You probably have picked up by now that there’s a book coming out in May that I’ve contributed to. It’s called “The pastor with a thorn in his side” and it’s edited by my good friend, Steve Kneale who is the pastor of Oldham Bethel
So, why a book on this topic? Surely, it’s a rather niche issue isn’t it? Haven’t we narrowed our readership down to pastors and specifically to pastors that may be struggling with mental health issues. It may of course have some relevance to the churches where those pastors minister but beyond that not much.
Well, today I wanted to share a little about the wider concerns behind a specifically focused book and to encourage you to consider going onto the micro-website and pre-ordering a copy even if you are not a pastor with depression or a member of a church with a pastor who might have depression. You see, often focusing on a specific example helps us, by analogy to think about the wider topic. So, talking about how pastors face depression helps us to think about how pastors face other health issues, suffering and weakness in their lives and talking about how pastors face suffering and weakness in their lives helps us to think about how we all can face suffering and weaknesses.
Mental health is a huge issue, alongside depression, there are a whole variety of conditions that people in our churches and communities suffer with on a daily basis including anxiety, panic attacks, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD etc. There are people struggling with chronic conditions that have been with them for many years, perhaps the whole of their lives and there are others who have experienced acute attacks including through burnout, a breakdown or experience of a particular trauma.
It is reckoned that 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health problem in a given year. This means that the likelihood of you facing some form of mental health issue in your own life is high. It also means that it is very likely that there will be a significant number of people in your neighbourhood and in your church struggling with emotional health type issues right now. If not directly affected by the condition yourself, it is likely that you are in some way affected by a close friend, neighbour or family member’s mental health.
And yet, despite the fact that we are doing better at talking about and looking out for mental health issues, we still have a long way to go. There are two reasons for this. First of all, there is still something of a stigma to this. On at least a weekly basis I will see some comment on social media, sadly quite often from someone with a public ministry telling people to toughen up, grow up and man up. Every so often I will hear the suggestion that anyone struggling with mental health issues must be suffering because of their sin or because of some form of demonic affliction.
Secondly, even without the stigma, mental health issues are often hidden. It is possible outside of an acute health crisis to put your best brave face and give the impression that you are doing okay. So, mental illness goes unnoticed. Remember, also, that particularly with men there is a reluctance to seek medical help in general. This is concerning because although it can sometimes be trivialised as “all in the head” mental health is serious. In different ways it can not only be debilitating but also life threatening. This is not just because of the obvious risks of self-harm and suicidal thoughts but because of the relationship between mental well-being and physical well-being.
So, a big reason why we wanted to talk about our own experience of mental illness was because we wanted to help shine a light on the issue and open up the conversation. By telling our stories, we want to give you permission to tell yours. We want you to know that if you or someone close to you are suffering from depression, anxiety or another form of mental illness that this is not something to keep quiet and hidden, not something to cause you shame, not something that will lead to you being judged, not something that should put a barrier on you using the gifts that God has given you to serve Him and his church.
Another reason why I personally contributed to the book and why I want to see it in as many hands as possible is because I believe that it has a part to play in the conversation that is opening up about church culture. This conversation has primarily been prompted by the recent horrific reports into serious, high profile abuse scandals. Yet, church culture and some of the challenges we face is about much more than the influence of one or two high profile figures. For good and for bad it is about lots of local churches of different sizes with all the great things about them and all the negative things too. We should expect there to be challenges and imperfections this side of Christ’s return and so we should expect to be always reforming.
Sometimes a mental health crisis is triggered by the trauma of abuse and bullying but not always. There are also the stresses and challenges of not getting things quite right in terms of how we relate to one another and the expectations we put on others. Furthermore, not only does church culture matter when it comes to the causes of mental illness. It also matters when it comes to the question of how we encourage recovery, healing, rehabilitation and/or learning to live with an ongoing chronic condition. The greater emphasis that this is on love, grace, humility, gentleness, kindness, integrity etc in our churches, the more likely it is that we are going to create cultures that are safe, welcoming and healing for those who are suffering.
So, if you have not done so yet, please do take a look at the dedicated micro-site. You can read a couple of endorsements, find out a bit more about some of the contributors, watch a promotional video, book in for the launch event and of course pre-order the book.
If you are a pastor struggling with depression, I’d also encourage you to check out Grace In The Depths, a dedicated website for pastors with depression.
 It is not that I rule out the potential for these things to be factors that causes me concern. I’ve written begore on this. It’s the assumption that this must be the cause.