By: Alexis Chase
May 30, 2019
Pastors don’t always have to convey strength and excellence. Pastors can have just as many issues as their parishioners and wouldn’t it be nice if we all shared our humanity? We all share in the human condition—all of us will wither, all of us will die, all of us have laundry and dishes and chaos piled up in our homes.
We are all too familiar with Sunday morning small talk.
“How are you doing Beverly?,” asks the pastor. Beverly is a long-time parishioner who volunteers for the flower guild and teaches Sunday School.
“I’m fine pastor,” said Beverly. “Thank you for asking!”
Beverly walks down the hallway, places her bulletin in the recycling bin and checks on the altar flowers making sure they have enough water while the pastor gets ready for the morning service.
But what’s really going on in the minds of the pastor and Beverly during that quick, casual conversation?
In the pastor’s head: I am so tired. My church bully is killing me. If he sends me one more passive aggressive email or 6 am text, I’m going to lose my mind. I wish I could figure out why my son has anxiety about school, I don’t know what we are doing wrong. I don’t remember the last time my partner and I connected in any meaningful way, my sermon is a pile of garbage, no one talked in Sunday school, I can’t seem to lose weight, and I’m just so tired. Oh, here comes Beverly, I hope she doesn’t say something mean about my new haircut. I just can’t do anything right; I’m so tired. I wonder if other pastors deal with this stuff?
In Beverly’s head: I hope my daughter doesn’t post on Facebook about her son’s latest overdose. I know we need to be supportive, but it’s just so embarrassing that he uses drugs. I guess it’s good she has started taking anti-depressants, but I hope she doesn’t tell anyone. She’s always posting on social media. Doesn’t she know we don’t talk about depression? It’s embarrassing. I just know I’m the only one dealing with all this; it makes me tired.
We all have stories we tell ourselves and things that we don’t want to say out loud.
Mental health issues and the painful situations we all experience aren’t unique. We all wrestle with mental health conditions, whether we struggle on our own or we are worried about someone else. And it’s time for us—pastors and faith leaders—to start talking about it.
I say this because one in five adults have a mental health condition.1 Let that sink in—someone you know, right now, is living with a mental health issue.
Youth mental health is worsening and most Americans still lack access to care—56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.2
In America, 66% of churches average 100 people or less in attendance every Sunday.3 Say your church has an average Sunday attendance of 75 people. Statistically, that would mean 15 people in your pews have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Ask yourself—do you know those 15 people?
Have they ever spoken with you about all the things they go through – medication side effects, crippling depression, stigma, struggling to access care, hearing voices, job loss, losing touch with family, or relationship issues? You’ve visited someone with a physical illness, but have you ever visited someone in a behavioral health hospital? Has anyone ever taken a parishioner a casserole when they were experiencing a major depression?
You may have done all of this or some of it and if you have, thank you! If you haven’t, a good place to start is by educating yourself so that you can start talking about mental health from the pulpit. If you don’t feel qualified to talk about mental health issues, there are organizations that can help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource and offers mental health first aid training.
As pastors, we are allowed to talk about mental health issues and we are allowed to be vulnerable. Perfection is not a requirement to be a pastor.
We don’t have to talk about our struggles with mental illness or provide stories from the lives of our friends and family, but there is no reason not to share with your congregation your own vulnerabilities. Pastors don’t always have to convey strength and excellence. Pastors can have just as many issues as their parishioners and wouldn’t it be nice if we all shared our humanity? We all share in the human condition—all of us will wither, all of us will die, all of us have laundry and dishes and chaos piled up in our homes.
We aren’t required to know everything, but we are tasked with equipping all of the people in our communities to be the hands and feet of Christ.
If you need help, I hope you ask for it because there are people that need help in all of our pews.
1. Mental Health America - http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america-2018
3. Association of Religion Database Archives - http://www.thearda.com/ConQS/qs_295.asp
Tags: Inspired Leaders