Resources and Practical Ideas for Enhancing Ministry to Depressed Persons
A personal note from Terry: Most people who are reading this are not pastors, associate church staff or board members. Yet even if you aren’t a ministry leader, you can play a pivotal role by sending this post to someone who is in such a position. If, like me, you believe the church needs more sensitivity to mental health issues in general, and to depression in particular, you could be a catalyst for enhancing a church’s ministry by sharing this material. There is also content in this post that may help you directly if you experience depression, or love someone who does. The material may also benefit executives in missions agencies and parachurch ministries. Though more and more churches are addressing mental health issues, there is still far too much silence on depression. A lot of hurting people do not receive the help they need.
I am sure this list of resource people and materials is not exhaustive, so I will update this material in the future as I become aware of other helps.
Please read prayerfully and determine what books, websites, podcasts or ideas you should pursue.
An Encouraging Article for Pastors
Surveys indicate that an increasing number of pastors feel stressed out and discouraged due to effects of the pandemic, as well as the political polarization within many congregations. Carey Nieuwhof has a reassuring perspective for pastors and explains why church members need their pastor more than ever in 2020. If you are a pastor, perhaps you are not on the verge of quitting, but his words may still give you a boost.
|Why You Shouldn’t Quit Ministry Right Now, Even Though You Feel Like It|
To Better Understand Depression from a Pastor’s Perspective
- Read Zack Eswine’s Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression. A thorough but brief (143 pages) study of Charles Spurgeon’s struggle with depression, as well as Spurgeon’s teaching and counsel for handling it. The link provides a thorough review of the book.
- Read David Murray’s Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People. Murray, who pastored for 12 years in an area of Scotland with one of the highest rates of depression in the world, offers a balanced and biblical approach to the complexity of depression, as well as its symptoms, causes, treatments and caregiving. Only 112 pages. The link provides a review of Murray’s book.
- Brandon Cox is a pastor in Arkansas who has experienced depression and often writes about it. Here are links to material he has written titled “Thoughts from One Discouraged Pastor to Many, Many Others,” and “The Best Leaders Are Broken Leaders.”
- In Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, he speaks directly to pastors about depression in a chapter titled, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.”
- Amy Simpson wrote Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission to help leaders think through means of serving persons with mental illness. This book won an award from Christianity Today in 2015.
- Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church in California launched a website, “Mental Health and the Church.” Their “Hope for Mental Health Ministry” is an attempt to inform and to assist churches in dealing with mental illness. The impetus for their launch of this site was their youngest son’s suicide in 2013 after his lifelong battle with mental illness. They strive to journey alongside people living with mental illness and their families in a holistic way. After you use the link, you may choose to hear a message to pastors by Rick and Kay Warren, as well as receive practical ideas for what local churches can do.
- Christine Chappell has an excellent faith-based series of podcasts on mental health issues, including, but not limited to, depression. Her website also has blogs. Podcasts are in an interview format with various authors, counselors and pastors.
Here are three of her podcasts directly on depression & faith, one especially geared to ministry leaders:
Hope + Help for the Depressed Christian with Zack Eswine
Hope + Help for the Depressed Ministry Leader with Terry Powell
Hope + Help for Mysterious Depression with Erick Cobb
Things Church Leaders Can Do
I asked my friend Christine Chappell to offer suggestions for pastors who want to enhance their ministry to persons who experience mental illness. Here is what she sent me.
- Preach/teach the congregation about biblical lament, its purpose, how it helps us face life’s burdensome seasons and to engage God with our overwhelming emotions and questions.
- Offer resources such as mini-books. The LifeLine mini-book series offers a number of titles and releases new ones throughout the year.
- Listen to Zack Eswine’s entire series on depression at the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship (IBCD).
- Offer lay training for one-another care in this area to get the ball rolling and help your leadership team see the value of equipping leaders and disciplers (this includes men and women) to come alongside those who are walking through tough seasons. Here is a resource for such training:
IBCD Care & Discipleship Training https://ibcd.org/cdc/. Even if people do not actually take the exams for this program, all of the training audios are available for free.
- Read and use a book by Scott Mehl, Loving Messy People.
IBCD is also working on a companion guide for his book that is specifically designed to come alongside a leadership team who is wanting to pursue one-another care in the context of the local church without necessarily having their members go through the rigors of ACBC (biblicalcounseling.com) certification.
- Curriculum offered by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) is designed to be user-friendly and is ideal for small groups. They offer a variety of helpful topics:
- Add a resource page to the church website with recommended reading for various topics. The resource page could include links to the following organizations so people can search for biblical hope and help based on the topic of need or interest. Almost all of these organizations offer blog articles as well as podcast episodes.
Association of Certified Biblical Counselors https://biblicalcounseling.com/
Christian Counseling and Education Foundation https://www.ccef.org/
Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship https://ibcd.org/
Biblical Counseling Books https://www.biblicalcounselingbooks.com/
Biblical Counseling Coalition https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/
Whatever form your help takes, let your people know that there are a lot of faith-based resources on mental health issues and let those who are hurting (and their caregivers) know that you care about them.
Other Possible Steps for Pastors to Take (from Terry)
- Ask a respected Christian counselor to come to a church board meeting and share with the leadership team ways a church can help. Give him or her questions in advance around which to frame the time with you.
- Identify two or three Christian counselors whose viewpoints on depression and biblical commitment you respect. Keep their contact information handy so when you deal with members experiencing deep depression, you will know where to refer them.
- Ask a panel of Christian counselors/physicians to answer questions on “Depression and Faith.” Schedule this on an appropriate weeknight or during the typical Sunday School time for adults. Consider asking members to contribute questions.
- Schedule a “God At Work” series of testimonies for the worship serve (5-8 minutes) on how members you know who’ve experienced depression have been sustained by their faith in Christ.
- With discretion, model transparency as a leader so members of your church see that Christians have genuine struggles with things like despondency and anxiety. Church members are more likely to seek help for problems if there is an accepting climate in the church. Sufferers need to know that “church” is a safe place to be. It is my conviction that people won’t seek help for bearing a burden (Gal. 6:2) unless they feel they won’t be condemned for disclosing it. I’m honest about my struggles with depression because I’ve concluded that it is okay if others see me as weak, so long as they see that the Savior who sustains me is strong.
- The next link gives a podcast of my (Terry Powell’s) testimony on depression & faith, titled “What I’ve Seen in the Dark.” I gave it in 2014 during a chapel assembly at Columbia International University in South Carolina.
09/22/2014 – Terry Powell-What I’ve Seen In the Dark: A Story of Depression and Faith Download