust in Him.”

 Basilea Schlink

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When Our Troubles Help Us Find Jesus

Jesus loves his lambs.

“When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death”.

John 4:47

Without his troubles, it would be highly improbable that this man would go find Jesus. His son is very ill, and close to dying. Undoubtedly the father has tried all of the conventional methods but to no avail. Somebody has mentioned that Jesus has just arrived in Galilee, and that remains the best option. He will find Jesus, the healer, and bring Jesus to his son.

Very often this is how it works for us. Life is good and there is no reason for us to go to Jesus. We’re content and reasonably happy with how things are going. But this man– a royal official, is desperate. Life has detonated in his face and he is completely undone. He is in a good place, although he can’t see it.

Believe it or not, our trials and troubles are often wonderful visitors.

Without these we would not look for Jesus. They are frightening and they are difficult, but they are necessary for us. Over the years, it is likely that this man has been insulated and protected from life’s difficulties. There has been nothing to cross him as his life unfolded. He believes that he has an immunity to suffering.

This official desperately seeks out Jesus. His son is dying. He must locate Jesus and bring Him back. He is frightened and frantic. Jesus is his only hope. But even this is not automatic.

“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful- “severe mercies” at times, but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better”

Elizabeth Elliot

The answer is not what this man was looking for. He wanted Jesus to return to Capernaum with him, but instead Jesus decides to stay right where He is. Instead He speaks, and the boy is healed, long-distance. As we seek the Lord’s grace, forgiveness and healing into our own lives, and our family, let us let the Lord be the Lord. Let Him decide how to do it. This man simply trusted, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” But he would never, ever be the same.

For those of us afflicted, with either physical or mental disabilities, we discover Jesus who leads us into a special place. We may find ourselves serving others in a new way that our illnesses have opened.

“All our difficulties are only platforms for the manifestations of His grace, power and love.”  

Hudson Taylor

 

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The Church and the Disabled Person

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The stats are in. More than 500 million people– 10 percent of the world’s population–suffer from some sort of physical, or mental disability.

And guess what? Many churches don’t have a clue on how to meet these needs. Word gets around and if the disabled aren’t comfortable in your church it’s likely they’ll look for another service to attend.

We owe it to our Lord to meet the needs of disabled. Some thoughts:

  • Put yourself in their “shoes.” Spend a day in a wheelchair and move through your sanctuary. Blindfold yourself and walk through your building. Imagine what the disabled must feel.
  • Encourage people who are disabled to actively participate. Perhaps your next worship leader will do wonderfully from a wheelchair. Seek out and involve the handicapped in your services. People who are disabled can serve in any capacity that’s available.
  • Help your congregation connect. Have you ever been ridiculed as “fatso” or “four-eyes”? Encourage them to move beyond the stereotypes. Model acceptance and kindness. The deacons and ushers must be “on board.”
  • A ccommodate for the needs of everyone. The deaf may need a “signed” service. Understand the legal requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Work to meet or exceed those stipulations.
  • A great place to start is http://www.joniandfriends.org/. They offer a wide scope of information and other resources.

As the Church of Jesus Christ we must be for all who are seeking, for we once were seeking ourselves. We should be ready and available to all the Savior sends our way. We are to serve all as if they were Jesus.

ybic, Bryan

 

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Bearing Down Broken

rock climber's hands. sandia mountains, albuquerque, new mexico.

We often come to our discipleship broken. We can’t pretend otherwise. We’re a bundle of inconsistencies, surrounded by fear and hubris. But the Lord is calling us to follow Him.

I’m convinced that the mentally ill, the rascal, and the loser are already half-way to repentance. We have nothing to offer anyone. And in quiet moments we understand our issues. We know we aren’t prime discipleship material.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,”

1 Corinthians 1:26-28, NIV

Honestly, I’m just one of the foolish ways God shares His love. I make no claim to perfection. I’m throughly inconsistent. And I wish it was different.

“But God chose,” and we are the chosen. We’ve the ones selected to “shame the wise;” we are called to “shame the strong.” It seems that this is more than we can handle. We are not wired for this.

The Holy Spirit comes to fill us, and when we are full we can do this. We activate the cross and humble our pride– and doing this just makes me available for Him to use, as He sees fit.

You stand in an unbroken line; centuries of believers have proceeded you. You were called to the kingdom “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). We are right where God has determined for us to be. Chosen for this very moment.

Weakness, or smallness are your only qualifications. The Lord uses the broken. It’s time to bear down broken. We’re waiting for you to take your place.

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Let Him Take All [Love]

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matt. 22:37-39

Love is the ultimate response God is looking for from us.  It is the currency of Heaven.  The Kingdom’s economy is ‘the gold standard’ of love.  It’s the way business gets done in eternity.  Love! Without love ruling our lives now, we will arrive there as paupers and beggars. We will disobey Jesus.

God is our primary target to love.  And the quality of it can be appreciated from its ‘source point’.  Heart.  Soul.  Mind.  These are the starting places for our affection.  The caliber of our worship is summed up by the word, “all.”  That word has a totality, and a significance to it.  It further intensifies love to the only acceptable place. Love indeed is the perfect “make-up.” We’re never more beautiful then when we love God or another person.

As disciples who are indeed flawed and broken, we can still find a place where we can minister from.  I can’t do a lot anymore, but I can love.  Loving God is something I can do, even with my issues. I can always love. I can always give my all, my heart to someone else. I can always love!

And actually, this disability strips my discipleship to a simpler and basic level.  At the “lowest common denominator”  my faith is still valid and vital.  I love Jesus, even when I can’t be a senior pastor  or teach at my Bible School anymore. I accept this. I can even rejoice in this new “inadequacy.”

Loving Him and following Him can be done, even with a limp.

Several years ago I sat waiting for my bus at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was all alone, and felt it. There was a strong sense of brokenness and I was aware of my disability.  I was coming a bit unglued by the enormity of my mental illness. I sat staring at the floor just in front of me.  I could do nothing else.

But  in my field of vision, just in front of me, hopped a bird with a crippled foot.  Something had damaged him.  The thing that profoundly spoke to me was that bird was not at all devastated, not at all.  And the Lord spoke to me about that bird, and His comfort pumped through my veins.  I felt I was right where I was supposed to be.  I had become the ‘broken’ sparrow, and I could still follow. Maybe, even better now, because of my ‘limp’.

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