Annabelle sat in front of me, head in hands, sobbing as she relayed the events that prompted her to meet with me for counseling. She had been meeting with her pastor to discuss her recent struggles with anxiety and depression following the birth of her first child. After several months of praying over the problem her pastor insisted that her inability to move past this struggle was a direct result of her lack of faith. Unfortunately Annabelle is only one of many who have received similar treatment in response to their struggles with mental illness. Due to the many misconceptions and misunderstanding of these illnesses they remain topics of taboo within the Church. More often than not, the cause of mental illness is attributed to either sin or biology, but not a combination of both. Understanding that people consist of mind, body, and soul reminds us that treating merely the spiritual aspects of a person does not heal the person as a whole. Our churches do a great disservice to its members when we fail to counsel them as whole people with problems based both in sin and in nature.
Fortunately, the Church has the unique ability to speak into the world of mental illness from a perspective the secular world lacks. We are able to provide the ultimate source of hope and healing through preaching the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As believers we are able to speak confidently into people’s lives knowing that the Scriptures are sufficient for understanding all of life’s problems. Equipped with the message of the gospel we offer the ultimate source of hope, healing, and restoration: Christ the King. So what does this look like practically? This means equipping our congregation with the tools and resources necessary to understand the many facets of mental illness. Training our church members creates a level of awareness and creates an environment of acceptance (acceptance of those who suffer from mental illness and acceptance of mental illness itself). Fear stems from a misunderstanding of a subject; therefore it’s time we remove the fears surrounding mental illness and begin equipping our churches through training and teaching on a variety of topics within the field of mental health. Instead of outsourcing our members to secular counselors, let’s start raising up counselors within our churches so that we are able to meet an ever present need in society today.
Let’s not let another Annabelle walk out the doors of the church feeling like she has failed God. Instead, let’s imitate our Savior, the One who is aptly called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Let’s model Christ closely by bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Let’s encourage one another and build one another up…encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak, being patient with all (1 Thess. 5:11;14). Let’s do these things for God’s people and for His glory remembering that He has (and will continue to) equip us with every resource needed to serve His people well.