by Jacquelyn Scott
Leadership Assessment, Care and Accountability
1. Every leader who desires to do so can take some form of self-assessment evaluation, such as the one found in The Emotionally Healthy Leader. This would pave the way for each of them to determine if there are areas in their lives that could benefit from special attention. But before that, they should take the time and effort to seek God’s counsel, not just a few minutes, but real, quality time spent in prayer, meditation, and reflection. One-on-one time with God causes us to start to see ourselves as He sees us, and this leads to a desire for a pure and healthy lifestyle. In Face-to-Face: Praying the Scriptures for Spiritual Growth, there is a simple yet powerful prayer referencing 2 Chronicles 31:20-21. This prayer appeals to God: “Like Hezekiah, I want to do what is good and right before You, Lord my God, by seeking you with all my heart.”
Outside consultation could reveal hidden factors
If after devoted prayer and a legitimate self-assessment the leader still experiences mental or emotional challenges, it should not be considered a sign of weakness or a lack of faith to seek professional assistance. Outside consultation could reveal hidden factors such as fatigue, chemical disorders, or dietary deficiencies. It would also be helpful to confide in one or two trusted peers. It is comforting to be able to open up to someone who will not judge you and who has your best interest in mind. Other leaders understand because they might be dealing with some of the same issues. Therefore, a group of leaders helping other leaders can be a way to provide confidential support while at the same time holding each other accountable.
Congregation Assessment and Assistance
2. The leaders of each congregation can devise a survey to determine if there are any training or workshops that the members might be interested in attending, such as marriage, parenting, relationships, loss & grief, depression, anger management, addictions, etc. This will allow congregants to seek help in a comfortable, guilt-free manner. It will also give the leaders a chance to see the needs of those they serve. The survey could also include a question that would identify any members of the congregation that are certified, licensed, or degreed in any field of healthcare.
Leaders of the congregation can decide what steps to take next
Depending on the results of the survey, leaders of the congregation can decide what steps to take next. Some suggestions are:
- Put together a directory of local agencies that offer classes and training. If you do not have a printed church bulletin, create a community-service bulletin board.
- Invite agencies to come to your church to give seminars or workshops. This can be done as a lunch & learn between Sabbath services, or another time during the week.
- If there are members within the congregation that are certified to do so, ask them to develop a program.
- If there is a social-services group in your community, offer to host one of their meetings at your church. This way, you can find out what the various agencies offer.
- Get the youth and children involved by asking them to decorate a bulletin board and make posters.
These are just a few ideas. The point is, follow through with the results of the survey and get the entire congregation involved. Some leaders are reluctant to take on new endeavors because they fear that they will have to do all the work. Delegate!
Each congregation is unique
General Conference Support
3. With the understanding that each congregation is unique, there are several things that the COG7 General Conference can do to help all of us integrate mental-health awareness into our ministries, including:
- Facilitate a way for participating congregations to communicate with each other to share ideas, testimonies, resources, and encouragement.
- Include mental health workshops on the schedule for future biennial-convention sessions.
- Help identify which congregations have professional, licensed and certified members who might be able to help develop mental-health awareness ministries.
- Encourage districts that want to host yearly, mental-health awareness retreats for leaders and their families.
Support those leaders who want to include mental-health awareness
The main thing that the conference can do is support those leaders who want to include mental-health awareness in their ministry offerings. Pastors, ministers, and other leaders within COG7 should be able to seek assistance without fear of being judged or demeaned. An admission of the need for counseling for mental or emotional struggles can cause us to feel vulnerable. For that reason, the response to such admission should be one of understanding and encouragement.
Much is expected from Christian leaders
Much is expected from Christian leaders; it should not be overlooked that we are all subject to failures, mistakes, and illnesses. The conference can assist in creating an atmosphere of trust, confidence, and openness by helping to pave the way for leaders to feel comfortable to admit to the need for counseling, and prayer, because of a mental or emotional struggle.
Obstacles, Challenges, and Disagreements
4. For some leaders, there will be objections and reluctance from their congregations. One of the best ways to face this resistance is to know ahead of time what is behind some of the grievances.
There are several verses in the Bible that imply illnesses are curses from God because of the sinful nature of man, including Gen. 12:17; Exod. 15:26; and Deut. 7:12-16, 28:15-24 & 58 – 60. Thus, for some Christians, the answer to helping those with mental and emotional problems is to tell them to get their life right with God. Then they may pray for them. Also, there are those who feel that seeking help for mental issues outside of the church body is a lack of faith, especially if it is from a secular provider.
People have left their church because of the way they were treated
During more than one of the workshops that I have attended over the past few years, I have talked to people who have left their church because of the way that they or a loved one were treated because of their mental illness. Two years ago I was speaking to a director of a small, local Bible college about people with depression. I was shocked when she said that they should “…just get over it….”
Why should assisting someone with a mental disorder be handled differently?
If a congregant had cancer or a heart condition, yes, we would pray for them and offer counseling. Hopefully, we would not tell them that it is their fault because they are leading a sinful life, and they just need to get over it and get right with God. Why should assisting someone with a mental disorder be handled differently? If there is something going on that is not alleviated by prayer or spiritual counseling, we are committing a disservice by not offering outside reinforcement.
The study of the mind is complicated.
The study of the mind is complicated. If a congregation is not equipped to offer licensed or certified counseling or therapy, it should not be considered a failure, or a lack of faith in the healing powers of God to seek another source of professional consultation.
Ending the stigma of mental illness is not an easy task
Ending the stigma of mental illness is not an easy task, but it must be done. Those of us who have taken on the mantle of Christian Leader have the responsibility of leading others to Christ and caring for those who have already accepted Him. We cannot do this if we are weak in body, spirit, or mind. Pastors, ministers and other leaders should be at the forefront of encouraging a mental-health ministry. We can no longer depend on the “outside world” to promote mental wellness. For some congregants, if they are unable to get assistance from the church, they are going to go right back to the streets. If an issue is severe enough that it requires more attention than the church can provide, such as addictions, depression, chemical imbalance, or severe mental disorders, then certainly there should be resources available to make referrals.
It starts with the leaders to check ourselves first
This is not a call for churches to become treatment centers; it is an urging for leaders to recognize that mental and emotional health is no less important than physical or spiritual wellbeing. “Christ-centered; Spirit-formed; Bible-based.” This is our standard, our battle cry. It starts with the leaders to check ourselves first. We must not allow mental fatigue to be a breach in our armor as we prepare for the spiritual warfare ahead. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good and perfect will.”
 Scazzero, 34-35.