The Church and Mental Illness

mental health and the church

Let’s talk about mental health and the church. With frequent high-profile tragedies connected with mental illness, many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, are talking about the challenges of mental health.

While some stories garner much media attention, beneath the surface this issue touches many of us deeply. We all have friends and family members who suffer with mental illness, and many of us are struggling.

Last week I spoke at “The Struggle Is Real” Mental Health and the Church Summit at Seacoast Church on the subject of the Church and Mental Illness.

As I see the widespread presence and pain of mental illness, another reality confronts me: Oftentimes Christians struggle with talking about and understanding mental illness.

Mental Health and the Church

When it comes to mental health and the church, there are three points that I want to lay out to encourage all of us to confront effectively the stigma and issues of mental illness. More importantly, let’s seek training to care for our brothers, sisters and even ourselves who suffer with these challenges.

We struggle with how to struggle

The first glaring issue is that Christians struggle with how to struggle with mental illness. In many ways, the church, the supposed haven for sufferers, is not a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness.

Throughout church history, people have written about the “dark times” and how they trusted the Lord in the midst of a trial. But in our churches today, we often feel like we can’t talk about our problems, and so we can’t effectively deal with our suffering.

This truth stretches from the top down. The sad reality of our present church culture is that if a pastor were to talk about the mental illness with which they’re struggling, the next church or organization to which they apply will likely choose another candidate.

How can we, the church, expect to offer the hope of Christ and life-changing help to those suffering if our churches are not a safe place for us to own our brokenness?

We first have to take off our masks and recreate the culture in our homes, churches and organizations. We don’t know how to struggle with mental illness because the church is not a safe place to struggle.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.