One of the overlooked topics to discuss is integrating people with mental illnesses into the church community.
Mental illness is defined as mental conditions that affect your mood and behavior. Examples of these include depression and anxiety.
Those who suffer from these mental illnesses may have trouble taking the first step into church community due to feeling a lack of acceptance, so it is the responsibility of the church to reach out to these people.
Speaking from Experience
From 8th grade until my freshmen year of high school, I struggled with depression. It began after my uncle died unexpectedly during one of the worst summers I’ve ever had.
As I internalize a lot of my feelings, it was hard to move on and resume being myself.
I saw a counselor for a while, but I ended up not needing one. I thought that I had enough outlets (other people) to talk things through with.
I also trusted that Jesus would listen to me and sustain me.
When I went to my youth leaders, however, I felt brushed aside and unimportant.
My advice for leaders of the church is to provide a 24/7 outlet in which church members can express their feelings. This is especially important for people who are students in junior high and high school.
This is the time of development for teens between the ages of 13 and 19.
They are surrounded by a bunch of other kids trying to figure things out too.
The best thing to provide for these kids who are seeking something is for the youth group to stand firm in teaching the truth of the gospel and to proclaim the message of Jesus being the center of their identity.
How the Church Should Listen
1. Establish a caring ministries ministry at your church.
Faith church in Milford, Ohio has two people involved in this ministry. Once is a pastor and one is a counselor.
This is extremely useful as church members can walk in or schedule an appointment at any time.
2. Encourage the church to remember the unnoticed.
There are a lot of people who go unnoticed in churches. It is easy to walk past the quiet person.
Challenge your church to seek out new people and be consistent with befriending them.
3. Give anonymous recognition during church services.
If there is no way of telling who is suffering with a mental illness in your congregation, pray for those who are going through a hard time.
4. Ask church members to fill out prayer request cards.
If something is going on in a person’s life, but they do not feel like anyone is noticing or supporting them, encourage church members to fill out these cards.
Tell them that these requests will be prayed over.
Go a step further by calling the person and asking how they are doing- as a follow-up measure.
5. Create community groups.
Community groups encourage people to step out of their isolation and into a group of people.
When they are consistent, they will become more comfortable to share what they are struggling with.
This can and will become a safe place where people can receive direct prayer and direct community with other people who may end up expressing the same feelings of brokenness.
On the Other Side
Now a college graduate, married, and involved in a ministry, I can say testify that God used my struggles for a good purpose.
I would not be who I am today or where I am today without having gone through those struggles.
It gets me thinking… true freedom is trusting the Lord.
You may not feel free with what you are going through at the moment, but asking God to be near to you and trusting in him is freedom.
I now face new obstacles as an adult, but I rely on God to sustain my emotional health.
My desire is for churches to acknowledge the forgotten people who sit in your seats.
Finally, Remember that Community is for Everyone
Even if someone does not seem fit for community, it’s probably because they feel like they are not a part of it.
As you prepare to lead the church, give church members an example to follow.
Practice the commission to live in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Join one of the community groups.
Be the pastor of the caring ministry.
Share what you are struggling with.
Remember to acknowledge others who have been forgotten.
If church members see that you are practicing what you preach, they will want to follow you.
Remember what Jesus promises to the weak of spirit in Matthew 5:1-11:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
And no matter what…
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12)
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