November 26, 2015

How Do We Deal With 'Problem People' and People Struggling With Mental Health in our Churches?

The following six facts will be universally true about our churches.

  1. Someone has had a problem in our church this week.
  2. We have everything we need in the gospel to help that person with that problem (2 Peter 1:3).
  3. People seek help from family members, friends, and pastors before they go to healthcare professionals about their personal problems.
  4. The person/people either got no help, bad help, or biblical help.
  5. If they don’t get meaningful help, they will go elsewhere or suffer alone.
  6. Whatever help people receive, they usually pass on to others. Therefore, how we help and what we say will have good/bad consequences.

Many Christians live with what is known as the gospel gap. That is, they know the facts of the faith, they admit to believing the facts of our future hope of what’s to come, but they are missing the personal experience of connecting these truths so that they can live hopeful lives in the present. So many of us know the great truths of the Bible, but find little real meaning in them for everyday life and its worries. So, how can we help those among us who suffer from all manner of depression and other mental health issues? Here are some hints. This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. Try to gain as much understanding as you can about the topic at hand. Here are some good books. Blame it on the Brain by Ed Welch. Christians get Depressed Too by David Murray. Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch. See also relevant articles from
  2. Don’t assume it is caused by a specific personal sin—this is a common reaction. We don’t assume the same when people get cancer or another illness. Don’t assume personal sin when people are depressed. Very godly people often get depression (and very many pastors). Sometimes it can be demonic attack.
  3. Check depth, width, and length of symptoms. Feeling low and having a bad day is not the same as being depressed, and vice-versa. Take the time to listen to a person and don’t make rash judgements.
  4. Don’t rush to medication and don’t rule out medication—we offer advice too easily. The world over-prescribes, and so we shouldn’t rush into it. It should be thought through and discussed. Sometimes medication can be a good stabiliser and open a window into ongoing counsel and help. But, anti-depressants are not the ultimate solution.
  5. Be open to different approaches, both to cause and cure—there is not just one approach to care. Some people need to just tweak their lifestyle a little bit. Some people might need serious medical care.
  6. Give hope. Hold out the hope of the gospel. This is a biblical thing. Christians suffer in this fallen world. Almost everybody gets better. Stick with them and offer encouragement. God can be glorified even in their darkest moments. Psalm 27:13–14.
  7. Involve family & friends where possible—make sure they get a good support network around them. Routine, relaxation, recreation, rest, and re-prioritising.
  8. Re-establish spiritual disciplines—they fail to get benefit from Bible reading. Start short, a verse and short prayers saying how they feel. Take them to objective truth that is not affected by how we feel on any given day.

We need to bring the concept of biblical counselling back to earth. It is not just for health care professionals. We can speak words of wisdom into one another’s lives. Hebrews 3:12–13. The words mean ‘encourage and exhort’. How does the author to the Hebrews do it? How does he encourage suffering Christians? He shows them Jesus in 1:1–4. Remind them of the suffering redeemer in 5:8. How much of what we speak into one another’s lives is Christ-centred? How much is our own homespun wisdom? Hebrews reminds sufferers to hang on to the promises of God, despite seemingly having no answers and waiting endlessly for something to happen. We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1–2 reminds us:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Who is God calling to do this? All of us. How often? Daily. Not professionals. All of us, living in community. Counselling is a life event, not an hour-a-week meeting. Just being with people. Being their friend. Encouraging, rebuking, correcting. We need to give one another permission to do this in our lives. Not just meet for coffee and reinforce our prejudices against the world and other people. We mustn’t be scared to challenge people when they are sinning. Being depressed is not a get out of jail free card to behave as we please. Wisdom and love dictate that we challenge one another when our view of the world or life becomes skewed and unhelpful. Always try and take people back to the truth of the Word. Don’t let them wallow. Let’s encourage one another with 2 Corinthians 4:16–18:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

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