Shifting the Culture on Mental Health
Over the last few years my life and ministry have been turning towards mental health, and a struggle for patience has come to the surface. Many people have asked me if I still believe God heals and if I still pray for healing and I say with much conviction, absolutely! God has not changed and in my shifting, God does not change. I firmly believe God is God, he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and to whomever he chooses. This includes healing people in every area of life, whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually.
In making this shift, just as in any area of change, it’s as if a light switch on. What I may have missed or dismissed previously I now find impossible to do so! I am faced daily by interactions with people where mental illness is a part of their life. Whether it be with those who are caring for someone with mental illness, or one who they themselves have mental illness and even those who I know have mental illness but are unaware, by ignorance or denial. Whatever the situation may be, it has opened my eyes to the ever increasing needs of the emotionally hurting.
I find myself as someone who, in my former ignorance, believed that if you were depressed then you just need to, ‘pull yourself out of it.’ I held a system of belief where those who have anxiety, had obviously struggled to trust God. I shudder to look back at some of my own responses due to ignorance: I truly saw these things as more of a choice - weak areas where you could just make a choice, where you can live the life that you want to so long as you choose it. Where if you want to be depressed or full of anxiety; then you are just making yourself miserable!
Even though my intention was never to hurt anyone who was struggling, in my ignorance I am sure I was also damaging. When my eyes were ‘opened’ so to speak, in the area of mental illness; what it involves and who it involves, I was stunned. But after being a bit stunned, my next reaction was relief, because some of the things that I felt people should have changed in, turned out to be due to their chemistry not their willigness to change! That brought so much relief to the Charismatic parts of me!
My second reaction was to respond- Thinking through many events and interactions with people who had been damaged by the Church in prayer ministry, I woke up to the reality that I needed to change. I needed to change how I did prayer ministry and in doing so, with much hope, to equip the Church as well.
As with any Church leader, I want to see people get well. I want to see people become all Gods called them to be. Any leader who understands the role of the leader, understands that if people aren’t being moved to change then something is wrong, something is missing. Sometimes what’s missing is that we ourselves aren’t modeling change well. So in stopping, and re-adjusting, we see what is changing or where we are stuck. I have realized that we have been operating in older prayer models which may have been good for a season, but the season has now changed. In this call to response I have been focused on the area of encouraging the Church to see the world we are now faced with. We are not faced with an ideal world, but a real world, one in which is hurting deeply in the area of mental health.
Changing the Leadership Response...
I have found myself having numerous conversations with leaders hoping to encourage them to see the world we now live in. Conversations of encouragement to know that there is not one family sitting in their congregations that isn’t affected by mental illness in some way. Asking ourselves the question, ‘How do we change to minister and serve the world around us today?’
I have pioneered enough in my life to realize that shifting anything takes time, it takes money, but it also takes much patience. I said a few years ago, that I do not believe the Church will be effective in the coming years if she does not get equipped in the area of mental health. I did not say this as a prophesy of doom, but rather a realistic acknowledgement that where the world around us is, it clearly needs and will need even more support in the area of mental health.
We must not stop being present within a culture that is bleeding. We cannot influence what we are not present in, with the ongoing reminder that, it is not our job to fix people. Our job as the Church is to be a safe place where people can honestly bring their struggles, their pain, their insecurities, and their fears, without the fear that they may be stigmatised in some way. This is where my patience has been tried even more: Churches say that they are a safe place, but some of these same leaders aren’t taking the time to get equipped in how to pray for people with mental health issues. So my patience being challenged in the area of giving people time to get equipped: To hear the heartbeat of the culture, but to also unlearn some very unhealthy models of ministry.
Often it is the Church who says how great she is doing. But the temperature of how well and how effective the Church is doing is told to us by the world (John 21). To Church leaders, I say, 'Don’t get caught up in healing prayer models which put any pressure on the person receiving prayer. Take the time to read through the stories of what people are struggling with so you can understand more of where they are coming from. These are people in your Churches, in the ministries you lead. As the leader, share your own valleys of despair and struggles. People don’t identify with your strengths; they identify with your humanity.'
My encouragement is to press into this. Do not lose your patience. Mental Illness is not going to go away. We have to continue to break the stigma that having a mental illness is a 'faith issue'. We have to break the stigma that anyone struggling is not safe, or even that mental illness isn’t treatable. The Church has a great opportunity to rise up and to serve the world; to be the very person and place where these stigmas can be broken. We must press into this together so we can love and serve the world around us.
To those struggling and/or caring for those with mental illness I say, 'Please don’t quit on us. Please don’t lose your patience with the Church. There are Churches, and there are events where you can share your pain and struggle. It may take a few attempts, but don’t give up. Many leaders are trying to hear and understand, and with much grace and patience hopefully together we can continue to remove the stigma and make space for healing to come to many.'