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What does the church think about counseling and mental health?

Mental Health and the Church

Tim Gilleand, MA


Did you know that 45% of regular church goers said they do not believe they would have been welcomed if they confessed to having a mental disorder? (Source: Lifeway Research) Historically, the church overall has done a poor job of responding to those struggling with mental health issues.  It can be confusing to preach a gospel of love and joy in the face of crippling depression.  It can be difficult to understand how to obey Biblical teaching on not worrying when you have clinical anxiety.  It can be complicated to live without fear in the face of PTSD.  

What Does the Bible Say?

Mental disorders are not mentioned directly in the Bible because we did not start to understand or define them until fairly recently in our history.  Historically, many mental disorders have been passed off as demon possession and/or a lack of faith.  We now understand that although demon possession does occur, it is not the source of every infirmity.  We also know there are some circumstances where chemicals in the brain prevent people from just willing themselves to get better.  This is where medication is necessary.

Many churches struggle in addressing this issue because if God created us fearfully and wonderfully, why would we be falling apart?  If He has a great plan for us, how does uncontrollable crying and insomnia fit into that?  The traditional answer you will get is that we live in a fallen world.  This is true, but also confusing to a lot of people.  It confused the disciples when they asked Jesus if it was him or his parents that sinned to cause the blind man to lose his sight.  Jesus responded “Neither… this happened so that the works of God might be displayed him.” (John 9:3, NIV).  A lot of beauty can come from what seems like ashes.  This is what God does over and over in scripture.  This is what we hope to help people see in counseling.

Before the fall, God created the world perfectly and free from sin, disease, or death – a beautiful original design.  All diseases and disorders are an eventual result of a world sent into chaos and declining following the first sin.  Things continue to get worse.  That is the bad news.  But it doesn’t stop there!  That’s where the good news of Jesus Christ comes in.  God sent a lifeline to pick us up out of the mess we caused, and a path back to the perfect paradise He originally envisioned for us.  

It has been my experience that our churches do a fabulous job of presenting the good news.  They do not do as well of a job explaining the bad news.  God is not to blame.  Sin and separation from God occurred.  Mental disorders are a result of thousands of years of sickness and disease spreading and multiplying.  But God wants us back.  He wants us redeemed.  He so loved the world that He sent his son to fix the mess we find ourselves in.  Mental disorders will continue until that time in which Jesus returns to take us to paradise.  He said it himself: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

On Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 at the Parkview Mirro Center in Fort Wayne, the Lutheran Foundation will be presenting Speak Up: a Conference on the Church and Mental Health.  At the conference, church leaders will be able to hear from national speakers, get more resources, and connect with local agencies.  Save the date!  Let’s do our best to give real answers and hope to those struggling in our congregations and cities.