The topic of mental health is not a new topic, but one the Church has begun to embrace more and more of. While we talk about big implications with regards to mental illness, sin and suicide, or the ramifications of substance misuse on the soul, the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero takes on what it means to have good mental health with regards to our faith.[Read more…] about Emotionally Healthy Spirituality [Book Review]
Last month, I got to sit down and talk with Daniel Whitehead, CEO of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries and hear the history and heart of what is happening at Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries. I already knew about their main product is the Sanctuary Course, but found they were originally created as a response to the original founder’s husband committing suicide and they found a significant lack of resources for Christians to better understand and engage in mental health education and resources. Thus Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries was born.
The purpose of this Christian nonprofit is different from other Christian group curriculum like Fresh Hope or Grace Alliance which are designed to integrate mental health and faith. Instead, they want to start conversations with people who may not understand mental health or professionals and family of those who have lived experiences who want to introduce the idea to their church. It’s the beginning conversation to start the journey of having churches championing this cause.
What is the Sanctuary Course? It’s a free eight-part study guide for small groups that uses films, coursebook reading, and discussion guides (with art reflections and spiritual practices) to raise awareness, start conversations, and reduce stigma about mental health. If you haven’t seen it, we even took a lot of inspiration from it in creating our Church Mental Health Wellness curriculum we are developing. The audience includes:
- People with questions about mental health
- Mental health professionals with a wealth of knowledge to share
- Leaders who want to engage their community in mental health conversations
- People supporting loved ones with mental health problems
- People living with mental health problems
Here’s a video they put together about the course:
When a resource has such specific focus and nail it in such a profound way, I can’t help but want to share it. Daniel Whitehead wanted to make sure it was understood, they want to be present for helping start the conversations, which in and of itself is hard within the Christian community. Having empathy for something you do not understand can be next to impossible and that is where the Sanctuary Course starts. It has the stories of people who have struggled with insights from mental health professionals and church leaders alike.
Other nonprofits like Grace Alliance will serve well with what they do, but the very specific need to help others understand why a conversation on faith and mental health is there and Sanctuary Mental Health Ministry nails it. If your church has not yet started the conversation, you need to download this. If you feel like you and your leadership get it, you may still want to go through it when you bring on new elders or deacons, help congregation members understand better, or want to walk alongside other community partners or churches to grow in this specific area. We give our absolute support of it.
Burnout is not a new concept, but for pastors, it would appear that more and more are accepting that it truly does exist and it’s impacting them great. We have identified several statistics about burnout before and how to over come it when it happens. New results for a longitudinal study digs deeper into what we have already seen.
Barna Group has found that for pastors currently in ministry, while there are certainly challenges present, many are not handling these challenges well. 57% of pastors stated their own spiritual formation too often takes a back seat to other pastoral duties and 33% of pastors often feel depressed.
This is concerning for two reasons. First, my experience with pastors is that they do not feel they can confide in others about these feelings. If you tell the senior pastor, you may be looked down upon or asked to take a leave of absence that more than likely is unpaid. It furthers the isolation and can cause resentment. The second is that these pastors who feel this way are also leading their congregation from a source of ineffectiveness and emptiness. I understand that there are seasons for feeling like you need better self-care and depressed, these surveys are talking about too often feeling depressed or lacking spiritual formation and this should be a warning alarm for the Church.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout can be associated with stress on the job or how you interact with family at home. You find yourself frustrated when the work week starts. Monday or Tuesday comes in after a long weekend of work and you dread going in. You get back to work after lunch, if you even took one, and find yourself unable to focus or feel motivated to work on your to-do list. Another meeting, even if it is to talk about the Sunday service or discipleship with volunteers.
People will say burnout is caused due to “burning the candle at both ends,” “maybe you need more training,” or for pastors that “you weren’t really called to this position.” Burnout is seen as exhaustion, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
But burnout tends to not be any one thing. It’s not like we can look at pastors and say “if you pray more or read the Bible more.” Nor is it a matter of “let’s talk about breathing exercises and going for a walk.” While all of these things are good and will help, it’s less about doing any one thing and more about a change of your routine and priorities, which makes for a great sermon that I have heard many times.
Pastors, Resilience, and Burnout
Our belief is that you should practice what you preach, literally. Pastors tend to be people who are service oriented, loving one another but many times struggle to take their own advice. This is not an uncommon issue, but one that can breed unhealthiness and corrupt your own witness. Barna was wise to this in the data and found it to be true with statistical significance as seen below.
We put everything we can into something and there is nothing coming back… there is nothing more you can do and furthermore what you are doing isn’t working.
The chart above along with Dr. Duckworth’s words pair nicely. We see that the pastor who has not considered quitting prioritizes self-care, feels rewarded, and does not see themselves doing anything else. These things are not simple “pray more” as we said above, but fundamental, core beliefs in their calling and profession. This requires us to be intentional on how great ministry is, putting yourself first so that you “serve from a full cup,” and not doing more for everyone else that you are not also doing for yourself, without exception.
If you have felt this, reach out to us, we’d love to chat with you about how we can help you serve better, longer. Our heart is to see Christian counselors and church leaders collaborate for the long term and if a conversation can help that, we would love to do so. Send us a message on social media or comment us that you’d love to talk sometime.
I have had a fun couple of months with the church I attend in exploring if and how mental health wellness needs to be part of the Church. I talked just this year about my church’s further investment in mental health awareness as well as trainings for staff, congregation, and our local community with regards to faith and mental health. And recently, our pastor made the push to make the mental health of our congregation a priority with the growth and development of each congregation member.[Read more…] about Church Mental Health Wellness
We created a specific video to talk about mental health stigma as well as ways your church can fight stigma locally now. I feel like the last five years have been a big swing on the church’s stance with mental health and we still have a long way to go.[Read more…] about Christian Mental Health Testimony [Video]
When I was growing up, I was always told that having God at the center of your marriage will ensure you have a happy marriage. My parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles all not only said this, but showed it by praying together, worshipping together, and doing Bible studies together. And the research supports this very sentiment.[Read more…] about Being Christian Doesn’t Guarantee Marital Happiness
If you have not yet visited our mental health resource page, we have a whole list of resources that Christian Counselors and pastors should have readily accessible in case they need it. (While you are at it, check out our Books We Recommend of (mostly) Christian literature about mental health.) Of those resources, the one we intentionally put at the top was the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline with the United States phone number listed right there in case you immediately needed it. Well, that number has officially changed in the United States to 988.[Read more…] about 988 – The New Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
The big news with in the United States last month was the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe versus Wade, a landmark case that specifically talked about abortion. If you have not educated yourself about why this decision was made in 1973, please go read the details here so you are informed. The decision has sparked not only frustration and political arguments, but as a counselor, I have found that this can become a clinical issue too. More on that in a minute.
Before discussing thoughts as a Christian counselor, I think it is important to discuss the response. I’ve seen many personal comments by Christians and pastors, some of which I share below, but the one that started it off was from a Texas pastor who gave an interesting perspective:
To every Christian proudly claiming not to know anyone in their church who is anxious or afraid about Roe being overturned, I have news for you…— Zach W. Lambert (@ZachWLambert) June 30, 2022
You actually do. In fact, you probably know a lot of them.
They just don’t tell you because they know you’re not a safe person.
There were certainly others from non-Christian authors that condemned Christians for “taking a victory lap at the expense of people,” those we hope to witness to. I don’t want to encourage you to hide from being happy about being pro-life, but the souls of those wanting the abortion are as significant as the baby we hope to protect too.
I don’t have a public link for the full email sent out from Denver Seminary’s President Dr. Mark Young, but I love how he made what seems like an us versus them that the hateful words make it seem into something so much more:
We believe that human flourishing should be protected and nurtured at every stage of development, from the beginning to the end of life. And we believe that we must not reduce abortion to just a philosophical, legal, or political issue. We recognize that considering an abortion is a complex and multi-faceted decision with moral, medical, psychological, relational, and financial factors. We also acknowledge that the lack of adequate and affordable health care, adequate childcare options, and parental leave policies contributes to the dilemma that many face with an unplanned pregnancy. Our concern must be for all of those whose lives are affected by an abortion—baby and mother, as well as father, siblings, and extended family.Dr. Mark Young, July 5, 2022
Another man I admire is the president emeritus of Youth for Christ/USA who has the gift of story telling and you should check out his full post he shared online here:
“It wouldn’t be so bad if my Mom just smoked pot.”
A 12-year-old. A camper at our YFC middle school camp. A throwaway line to a cabin leader who had helped to get this boy to camp. A leader who had shopped for clothes and paid for a haircut so that this young man could feel comfortable entering into the camp experience.
It’s been three years since Mary and I participated in YFC Camp. Three long years. But years that have a new weight after being with 300+ middle schoolers.
While I was complaining about masks and shots, this young man was quarantined with addiction and promiscuity.
While I was arguing politics, this young man was living in an unimaginable hell.
While Christians were finding new ways to fracture, this boy was watching his life explode.Dan Wolgemuth, July 1, 2022
Finally, our church also made an immediate response to this that I find steadfast and yet important: (Again, read the full post here)
This decision will cause people on every side to rethink what abortion looks like in the future. But while this victory will echo throughout the pro-life world, the battle for life will continue. We believe this decision only provides the beginning of a new phase in the movement to protect all human life. As this decision with massive implications will be discussed, debated, and applied over the next few months, we do not believe this is a moment to back down. God continues to use all Christians, churches, and partnering ministries like Richland Pregnancy Services to fulfill our mission of offering the message of life to men and women. We will remain steadfast in our work to protect the most vulnerable among us, care for families in need, persuade our friends and neighbors to support life-giving ministries like RPS, and pray for the life-giving hope of Jesus Christ to overwhelm lives caught in the lie that death is the only option.Dave Vance, June 24, 2022
We believe in human life and that life begins at conception. Life is God-ordained, God-breathed, and something that He cherishes, therefore we should defend. But that is a simple statement and only a small component of what we want to advocate for. We will stand with the decision on abortion, but we will not support shaming and taunting when there is SO MUCH more Christians are not doing.
More Needs Done To Protect Victims
We know that domestic violence is rampant in America and the impact on an individual’s mental health is severe. Sexual assault statistics are under reported and even with that number, it feels unbelievable.
I’ve heard it said that almost all churches are in support of helping people. That may be true in philosophy, but not monetarily or with our time and energy. At best, I’d say of the churches I have been moderately interacted, less than 50% offer moderate support or more.
We can financially support victims, get education on current concerns and help advocate, and go to local shelters to help or even put boots on the ground to support men, women, and families directly. I’d love to see the numbers of what is actually being done, but I fear they would make the American church look bad and probably will never be released.
Teen Pregnancy and Single Moms
The latest statistics from the 2020 American Census shows nearly 19 million children, amounting to 25 percent of American children are living in single-parent families. That is nearly three times the 1960 figure of 9 percent. Unfortunately, Christians truly have a poor reputation for support of single moms and teens. We are seen as calling them sinners, spewing hate, and shutting the door on their needs. This is certainly a generalization, but one based in some truth.
What are we doing for helping those who cannot help themselves? I see Jesus in Scripture turning others away so that he can specifically help this population of hurting, lonely, sinful people that need Him. Are we doing the same?
Being About Jesus’ Work
The way I see Christianity is one of redemption and sanctification that leads to witness and service to the world. It’s one that starts with my salvation in Christ, but something that happened because of others investment in me. I don’t know where I would be without the evangelism and love of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and friends that lead me to know Jesus at age 16. It is also my job to do so for others in word and deed.
Unfortunately, I see too many people worried about themselves, their own rights and comforts, that we lose ourselves in it. In fact, our light of Jesus to shine to others becomes soiled and covered up or tinted with anger and greed.
As Christian Counselors
Our job as Christian counselors is to be in service to our clients who may struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. It is our responsibility to guide, educate, advocate, and empower them in their recovery. This current climate is important for us to step in and address these worries, fears, and illness. I also hope you are deeply in prayer about the daily obstacles our clients face and that God may miraculously intervene for them.
In support of this, I want to end with this ideology that is in Scripture over and over.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (NIV)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)
The general perception of counseling is that one who struggles with mental illness or substance misuse needs to go talk out their problems and in so doing, everything will be better. While talk therapy is still very much alive and well and effective for many situations, in the last two years, we have found that clinical counseling many times goes beyond “just talking about our problems” and a need for much deeper addressing of mental illness. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a new way of understanding that we don’t communicate our depression, anxiety, trauma, substance misuse, and psychosis just through words, but that it comes out in our actions, our lack of actions, our relationships, and even in our body’s chemistry. Therefore, we are missing how we can use actions, relationships, and even physical healing to improve our mental health.
“For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”Bessel van der Kolk
This book has become a gold standard of understanding the nonverbal impact that can come up in counseling and alternative, some times more deep clinical counseling for our clients. For situations of rape, domestic violence, depression, natural disasters, and severe depression and anxiety, a deeper therapeutic intervention may be needed because the mental illness symptoms are too much that even talking about the problems can be too much. Further, as was discovered in the research, some of these techniques for clients are more effective and quicker for accomplishing recovery.
While this book is not religious, I think for Christian counselors, the idea of integration with our physical selves should be fully understood. We already are attempting to integrate spirituality with psychology and socialization. In fact, a concept that has been gaining more and more traction is bio-psycho-social-spiritual counseling, where we look at the physical well being of a client with their dentist, primary care provider, or pain doctor while treating their mental health recovery and ensuring they are going to church and plugged in to community events.
It should be unexpected that I give this book a 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend if you have not already read the book, that you do so soon.
If you have been reading our website for too long, you know I love how much our church has stepped up to be a thought-leader and proactive for Christians and community members about mental health with relationship to mental illness. It’s growing into a tradition to be able to talk to you about what we have been doing at our church to connect further, deeper with those in our community, specifically with faith and mental health.[Read more…] about Our Church And Mental Health Awareness