Have questions about how to reach and shepherd those with mental health issues? Get your answers here.
We have a number of people in our church family who struggle with varying degrees of mental health issues. Recently a number of them are coming forward and expressing interest in joining a community group. The issue with many of these people is that their mental health issues are not necessarily under control. They are mostly (if willing) already receiving pastoral counseling and being encouraged where required to pursue medical help. However we have a number who can be extremely disruptive and threatening when they do not take their medication. (For example, one woman scared some of the kids by the things she told them.)
One of our founding principles of our groups is that all are welcome, a principle I feel very passionate about. Yet when it comes to this subset of people that we need to love and shepherd, including them in the groups would/is create/creating issues—such as people feeling unsafe, being unwilling to bring their kids, being unwilling to open up and share their lives, and being unwilling to invite others. At the same time we don’t want to fall into an extremely dangerous trap of categorizing people as some form of “unclean,” as that is counter to the gospel. In your experience, have you run into this question, and if so, how as a church did you approach this issue?
We have faced similar issues in the past. In one particular instance, we had a group that specifically felt called to make space for and even engage intentionally with these kinds of situations. As a result, we have not publicly promoted this group, but people are free to share what the group is about and who they are caring for and invite people in with that knowledge. Some just aren’t prepared for this kind of ministry, and we shouldn’t force them into it. One group feels called to the homeless population of whom several have the struggles you are referring to and others are registered sex offenders. As a result, we are clear about the mission of this group and make sure people know what they are joining before they do.
Another thing that should be addressed here is that we don’t assign people to a group. In others words, we don’t just have people join groups without knowing the mission of the group and without the leaders of the group inviting them in. Too often, I see people getting assigned by leadership to a group without knowledge of the group’s mission or without permission from the group. This often leads to people coming into a group without a clear expectation of what the group is all about OR groups receiving people that possibly sideline the mission they were already on. —Jeff
Our leadership team recently sat down to engage this very question. We ended up meeting with our counseling team to really tackle this question and brought in someone from the church who runs a local program of peer support groups for people with mental health issues. It was great to have an expert present on this issue and helped inform our decisions as we move forward. Some of our action steps moving forward are this:
- We are going to add some training for leaders in general on this issue, making them aware of mental health issues and also giving them some insight onto how to best respond to these issues. For example often the response we find from our leaders is fear, and it’s usually grounded in the false idea that all mental health issues could be related to demon possession (which incidentally a number of people suffering from mental health in our church family have unfortunately been hurt by their brothers and sisters by this quick conclusion).
- We are identifying groups that have a heart to help those with mental health issues. We are providing a workshop in more depth to these leaders and also providing a mentor for each leader in this situation (a mentor who is trained, works, or is knowledgable in this area). We already have groups that have a heart to help the homeless in our community, and often times homelessness and mental health can be closely entwined.
Through the advice of the mental health professionals, where needed, we are establishing group principles to help guide and govern interactions so people can feel safe with a good structure to help leaders redirect inappropriate behaviors.
We still have some way to go with this issue, but I think with your input and our discussion as a leadership team we are heading in a good direction. Right now we only have a handful of people who struggle with mental health issues, but as we hope that we begin to impact the community here in Paradise we realize we may need to revisit this issue in the future as we have a large population of those that struggle with mental health issues, due to the poverty, drugs, and elderly population that dominate the demographic here.
We still have some pastoral issues in terms of lovingly redirecting people toward groups that would be a good fit for them—although a big piece of that is encouraging those strategic groups to invite those identified individuals personally.
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