Ministering to those we can’t relate too
“I can’t relate.”
I’ve heard these words many times over in the last year concerning reaching out and ministering to those who are struggling with or affected by mental illness.
“I don’t understand what they are going through.”
“I don’t know what to say.“
“What if its spiritual?”
“What if I say the wrong thing?”
The fear of the unknown and concern over ‘praying right’ or feeling ‘in over my head’ has sidelined much of the Church when it comes to mental illness. These fears are nothing new. In fact, these are some of the same things the enemy has used to sideline us from reaching out in anything. He will use whatever he can to make any of us feel that what we do or who we are isn’t important. The enemy loves to undermine our caring in order to sideline us with the fears of messing things up or doing things wrong. If he can sideline the mission of the Church, then he is doing his job. We should not be surprised by the fear. In fact, when there is a lot of fear that means there is a lot of darkness, and where we find darkness, we find the enemy. It also means the enemy is having a field day. He’s controlling that area and making sure we don’t advance in his territory.
Where to Begin
Every time I encounter something different to what I’m used to or there seems to be a confusion about what ministry looks like, I always go back to the Gospels. These days there are so many models out there that frankly it can do more damage than good. The Gospels give us comfort in ministry, but they also give us guidelines; they give us direction. Take a look at the ministry of Jesus. Everything Jesus did and everything Jesus modeled in ministry came from compassion. He was moved when He saw the condition of the people. He was moved to minister. Love and compassion is our foundation for all of ministry; these things need to be the driving force behin why we do what we do.
Jesus was moved by deep love and deep compassion. Yet, Jesus wasn’t blind, deaf or lame, yet He ministered to the blind, deaf or lame. Jesus didn’t lose his son, yet he ministered to the widow whose young boy who died. Jesus wasn’t demonized, yet He ministered to many who were tormented by demons. We find story after story where Jesus ministered to people with conditions he himself did not have.
There is a misperception that we have to relate to someone before we can minister to them effectively. But here’s the thing, we can all relate to pain. Whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually we all have areas of pain where we need comfort. We all have the deep need for someone to come alongside and be Jesus to us. I do believe God sends people into our lives who have walked through similar heartaches or heartbreaks as we take the comfort we’ve been given in an area, and we give it to others who have to walk through some of the same pain we’ve had to walk through. But I also believe God brings people across our path who have no idea what or why we feel the way we do.
God always sends the right people at the right time, but it doesn’t mean we can relate to everything someone’s walking through. Nor does it mean they aren’t impacting our lives. Just think about your own life when someone came along just at the right time to encourage you in an area of your life. We tend to remember those times because they are life changing. People all around us who are facing mental illness often don’t have these encounters. They aren’t living with the encouragements of being told they aren’t alone. Many have never been told what they’re walking through is not their fault.
Don’t Overthink it
Where someone has encouraged you, is what the people around you struggling with mental illness are so desperate for. Some of the most effective ministry I have ever received personally, is when the person is standing with me, yet words are absent. Some of the most profound ministry is just coming alongside and being present.
If mental illness is the number one problem in the US and Britain, and one in four people are struggling, then this means our Churches, our sporting events, our family and personal relationships all have people within these circles who are hurting. They are around you. If God has sent people around you that are hurting, then your role is to be Jesus to them. God is entrusting you and He has sent them your way for a reason. Its not about being qualified, its about being willing.
Overthinking reaching out always kills the risk-taker in us. We don’t reach out to the people we pick, we reach out and minister to the people God sends across our path. We don’t have to say all the right things; we just need to be available. One of my favorite pictures of Jesus ministering is in Acts 10:38 where it says, “Jesus went around doing acts of kindness and releasing people from the oppression of the devil.” Just think about this: Kindness is advancing Gods Kingdom. Kindness releases people from oppression. Oppression is depression. It is the feeling where you feel like you cannot move; you can’t get out of bed, you can’t go on living. And here we find where kindness has the ability to give people hope to keep going.
I so love this as it gives a picture where showing we care has the ability to heal people from the inside out. The call of the Kingdom is a call of servant hood. We don’t do what we do out of logic, we do what we do because God has always called us to be a people of risk by serving and being kind to people. We must be willing to step into places others aren’t willing to go. Love looks like going. (1 Cor. 14:1) “Let love be your highest goal..” Love will always be our highest risk in the Kingdom of God. The more the Church makes herself available, the more God will use us.
Let me encourage you in these two things:
First, there is still much stigma when it comes to mental illness. So the person your reaching out too is probably more scared that you are. Most likely they already feel rejected, they already feel like an outcast, and most likely they are fighting their own fears of rejection. Both sides have to make the choice to risk. The person praying, as well as the person receiving.
Second, learn more about mental illness. When I first started to learn about what mental illness actually entailed, I realised that I had no idea about the things that were involved. I am still learning, and will need to continue to learn. I’ve found through the years that to be effective in an area of ministry, its important to keep learning. My encouragement is to find more information not only on what mental illness is, but also how to pray effectively. Remember, its not about saying the right things as much as it is about making yourself available.
To those of you who say, “I myself have mental illness and no one has ever encouraged me. No one has ever reached out to me; in fact, all I feel is judgment.” Well, then my encouragement to you is this: be the first. You try and give what you know is missing. Be the difference yourself. Things change because were willing to be a part of that change. Ask God to help you step out and reach out to another. If you have mental illness you will understand more about someone pain, someone’s struggle. And in the meantime, ask God to send people along your path to encourage you. We have to remember, some of our greatest healing comes when we reach out to others.
The effectiveness of ministry is not about relating, its about asking God to give us His heart of love and compassion to see the world around us. Ministry is kindness, its learning to come alongside of people, not with the agenda of trying to fix someone, but rather to love and serve. If we do that, God will do the rest.
Behind all of this is the simple truth that we are are human beings, scarred, scared and sacred. The best we can do is love eachother as Jesus loves us.