Mental Illness and the Role of Church

2014 Peace of Mind Conference

The Church knows how to respond to cancer diagnoses and make hospital visits. But what about when someone admits that he or someone he knows suffers from mental illness? In this 35-minute message from the 2014 Peace of Mind Conference, Dr. Matt Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center and Institute, talks about mental illness and how the Church should respond.

Dr. Matt Stanford is a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical studies at Baylor University. His research on the interplay between psychology and issues of faith has been featured by Fox, The New York Times, USA Today, MSNBC, Yahoo, and U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Stanford said that individuals experiencing psychological distress are more likely to seek help from clergy than any other group, and yet the Church is very behind when it comes to mental health. Pastors and ministry leaders are sadly still offering the mentally ill quick solutions like prayer and Bible study. While Christian practices are vital to the Christian life, they are not necessarily sufficient in and of themselves when it comes to mental wellness. 

Do you think the Church too often offers simple solutions to pressing problems? Why or why not?
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How might a meal, kind note, or visit to the hospital be a better response from the Church than merely saying, “read the Bible” or “pray more”?
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You heard a lot of statistics about how the mentally ill are a large percentage of the prison population, homeless population, and those who have addictions. If an estimated 450 million people suffer mental illness, the Church needs to minister to them. Dr. Stanford suggests we learn from various institutions over time who have set up trauma centers in order to care for the mentally ill and try to restore them to healing and wholeness. 

To what extent does your local congregation extend care to the mentally ill? If it doesn’t currently, to what extent is it possible to expand your ministry to do so?
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John 9:1-12 (ESV)

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”6Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”10So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Stanford referenced the story of the man born blind and stated God is not sending the mentally ill to the Church to tell them they’re sinners; we’re all sinners. God sends them to us so that we can see His glory. He suggests three ways God’s glory is revealed as we care for the mentally ill we know:

  • Relieve suffering. 
  • Reveal Christ in that relationship.  
  • Restore lives.  

What are some ways you might be able to do to relieve suffering, reveal Christ, and restore lives to the mentally ill in your congregation.?
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Dr. Stanford said, “Don’t try to fix. Provide care.” That may be difficult, but it’s a freeing truth to embrace. It’s not your job, or your church’s, to change or “fix” anyone who’s mentally ill. Your role is simply to mirror Christ who loved, embraced, sat with, cried over, and cared for all who were hurting. 

For more information on the Peace of Mind Conference, visit