By Laura Sikes
Panelists at the LoveLoud breakfast on mental health and the church held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in June had a lively discussion and agreed that the church is unique in its role and ability to serve families and persons suffering with mental health issues.
Moderator Ryan West, LoveLoud national coordinator at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said the conversation on these critical issues is needed and is in response to issues related to mental health that were raised through a motion and resolution from the 2013 SBC annual meeting.
“We’re not trying to fix these complex problems but we’re trying to demonstrate God’s love in the midst of them,” West said.
Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, along with fellow panelists Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research, agreed that the local church is often the first place people go for assistance and that it should be equipped to help people in dealing with these complicated issues.
“The church must be a place where transformation does occur and where biblical tools are constantly applied, and the church should be ‘the place’ where people are accepted and are loved unconditionally,” Page said.
Even though popular culture is talking more openly about mental health issues, the panelists stressed that stigmas still do exist.
“We have to break those stigmas so people don’t suffer alone,” said Stetzer.
Stetzer said that LifeWay is working on a large research project on how the church is responding to mental issues and expects those findings in the fall.
In breaking those stigmas, Hambrick said that identifying the causes of mental illness must be addressed by the church to be better equipped to minister to the suffering. The three agreed that there are no easy answers and that the church has to be discerning. Hambrick added, “There is nothing that breaks a stigma like a friend, knowing someone when they hurt.”
“Often times where the conversation breaks down on mental illness is when we look for one cause or one answer that can cover the breadth of everything encapsulated under a term like mental illness,” Hambrick said.
While it is difficult to define, the panel agreed, that the term mental illness is used generally when an individual’s struggles impair his normal life functioning so severely that professional help is required.
Page stressed that the church needs much compassion and care, in addition to transparency and honesty, in its approach to ministering to those who suffer with mental health issues.
“Don’t be a church that just constantly refers everybody too quickly. Even when you do refer someone do not let go of that person. Stay with them,” he said.
Hope may come in many different ways and forms, Page said. “But our God does not leave us abandoned.”
Panelists suggested the following resources on addressing mental issues:
BradHamrick.com: “Towards a Christian Perspective on Mental Illness”
American Association of Christian Counselors
Melissa by Frank Page
Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board.