Mental health challenges are increasing worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and such a crisis is suspected to be the next wave of pandemic. “Mental health is one of the biggest pandemic issues we’ll face in 2021,” states CNN Health.
Factors such as working from home, screen time fatigue, unemployment, financial hardships, and diminished social gatherings have all contributed to the overwhelming doubled cases of anxiety and depression since the pandemic began.
CHURCH AND MENTAL HEALTH
As the psychological impact of the pandemic continues to surge, discipleship has been the greatest challenge in most churches.
Understanding the reality of human problems serves the purpose of the church to its “one-anothering” values of comforting one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18, ESV), bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2, ESV), and edifying one another (Romans 14:19, NASB). If the psychosocial impact is not acknowledged or addressed, it causes members to isolate themselves and grow discouraged to engage with church life.
How does the church help assist healing to its community from the alarming concerns of mental health? It is a practical question with the assumption that the Christian faith brings solutions and significant transformation to the critical issues of the world.
“Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable,” according to the book, The Emotionally Healthy Church.
Jill Mcnish, in his research article, “The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling”, draws attention to this idea that negligence to provide a sense of depth in the person’s well-being is “one of the most serious failings a ministry can be guilty of” and insists that knowledge of depth psychology must be one of the attributes of church care, spiritual direction, discipleship, and teaching.
In addition to this argument, Scott Burns, in his study, “Emotional Health and Discipleship to Jesus”, stated that while the church is good at exhorting people to put off the old self, it fails to provide practical help in identifying, addressing, and solving real-life issues.
Lack of psychological insight in dealing with human behavior in the church context is a valid issue that needs the utmost attention nowadays. How do Christian churches understand and respond to the psychosocial well-being of their members? What action can the church discipleship take in addressing today’s wave of mental health concerns?
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
When Jesus walked on earth, He had compassion for people and looked at them with His eyes full of mercy.
Then Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28, NLT
He ministered to every person’s need, heavy burdens, and soul weariness with His presence and healing touch. He did not push them away.
“And large crowds came to Him bringing with them those who were limping, had impaired limbs, were blind, or were unable to speak, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them.” Matthew 15:30, NASB
Given the understanding that the church is composed of imperfect people that need the saving grace of Christ, may “one-anothering” reflect the compassion of Jesus. May the overflowing mercy of Jesus manifest in our church life as we continue to battle with the pandemic.
DISCIPLING WOMEN IN THE NEW NORMAL
Meanwhile, women are reported to be more affected and at greater risk of psychological distress than men. On average, they are exposed to reproductive health problems, busier schedules, and multiple roles that can be very exhausting and serve as contributing factors to their mental health.
However, church discipleship that facilitates increased togetherness in tough times helps women protect their mental health. Strong networks and the consistent presence of “one-anothering” play a significant part in overcoming feelings of anxiety.
Another thing to consider is ensuring meaningful discipleship, wherein a small group is a safe place for people to be naturally open, honest, receive guidance, and talk about the realities of life without negative interactions.
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25, NLT
SMALL GROUP SOLUTIONS TO EXISTING CHALLENGES
Following this, how can disciples be guided well to a safe place of greater depth in their pursuit of holiness and Christ-likeness associating mental health?
Given the understanding that mental health is quite challenging in its actual practice due to the complexities of human behavior that only the science of psychology can comprehend, here are some simple yet doable and effective small group solutions to existing challenges.
MORE HEART SHARING
Online work and virtual church fatigue are real. As the world shifts digitally, meetings in different online platforms are reported to impair active participation, productivity, and learning. The truth is that everyone is dead tired to engage with virtual discussions. What do disciples need the most in these trying times? Less virtual-cognitive discussion and more sharing of real-life experiences.
More cognitive discussions in a given limited time neglect the silent cries of the heart. It may be wise to reduce the frequency of small group analysis of a passage or church topic that is not relevant to the existing real-life issues.
More heart sharing in response to God’s Word associated with personal challenges facilitates the unburdening of the soul, stronger engagement, authentic “better together” rally, and life-giving comfort to one another.
MORE PRAYERFUL LISTENING
Merely telling someone instructions on what to do with their emotional issue is not going to change the situation, and repeatedly offering the same thing is not going to help.
There is the tendency to misinterpret what we hear and use that ease of processing to understanding. Thus, we jump into offering quick fixes, quick advice, or band-aid solutions. The problem is that they are prone to errors because there is no time to analyze and pray about it first.
Giving quick advice helps a little bit but it’s not really effective because it tends to shut someone down and withdraw. Simply more prayerful listening is a better practice.
If there is one training that discipleship needs to master in the new times, it is prayerful listening. It helps one to connect with another on a soul-deep level, understand the story of the sharer in God’s perspective through the Cross, shuns the chance of misinterpretation and false judgment, develops trust, and encourages everyone to open up. Moreover, it facilitates positive and healthy group interaction.
To engage with what the person is sharing through prayerful listening is to validate the experience, acknowledge the struggle, and encourage the purest reflection of God’s nearness in that particular situation.
Oh, to be heard by someone that reflects the heart of Jesus can be life-changing.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16, NLT)