Mental illness has tragically become a thorny topic inside churches and continues to spark debates among many evangelical denominations. Evangelical Churches have made great strides in recognizing mental health struggles.
However, we have much work to do in formulating strategies for not only welcoming those suffering from mental health issues but finding ways for them to be included by discovering their hidden talents. The first step in effective outreach and inclusion is recognizing mental illness for what it is and getting involved in their spiritual and mental health. The church’s stigmata of mental health have been widely perceived, making some feel unwelcome. The church must be a haven for those who have mental health issues. To not make them feel welcome derives from negative stories or untruths some might have heard. Comparable to Job’s friends who wanted to support him in his grief and loss, many church leaders and attendees quickly accepted that suffering associated with mental illness is a consequence of a person’s sin.
Going to suggest it is due to insufficient faith or inadequate prayer life. Every American suffers from anxiety in one form or another due to significant stress or fear. For some who struggle with mental health as first-time visitors, there may be many negative predispositions about what might happen, so the church must seek out those individuals and make them feel welcome. Many people with mental health have agoraphobia with frequent intense fear, heart palpitations, breath issues, excessive perspiration and many more symptoms. Such symptoms may want a person to feel the need to leave; that is where the church needs to give that person a sense of calmness.
A well-meaning usher may put a person like this at the front of the service being if there are no seats. The alternative is to ask politely; if someone could move, this new person could sit where they feel comfortable.
Many who suffer from mental health issues have low self-worth expectations so teaching self-discipline may be challenging. The Bible clearly teaches self-control with spiritual maturity, but some mental health conditions can negatively impact how a person can function. I have ADD and social anxiety panic disorder, so how I learn and process things are different than most. Like I said earlier, we need to find the hidden talent in those who struggle and utilize that to help them grow spiritually.
There are people like my wife who have Autism. So, her heighten sensitively to light, touch, noise, or smell limits her ability to interact. For many like this, feeling calm is welcome and can be essential. Churches are intensely social places and scripture clearly states that we are a community of believers, but some people who suffer from mental health may need a slight nudge to interact.
They may fail to pick up the rules of interaction, but that is where the church can play a crucial role in helping them develop those skills. Some people with mental illness develop social isolation and are less likely to make friends in church social connections, so the church must find ways to help them feel comfortable. Many of these people think withdrawn and frequently avoid people, so the church must make them feel wanted and needed. Many parents are in touch with children with mental illness; this is a potential mission field.
The first step for any pastor is to seek leaders who can identify these potential obstacles and use them to help others teach current sufferers to join the worship and overcome their fears.