“Christians have been slower than the population at large to recognize what mental illness is, let alone what they should do,” observes Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Focus on the Family recently commissioned LifeWay Research to conduct a study on how churches address mental illness. Stetzer shared the findings with Christianity Today in an article by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.
LifeWay Research found that 59 percent of church goers with a mental illness want their church to talk more openly about it, as do 65 percent of their relatives. But research also discovered that the majority of pastors (66 percent) still rarely or never talk about mental illness in sermons or before large groups. About one-fourth of pastors bring up mental illness several times a year, and 7 percent say they address it once a month or more.
What’s behind the silence about mental illness at church?
What’s behind the silence about mental illness at church? LifeWay Research has discovered various factors, but it seems to come down to lack of training and resources, not a lack of compassion. Still, concludes Stetzer, “We have to break the stigma that causes people to say that people with mental illness are just of no value.”
In light of several recent high-profile suicides among professing Christians like Robin Williams and ministry families like Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, the issue is certainly on the minds of more and more church goers. For church leaders who are interested in learning more about how to help broken and hurting families in their churches and communities, Focus on the Family is currently offering a free e-book entitled Serving Those with Mental Illness.
Your turn: Are churches in denial about mental illness? What does the Bible have to say about it?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com