For some very personal reasons, I have been thinking about this topic for awhile now. The answer is not easy and it will require the church to change gears in its approach. However, I believe the church can help those with mental illness not only overcome but live lives full of peach and hope. I will also further elaborate on this in my blog tomorrow by narrowing down what absolutely will not work.
Today I want to touch briefly on what won't work but mostly on what can work.
Here is brief list (most of these things have been said to those with mental illness) of what won't work when trying to help someone with mental illness overcome:
1) "You just have to change your thoughts." - that is easier said than done and you are not in their head. Remember, these things have likely been with them all their life. Believe me, they are trying to renew their minds, that is a bit more difficult for them then it is for you. It is a process, let it work.
2) "You just have to decide you aren't going to be that way." - if it were that easy would they be asking you for help? Would they even need God if it were that easy? Yes they have decided they don't want to be that way but this is a process for them, it won't happen overnight so stop expecting it to.
3) "All you need is Jesus." - yes they know they need Jesus, that is why they are there but they may also need medication and counceling. Don't dicourage this - it can and does help them.
4) Canned spiritual theology and spiritual cliches - I will elaborate futher on this tomorrow for both how this affects the hurting and how it effects relationships.
5) The assumption that everyone wants to be healed. I will elaborate further on this tomorrow. The truth is, not everyone wants healing. Some persons with mental illness are getting more out of being sick than being well. Some thing are too dark for a pastor to deal with as well. Some things, only God can deal with.
Now let's focus on what will work.
First, just listen. Listen with an open heart. No judgements. They have been judged and rejected all of their life. Jesus does not reject them, the church should not either. Second, set healthy boundaries with them. Explain the purpose for these and that you do care for them and want them to be healthy, happy and overcome what ever it is they need to overcome. Third, encourage counceling and medicaton if they need it. They will feel better and be able to process life better. Fourth, encourage them to read their Bible and find good, positive friends at the church they are attending or in a home church. They need the positive and encouraging influences they may have never had. And lastly, do not say spiritual cliches to them or give them canned theology - they see right through this, they know you either don't know what to say or it will reflect that you really don't care about them. Once they feel this way or perceive this, you have lost them and they will not return or seek your council.
I also want to say if you perceive they do not want healing or have something going on that is far beyond any help you can give them, love them anyway, even if it has to be at a distance and turn them over to the One Who can help them - if they choose that.
I hope this will not only help church leadership but I hope this will help the lay person and the person with mental illness understand that Jesus is for them! The church must be for them too! God wants their minds and heart to be at peace and for them to know Him and know what love really is! Church, we must see this! We have the Answer! His name is Jesus Christ!