There were just some things we didn’t talk about in church. We don’t talk about sex and money for sure and we don’t talk about our hurts and issues because the church culture says that now that we are in Christ everything should be perfect in our lives. If it’s not, then there is something wrong with our faith. Because of that people with genuine issues never talk about them and never deal with them.
Because there has been a prohibition of talking about certain things or not expressing our feelings when we are hurting, we often, as they say, put lipstick on a pig. We are masking how we hurt so we don’t get help. I used to hear some old-time preachers and old-time mothers talking about the church being a hospital. Well, if you can’t talk about your sickness, what kind of hospital is it? Is it only one that deals with the common cold or a stubbed toe and not drug addiction or sex addiction, or depression?
The church has a problem talking about anxiety and depression because we somehow believe that Christians should not get depressed or anxious. Talking about it can be uncomfortable because many of our church leaders don’t know a lot about it so we in the church don’t talk about it at all.
The fact is that we do have people who are depressed and anxious and they have other problems and issues but instead of addressing them and trying to help we quarantine them. The purpose of a quarantine is to keep someone away from others, so they don’t unknowingly infect anybody else. That is what we often do in the church. We want to keep anyone who is anxious or depressed away from the rest of the people because we think they will infect them with depression or anxiety.
According to statistics, anxiety affects 7.3% of people globally. That means every 13th person sitting in a church pew has an anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 6.7% of the U.S. adult population has had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Those were 2016 numbers. Can you imagine how that number has grown with COVID and all the social unrest in the last 18 months.
The church should be a place of healing not a place to quarantine.
And yet, many are feeling pushed away from churches, whose services and support are designed to meet the needs of a mainstream congregant demographic.
When we consider the rising percentages of mental illness sufferers and the increasing rate of suicides in church communities around the world, it is painfully apparent that the church simply cannot offer a “one experience for all” approach any longer.
The following are 6 ways the church can stop quarantining people.
1. Get Educated
Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
1 Peter 5:2 NIV Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;
To provide a safe place for people with anxiety, pastors and church leaders need to have a solid understanding of the wide spectrum of mental health issues and how they affect sufferers and their worship experience.
There are many mental health websites that can provide useful information about types of disorders, symptoms, and treatment. Churches can also acquire advice from local mental health experts.
Additionally, there is a wide selection of literature available on anxiety disorders and the church, such as Anxious Church, Anxious People by Jack Shitama, or Mental Health and the Church by Stephen Grcevich.
2. Increase Awareness about Anxiety
Psalms 119:66 NIV Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Enduring ignorance from the church can lead to stigmatization and shame for those afflicted by anxiety and depression. Assumptions that anxiety or depression is caused by sin, demonic influences, or weak faith can result in those affected to feel judged and scrutinized. Consequently, they infrequently come to church or stay away altogether.
By addressing these issues openly from the pulpit, the church can end the shame and stigma.
If pastors have individual experiences with anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts, sharing their struggles can help normalize what is still considered a taboo topic.
3. Provide Church Leadership with Mental Health Training
Proverbs 11:14 NIV For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.
John 14:26 NIV But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
By providing their leadership and staff with mental health training, the church can help make worship experiences more comfortable for those with anxiety or depression disorders.
I am a member of the leadership team of a ministry that has ongoing mental health training for its leadership. This training includes self-help tools because those in leadership often struggle with the same issues as others in the church.
The training equips staff and leaders so that they can identify those in their congregations or sphere of influence who may be showing signs of developing depression or anxiety disorder.
Ephesians 6:18 NIV And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Prayer is the most effective church corporate tool in the struggle against anxiety. Therefore, the church can best support those in their congregation who have anxiety disorders by praying for them and with them.
Corporate prayer can be led from the pulpit; additionally, prayer warriors in the church can pray over those who are afflicted.
James 5:13-16 NIV Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
5. Offer Support Groups and Resources for Those Struggling
Proverbs 3:27 NIV Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.
People with anxiety disorders who come to church are seeking support, both spiritually and emotionally.
Churches can offer or partner with support groups for those afflicted with anxiety, where they can experience mutual support and encouragement. Counseling can also be offered from mental health experts within the church community or they can be brought in.
Galatians 6:2 NIV Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Additionally, churches can contact mental health organizations in their local area and request literature that they can distribute before or after services to those who need it.
6. Reach Out to the Community to Offer Help for Anxiety
People with anxiety who don’t know God, have a right to know that spiritual and emotional assistance and support in times of hardship and distress are available to them.
Therefore, churches can use their social media platforms, and other outreach programs to raise awareness to people outside of the church that they can receive help and find comfort and revelation through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:12-15 NIV For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Romans 8:1, 38-39 NIV Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let’s make the church, the Body of Christ a safe and welcoming place for people with mental health challenges not a place of quarantine.