The Mental Health Grace Alliance published a blog post last week entitled 3 Frustrations of Mental Health and the Church; 3 Ways to Re:Think Church.
The post covers:
unfortunately, pastoral staff members grow frustrated when they don’t understand why their ministry methods are not working. In response, they unknowingly go into “religious default” mode, which places the blame on the individual, rather than the ministry. Like Job’s friends, it’s assumed that this hardship/ problem is due to the individual’s sin, weak faith, or demonic oppression. Then, the church often backs away. One pastor was dealing with a person diagnosed with a mood disorder. When the pastor didn’t see it go away, he said, “It’s because the sin issues of his youth are finally catching up with him … he just needs to will himself into better choices.”
This is the “biggie” that so many of us deal with. Sometimes it prevents us from seeking help because we already know what the reaction from others is going to be. In my case, these were things I believed about myself, but I didn’t realize other Christians would accuse me of them. How I was naive enough not to think that I will never understand. I have come to realize that I was never accused of deliberate sin or of being a bad person; when someone takes this angle with me, it implies that I have not surrendered my all to God. There is something I must be holding back from Him, and that is why I continue to struggle with emotional problems.
Spiritual Fix or Miracles … often times pastoral support will prescribe biblical counseling and intense discipleship to “overcome” or see “breakthrough”. Some will even insist on “deliverance” ministry or an intensive “inner-healing” ministry designed for immediate breakthrough. The idea is to have the individual do more constructive bible study, prayer, and intensive ministry for an immediate “breakthrough” to “overcome” … to “fix” everything. It forces the individual to “pray” or “believe” harder for a miracle breakthrough. We believe God can do the impossible, not us. For many this method doesn’t work and, in fact, it can make things worse. I helped one person with a debilitating anxiety disorder move away from a popular devotional that implied working hard to “overcome” would fix problems and produce positive results. The devotional warned, “If you fret you deserve what you get”.
This is where the author of this post and I part ways in our beliefs, albeit momentarily.
Inner-healing ministries can be incredibly effective tools for helping someone with emotional problems. Here is my reasoning:
1. You can be mentally ill and have other issues that need to be addressed. A broken or abused childhood, family addiction, lies you have come to believe about yourself (i.e., you are worthless, hopeless, beyond God’s redemption), and those are things that can sometimes be remedied through the help of these types of ministries.
2. The Bible tells us to pray for healing, to believe in healing, and pray without ceasing. We must be careful not to assume that if God doesn’t cure us of mental illness that our prayers are ineffective. We must also be careful not to merely survive with mental illness without seeking or hoping for God’s healing.
3. Just like people with mental illness can greatly benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy – which essentially teaches you how to retrain your thoughts and react to things in a healthier way – these ministries can help people retrain their thoughts on God, on who they are IN God, and can give them to tools to respond in a more God-honoring way to temptation and stimuli.
Warning: It’s really important for people who support someone with mental illness to make sure they are entering the right type of ministry and that they are working with the right types of people. Our church, for example, runs an inner-healing ministry, but it acknowledges mental illness and the importance of proper medication management and professional mental health support. Run, do not walk, the person away from a ministry that does not. Similarly, we need to be wary of ministry leaders who themselves encourage others to stop following doctor’s orders when it comes to mental health treatment. That is a disaster (and a lawsuit) waiting to happen.
Spiritual Steps … along the spiritual fix and miracles it is often viewed that this can be accomplished by a series of ministry “steps”. These are excellent ministry tools to address many emotional issues, BUT with someone with a mental health difficulty dealing with intense symptoms, unfortunately these inner-healing, or counseling, “steps” bring more confusion coupled with self-doubt. Many are left feeling they have failed the church and God. I’ve heard this from many, “I’m so frustrated with my church and God, I’m thinking of completely giving up on both”.
Again, this is why we have to be careful about ministry leaders. Celebrate Recovery – a Christian 12-step recovery group I have mentioned here before – utilizes “spiritual steps” but the ministry itself also acknowledged mental illness and the importance of correct treatment. Rick Warren, one of the group’s founders, lost a son to mental illness recently and would tell you himself how important it is to connect the two. But CR doesn’t really keep tabs on their leaders, per-se’, so the wrong leader with the wrong ideas can easily lead members down the wrong path. Having said that, someone who is confident in the fact that mental illness is really an illness and not a spiritual or personality flaw that needs to be fixed can get a great deal of useful information and support from these ministries.
REST vs. WORKS … instead of looking for fault and prescribing lots of work, let’s lead struggling individuals to rest. It is out of REST that we find comfort and strength. It is from REST we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, not vice versa (Philippians 4.13). We focus on validating their condition and take a simple approach that affirms their identity and recognizes key characteristics of God’s comfort and compassion. When we suffer, God doesn’t say, “Work harder and try to find Me … and if you do enough I will come to you”. Jesus came to us and He says, “Come to me … I will give you REST for your soul” all the while reaffirming gentleness and ease (Matthew 11.28-30).
But let us also support those who WANT to take steps to find out if this is really ALL mental illness, or if there are other issues at work that need to be resolved. We must be ready to support AND guide those we love who have mental illness in their journey, whatever that might look like. We must never assume that because God has not healed something now, that means he doesn’t want to heal it in the future.
Old white church photo available from Shutterstock