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Church mental health issues explored

Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014

By Laura Sikes

BALTIMORE (BP) -- The church has a unique ability to serve families and persons suffering with mental health issues, a group of Baptist panelists agreed at a special breakfast on mental health and the church.

Moderator Ryan West, LoveLoud national coordinator at the North American Mission Board, 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 Southern Baptist Convention 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 during the breakfast, which was held as Southern Baptists gathered for their annual meeting last month (June 10-11) in Baltimore.

Frank S. Page, president 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 the local church is often the first place people go for assistance and it should be equipped to help people confront 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 said stigmas still exist.

"We have to break those stigmas so people don't suffer alone," Stetzer said.

LifeWay is working on an extensive research project, Stetzer said, on how the church is responding to mental health issues. He said LifeWay expects to have those findings in the fall.

To break mental health stigmas, Hambrick said, churches must address the importance of identifying the causes of mental illness. This will allow them to be better equipped to minister to the suffering. The panelists agreed there are no easy answers and the church has to be discerning in its approach. 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, the term mental illness is used generally when an individual's struggles impair his ability to function normally and professional help is required.

Page stressed 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," Page said. "Even when you do refer someone do not let go of that person. Stay with them."

Hope may come in many different ways and forms, Page said. "But our God does not leave us abandoned."
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Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board.

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