“The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Those are words from the iconic 19th century pastor/theologian, Charles H. Spurgeon, who personally understood the silent, unnamed pains of depression.
Just as we are not immune to physical health problems, people of faith are not immune to mental and emotional suffering. The psalmist cried out, “Darkness is my only friend” (Ps. 88:18). Many people in our churches relate to this ongoing sense of loneliness and despair.
Spurgeon’s self-awareness and candor were ahead of his time, but we now know it is estimated that half of us will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetime. “Combining the child and adult populations, more than fifty million Americans today experience at least one diagnosable mental health disorder on any given day. And it’s reported that there are 123 suicides in the U.S. every single day.
As pastors and churches invite people to follow Jesus, we also invite them to bring all of their brokenness into our community of faith. Jesus reconciles people to God, but he will not restore all that sin has stolen until he returns again. So until then, we serve people in their suffering. We voluntarily walk with them through the maze of their emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual challenges. Rather than viewing them as new recruits to serve our church goals, we eagerly join God’s redeeming work in their lives.
The complexities of mental health issues, however, strain pastors and churches in some very practical ways. While we want to help, we are not always sure of our role in diagnosis and treatment of those who suffer in this way. So let’s consider these four guidelines for serving people facing mental health issues:
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