Special Needs

We owe it to believers who suffer from mental illness to find them and minister to them. (Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash)

Healthy living must be an important issue for the church, giving Christians the opportunity to lead the effort globally to minister to people with mental illness.

The Bible says Jesus dealt with people who had all kinds of afflictions—including mental health issues. I love Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Matthew 8:16 (MSG), where he writes of Jesus, "That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill." Jesus modeled ministry to the mentally ill.

For 2,000 years, the church has cared for the sick. In fact, the church has cared for the sick longer than any other institution. We invented the hospital. Go into nearly any country in the world, and you'll find that the first school and the first hospital were started by missionaries. Christianity has always been a preaching, teaching and healing faith.

But there's another critical reason why the church must take the lead in addressing mental illness. Churches are typically the first organization that families in pain reach out to. When a family is having a mental health crisis, they don't go first to their lawyer, their accountant or the police. They go to their pastor. We have at least 350,000 churches in America. I can take you to 10 million villages around the world where the only institution is a church. No other institution is better equipped to take the lead on this health issue.

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As we engage mental illness around the world, I believe these five theological foundations should be at the core of all of our efforts.

  1. Every person has dignity. We all have dignity because we're all made by God. That's true of you, me and every person on the planet with a mental illness. We're made in God's image, and we're made for God's purpose and glory. God has never made anything without a purpose. If your heart is beating right now and you're breathing, God has a purpose for your life. Our dignity as human beings doesn't come from the government, our appearance or our economic prosperity. Our dignity comes from our Creator, who gives each of us a purpose.
  2. All of us are broken. Every single one of us has weaknesses, wounds and mental illness. We all have our obsessive thoughts, compulsions, fears and phobias. Since we all have disabilities, we all need each other. That's one of the reasons God allows disabilities. If we had no imperfections in our lives, we would be arrogant and self-centered.
  3. Even though we're broken, we're still deeply loved and deeply valuable. Jeremiah 31:3b (MEV) says, "Indeed, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you." God's love for us is unconditional and unending. God doesn't say, "I love you if ..." God loves us because it's who He is.
  4. We get well in community. The Bible reminds us of this constantly. Paul writes, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We need to be ready to share the burdens of people impacted by mental illness. It creates isolation, which is devastating for human beings. God says it's not good for anyone to be alone. Community plays a part in God's healing process of a variety of afflictions, including mental illness.
  5. What isn't healed on earth will be healed in heaven. We can keep going and keep helping because we know that what happens here on earth isn't the end of the story. I've read the end of the story. We win. We win against disease, illness, selfishness and brokenness. In the very last book of the Bible, the apostle John writes: "'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death.' Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

That's a great promise we can hold on to as we seek to minister to people who suffer from mental illness.

These five truths should shape our approach to mental illness. With these truths in mind, we should do as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14b: "Comfort the faint-hearted, support the weak, and be patient toward everyone." That's good advice for all of us who are ministering to the needs of the mentally ill.

Editor's Note: I've been at Saddleback for decades and have seen how our church has transformed into a church that cares for people with mental illness. As a church member, it's inspiring. It's a reminder for me to be more sensitive to the needs of mental illness in my personal life.

As you consider what this looks like for your church, I imagine some pastors might think, "We're not equipped to meet all of the mental illness needs in our community." That's OK.

I don't think you need to meet all of the needs in your community. Your church can do what churches do best: Worship God, reach out to the lost, teach the gospel, serve one another and be a warm and welcoming community—one that accepts others as Christ accepts us. It's likely your church isn't equipped to feed all of the homeless people in your community 365 days a year. But you can minister to some of them, love them and point them to community resources. The same is true in serving people with mental illness—you do what you can, as you feel led by God.

The universal challenge here is that we would love universally. As sinful, imperfect people, we tend to draw lines and love some people, but not others. Raise this issue with your leaders and see if it's a line that needs erasing in your church. —Matt

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of America's largest and most influential churches. He is the author of the New York Times' bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. Pastor Rick started The PEACE Plan to show the local church how God works through ordinary people to address the five global giants of spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy. You can listen to "Daily Hope," Pastor Rick's daily 25-minute audio teaching, or sign up for his free daily devotionals at PastorRick.com. He is also the founder of Pastors.com, a global online community created to encourage pastors.

For the original article, visit Pastors.com.

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