Challenging Church Culture

In a church of around two thousand people we see our fair share of broken bones, colds, flues and even more serious illnesses. But statistically we will also have up to two hundred members with a mental or emotional health issue at any one time. Where are these people? I think I have prayed for only a handful of individuals who were suffering from depression in three years of ministering at our church. Either we are bucking every national statistic ever calculated, or our culture does not empower the sufferers of mental or emotional distress to share their pain, ask for prayer or call for support. The reality is that there is nothing unique about our context, in fact you could argue that we are better than many other churches in supporting people. The model of Holy Spirit prayer ministry we have at my church often means that people will have the confidence to be prayed for, and the Spirit will minister directly to their mental distress. However, the fact remains that there are scores if not hundreds of people within our community who are suffering silently and increasing the isolation that is already integral to mental distress.

Mental health issues on the increase nationally, to the point where no one can afford to be uninformed. Unfortunately, unlike physical illness, mental distress still carries an unfortunate stigma. Movies and newspapers have caricatured people suffering mental distress as mad, bad, dangerous, unhinged or even demonic. Is it any wonder that people who are suffering with mental health issues want to keep it to themselves? Equally, although churches might be less derogatory they can stigmatise sufferers in other ways. Illnesses like depression and anxiety disorders appear to stand in opposition to scriptural instructions like, Be joyful in all circumstances, Hope in the Lord, don?t be anxious about anything. Often well meaning Christian?s can make a depression worse by making a sufferer feel like a spiritual failure on top of everything else. To tell a depressed person that they should ?pull themselves together and have joy? is like taking the plaster of a man's broken leg and give him a football to kick.

My friend Dr Rob Waller and I set up Mind and Soul in its current format about two years ago. Rob is a Consultant Psychiatrist and had been blogging online since 2004. We teamed up after meeting again at our annual rowing race and reunion. It was brilliant to see what God had done in us both since we first became friends twelve years ago. It was really clear that God was challenging us to step out with courage into this arena. Mind and Soul aims to do three things very well. Firstly Rob is working in the professional arena expressing the value of Christianity in psychological healing. He is speaking and writing widely, introducing people to Jesus healing presence and the therapeutic community of the church. We are setting up discussion groups across the country for Christian mental health professionals where they can find support and encouragement in their work. I am working as a Christian leader to raise awareness of mental health issues in our churches, encouraging prayer ministry and medical referrals, reducing stigma and challenging ignorance. Finally we are providing a huge online resource for Christians who are suffering from mental or emotional distress.
Will Van Der Hart, 13/11/2009