Tag Archives: Church Body

Depression: Curing Stigma within the Church

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Thanks to One Christian Voice for posting this article on their site. Mental illness is a heavy topic, but it’s one we need to discuss. Only by bringing the topic out of the shadows can we help those who suffer in silence. 


Do you know someone suffering from a mental illness? The answer may surprise you.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in America alone, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. That breaks down to one in five adults!

Unfortunately, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received help in the previous year. NAMI states that social stigma creates “an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.”

What are the consequences of a lack of treatment? Increased chances of further mental health issues, chronic physical conditions, addictions, and even suicide.

That’s why NAMI has designated May as Mental Health Month, with #CureStigma as this year’s theme. They propose we tackle social stigma by promoting “compassion, empathy and understanding.”

If you think that stigma is only an issue “in the secular world,” think again.

In my experience, the stigma of mental illness is actually worse within the Christian community than outside of it.

 

Personal Experience

After my grandmother passed away, I struggled with grief and depression for two years. Normally, I would turn to my family in times of need, but they were struggling, too. Although I could have reached out to a counselor, doctor, or pastor, I never did. Looking back, I think it was the fear of being labeled as crazy or weak that kept me from seeking help.

Thankfully, God lifted my depression supernaturally. A couple years later, I finally sought Christian counseling and received healing for the root causes of grief and anger. Today, I’m whole and healthy. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I could have recovered faster if I had sought treatment earlier.

Today, I know many Christians who struggle with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, phobias, and PTSD. While some of them are open about their issues, most of them suffer in silence for fear of judgment (only sharing their experiences with me in strict confidence). Those who have sought help through counseling or anti-depressants tell me they’re glad to being doing well, but they feel weak, ashamed, and less-faithful because they needed the extra help.

This self-condemnation is often the result of judgment they received from well-meaning Christians who believe that mental illness is really spiritual illness in disguise.

There are three main lies that perpetuate this belief in churches across America. Let’s fight these lies with God’s truth so we can cure stigma and make the church a safe haven for people with mental illness.

 

Lies We Hear at Church

Lie 1: Christians can’t experience mental illnesses.

“What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14b NAS).

Many people think that Scriptures like this one indicate true mental illness can’t exist in someone filled with the Holy Spirit. The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it equates mental illness with demonic possession. (And the Scripture noted above? It’s in reference to Christians forming alliances with non-believers. It has nothing to do with illness or demonic possession.)

While demons and their interaction with humans are well-documented throughout the Bible, true mental health issues can and do exist without a demonic source. Such was the case with King David. He was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he experienced periods of depression: “My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; and my kinsmen stand afar off” (Psalm 38:10-11 NAS).

So what causes mental illness? According to NAMI, “Genetics, environment and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too.”

Becoming a Christian doesn’t erase a painful past. Nor does being a Christian promise a trauma-free, healthy future. In fact, believers everywhere fall off ladders, get the flu, and suffer from cancer.

Trauma and illness are a result of our fallen world; they have nothing to do with the spiritual state of the one who gets injured or sick.

 

Lie 2: The cure to mental illness is to repent and have more faith.

It is true that some sins can open the door to mental illness. For example, the guilt of aborting a child or killing someone while driving drunk may result in mental health issues, like depression, later on. Such people can certainly find grace and spiritual healing through repentance.

The problem comes when we assume that all mental illness has a sinful source. The truth is that many people who suffer from mental health issues are victims of others’ actions or circumstances, not perpetrators who need to confess their sins.

As far as faith is concerned, the people I know with mental health issues rely heavily on their faith. It’s what gets them out of bed in the morning, helps them face their stressful jobs, and enables them to put one foot in front of the other. These people have a lot to teach the rest of the world about living on faith in the face of adversity.

In the end, only God knows our hearts. (See 1 Kings 8:39.) He also knows what ails us and what is needed to mend us.

When speaking of others, we should always extend grace and remember Jesus’ words: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NAS).

 

Lie 3: Medications like anti-depressants are evil.

I know several Christians who take medications for anxiety, ADHD, or depression. Each of them has told me how it enables them to think more clearly, respond more rationally and, in general, handle life better. Yet they’re ashamed of having to take medication and afraid of what their families and churches would think if they knew.

God enables doctors to create medicine to cure diseases, mend damaged organs, and repair physical deformities. Why would medication for mental illness be considered evil when other medicines are touted as “miracle drugs”?

We would do well to remember Paul’s words, “that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean….Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil…” (Romans 14:14, 16).

Helpful, effective medication is not evil when used appropriately. If you know someone who takes medication for her mental illness, don’t create a stumbling block for her by insinuating that’s it wrong for her to take it.

 

Depression – Helping Others 

As James said, “pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16 NAS). If you believe someone at church is suffering from a mental health issue, you can help by praying for God’s protection and peace over her, as well as a complete healing. Also pray for yourself, that you would do and say the right thing at the right time.

Many people with mental health issues feel isolated and rejected. You can help fix this by including them in your conversations, your Bible studies, and your lunches. You never know when a kind word can be the lifeline someone needs.

Paul said that God “comforts the depressed” (2 Corinthians 7:6a NAS).

As representatives of God on earth, we should seek to do the same—to bring comfort to those in need. To do so, we’ll need to stand on God’s Word and stop perpetuating the lie that mental health issues are really spiritual issues. Only then can we cure stigma in the church and reach out to our brothers and sisters who struggle with mental health issues.

 

Resources

There are a lot of helpful resources online. Here are a few to get you started:


Did this story resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a public comment below or send me a private message through the Contact Big Sister link above. – Ashley

A Model of Unity

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That’s me, second from the right, in front of the new campus for TCCTC. (Credit: SociallyLoved)

The following article was first posted on OneChristianVoice and their subsidiary, TallyChristianVoice. Check out their site for more inspiring stories as well as news that impacts Christians around the world.


UNITY 

Imagine, if you can, a place where Christians of all colors and creeds gather together. Every believer is welcome, regardless of his or her denomination, background, education level, or socio-economic status. Together, they spend hours poring over the Bible in various translations and ancient languages. They focus on God and the Scriptures. They pray together, learn from one another, and encourage one another in their walk with the Lord.

You may think this kind of unity only existed in the first century church. (See Acts 2.) At least, that’s what I thought…until I saw it first hand at the Tallahassee Christian College and Training Center (TCCTC).

 

MODEL

Over the past 12 years, I’ve been connected with TCCTC as a student, volunteer, board member, and faculty member. With each passing year, I become more amazed that such a spirit of unity exists—and even thrives!—within this small college. In a world full of segregated churches, of discord and confusion, TCCTC stands out as a model of unity.

I sat down recently with Jo Anne Arnett, the president and co-founder of TCCTC, and asked her an important question: How does the college achieve such unity?

Below, I’ve compiled a short list of Jo Anne’s responses, as well as suggestions on how we can apply the model of TCCTC to our own churches, youth groups, small groups, and Bible studies. While I’m sure there are more elements we could include, these few items are sufficient to challenge even the most established group of believers. 

 

1 – Diversify – Seek “unity at every level.”

Since its inception in 1990, TCCTC has embraced all manner of diversification (including age, color, background, and denomination) among the board of directors, faculty, and student body. Each semester, the faculty represent 15-20 denominations, while the total student body has come from over 400 congregations. Jo Anne puts it simply: “Everybody’s welcome.”

Application: Unity does not mean sameness. Encourage diversification in your group, then seek unity. 

 

2 – Focus – “We focus on Jesus and the Scriptures.”

Jo Anne is careful to point out that TCCTC focuses on Jesus and the Scriptures. True Christianity includes the study of both, for we are directed to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 NAS).

Over the years, I’ve heard Jo Anne say, “We major in the majors…but we don’t avoid the minors, either.” In other words, the majority of classes are focused on the major topics, such as the books of the Bible, hermeneutics (how to interpret Scripture), and Church history. There are numerous other classes students can explore for personal growth or continuing education, but they are not the major focus of the college.

Application: Focus on Jesus and the Scriptures. However, don’t get sidetracked or bogged down in details to the point that you miss the overarching message of God’s love and redemption.

 

3 – Concentrate – Unity is “not about watering down” the truth.

Too often, we feel that we have to dilute the Gospel to make it more acceptable for a wider audience. However, TCCTC takes a different approach: they face difficult Scriptures or topics head-on. They trust that God’s Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” and so they search the Scriptures for clarity. (See 2 Timothy 3:16 NAS.)

As for doctrinal conflicts, Jo Anne said there are only a few areas in which real differences of interpretations may appear. For those rare instances, teachers agree up front to give “equal voice and weight” to alternative interpretations. The students can then lean on the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to interpret the meaning of the passage. Even if students disagree on the interpretation, they can be unified in their whole-hearted approach to seeking God and learning more about His Word.

Application: Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and clarity as you dig into the Scriptures. Concentrate on the Word and don’t shy away from difficult subjects. When differences arise within your group, retain unity as you explore other interpretations of the Word.

 

4 – Appreciate – Unity involves “appreciating each other’s different gifts.”

Most of us are familiar with the metaphor of a single Church Body with many members, as seen in 1 Corinthians 12. During our talk, Jo Anne used the same Scripture in reference to the various denominations within the Church—an analogy I had never considered before.

She said that TCCTC appreciates the different roles of each denomination and the value they bring to the Church Body. Instead of trying to break down denominational walls, the college seeks to “train and equip congregations to better fulfill their purpose within the Body.”

Application: Appreciate the various roles of individuals as well as denominations and congregations within the Church. When you do, you’ll begin to build bridges and spread unity within the Body.

 

5 – Serve – “Every follower of Jesus Christ is in full-time ministry.”

According to Jo Anne, the goal of TCCTC is to “train and equip believers to fulfill their various roles as followers of Jesus, and to do so in love with a biblical basis.” They believe every Christian—not just pastors—is in full-time ministry, so those roles could be within the home, church, workplace, or community.

Application: Acknowledge that every believer has an important role within the Church Body. Encourage one another to discover that role and develop it. Don’t go it alone, though. Seek appropriate training and equipping from knowledgeable, mature believers.

 


New Semester Fall Ad

(Credit: SociallyLoved)

If you’re in the Tallahassee region, I encourage you to check out TCCTC in person. But, regardless of your location, I challenge you to seek unity in your church, youth group, and Bible study. As Paul said, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NAS).

The Problem with Proverbs 31

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The following blog was posted this week on Lift Up Your Day and is included in its entirety below. For more encouragement, check out the other posts on LUYD.


 

The Woman

If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’ve probably heard about Proverbs 31. Depending on your Bible translation, you may know this as the chapter describing the “virtuous woman” or the “excellent wife.” (See verse 10.) I used to think of this fictitious person as the Perfect Woman—Mother Theresa, Martha Stewart, and Ivanka Trump rolled into one modern day Super Hero.

Sounds cool, right? Sure, until you read the details.

This woman

  • does good things for her husband every day of her life (with no exception);
  • makes beautiful clothes and linen for her family using exotic raw materials she’s sourced in the marketplace;
  • finds time to make additional items, which she sells through her own clothing line;
  • is also a successful farmer and vine dresser;
  • never sleeps, rests, or is idle (and probably doesn’t blink for that matter);
  • still has the energy to mentor others;
  • is strong, wise, and dignified; and
  • apparently doesn’t have a negative bone in her body. (God bless her heart!)

 

The Frustration

Is it just me, or does this woman give us over-worked, over-stressed, under-paid girls a bad name? Don’t you just hate her? Can we agree to ignore this chapter all together?

Okay, so I was a little mad at the Proverbs 31 woman for a while. I was also frustrated at the preachers and teachers who lifted her up as the standard against which all women are measured. I was doing good to get out of bed on Sunday morning, so this comparison to the Proverbs 31 woman was becoming a stumbling block for me. I began to feel guilt and self-condemnation because I couldn’t measure up. My solution was to ignore that entire chapter as best I could.

 

The Truth

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t let me off that easy. Over a period of years, He kept bringing me back to Proverbs 31. Eventually, I discovered something amazing: this isn’t a to-do list of all the things we have to accomplish daily for God to love us and use us. Instead, this chapter is like a map of our spiritual journey as seen from a 20,000-foot vantage point.

For example, the woman buys a field, plants a garden, sells the produce, and then buys a vineyard with the earnings. Later, she helps the poor and needy. (See Proverbs 31:16-20.) We all recognize that we can’t reap what we don’t sow, and we can’t bless others if we have nothing to give. Even from a spiritual standpoint, we can’t offer the gifts of knowledge and wisdom until we’ve received them ourselves. Proverbs 31 contains many such natural laws, which helps us understand our spiritual journeys and track our progress.

I also realized that Proverbs 31 applies to both men and women. There are numerous Scriptures depicting God as a bridegroom courting His bride, which is the Church. (See Matthew 9:15 and Revelation 21:9-10.) So, when we read figurative Scriptures referring to the marriage relationship, we can usually put ourselves in the wife’s role and Jesus in the husband’s role. Applying this to Proverbs 31 has given me a new outlook on how we, the Church, interact with Jesus.

 

The Encouragement

Over time, I came to see that the problem with Proverbs 31 wasn’t with the Scripture at all—it was with my own misunderstanding of the Word. I encourage you to read this important chapter again with fresh eyes. Notice how the woman grows over time, from faithful servant to wise teacher. Then read the verses again as if the woman is the Church body and the husband is Jesus.

Instead of running from this chapter—like I wanted to—lean into it. Seek God’s guidance and understanding. Let go of the guilt of not being a Super Hero and pursue the greater role of an obedient child of God. May this bless you and encourage you on your journey.

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30 NAS).


The book I’ve been writing, Girls with Gusto, delves into these topics of perfection and Proverbs 31. As I pull these sections together, I’ll share them here with you. Please give me feedback—what you like or don’t like, what you find encouraging, and what’s difficult for you to live out in your daily life. Thank you!