If you are reading this article then most likely you have a passion, burden or possibly a curiosity about mental health and the role the church can play in effectively caring for those affected by a mental health disorder.
The following are a few reasons why I got involved and took action to launch mental health support groups at our church.
1. I Needed It!
My wife and I have been in ministry almost 30 years, serving in several different pastoral roles. However, we never imagined that we would be serving in our current role at our church now. We are the Restoration Life Group Pastors at New Life Church in Little Rock, AR, overseeing small groups for individuals impacted by mental health, addiction, grief, abuse or trauma.
"When we were experiencing those dark times over and over again without any end in sight, it began to drain us."
My wife grew up in a family that was impacted by addiction and – unknowingly – mental health disorders. Little did we know that we would walk a dark and lonely journey for many years in our own family. Approximately four years ago, it would come to a critical crisis moment that would change the path and direction for our family of four. As pastors, Kim and I were used to caring for others and supporting them through difficult times. However, when we were experiencing those dark times over and over again without any end in sight, it began to drain us. Existing and making it through each day seemed to be the goal. Passions, dreams and vision seemed to fade and the goal of seeing joy and happiness return within ourselves and our children was the target. Everything else seemed insignificant.
Who can we talk to?
Who can understand and will listen without giving their opinion or unsolicited counsel?
Where is a place that is safe and where we can share our fears, pains, struggles, anger, grief, helplessness and even hopelessness?
Then in 2014, we heard about Grace Alliance for the first time as we listened to the Dr. Matthew Stanford speak on the live stream of the Mental Health and the Church conference (The Gathering by Saddleback Church). Not long after, I contacted the Grace Alliance. After sharing my story and hearing about the hope of the Grace Alliance, I contacted others in our church who had similar stories and we started a Family Grace Group in our church. We have completed four cycles of the curriculum with possibilities for more in the future! The stories of hope and encouragement are a consistent testimony within our members.
2. To Offer Hope to Others
Something that seemed to be launched out of our need has now proven to be a beacon of hope for a growing number of others in our church and community. We knew that there had to be many others who shared our experiences and were also in need of support.
"Since launching the groups, it has been remarkable to see the impact that the group has had on us and others who have attended."
Many attend for the first time feeling timid, broken, exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, confused, angry, fearful or even relieved, excited to find others in similar circumstances with familiar storylines. The stories are heartbreaking, but the encouragement and hope found within those stories is nothing short of God’s faithfulness and grace extended.
We’re building a network of support that goes much further than a weekly meeting.
It has become a community of friendships that understand and encourage one another.
3. To Provide a Resource For Our Staff and Leaders.
Our Family and Living Grace Groups have become a resource for our pastors and ministry leaders to now be able to refer family members who are struggling with a teen, spouse or a loved one with mental illness or battling addiction.
During a past life group launch, a pastor sought me out and introduced me to a man who was in a serious crisis with a family member. I spent the rest of the evening listening to him and sharing a portion of my journey. He started attending our Family Grace Group and was able to find a Christ-centered ministry recovery center for his daughter. The Grace Group provided vital encouragement for the parents during their daughter's time away. A few months after she returned, she attended our group and shared what God did - and is doing - in her life. Needless to say, the entire group shed some tears of joy and celebration!
Our church staff can now easily connect individuals and families to a place where they know they will be supported. This equips and empowers our staff to effectively care for those who enter our churches.
I knew when we launched our support group that it would be our goal to see these groups implemented at all of our New Life campuses across the state of Arkansas. We currently have 12 campuses with the vision of 50 statewide.
As a pastor, I highly recommend every church to implement some form of mental health support group or ministry.
The Grace Alliance is an amazing resource to assist you with training, materials and support.
Restoration Pastor / New Life Church in Little Rock, AR
**To start your free training to facilitate a group, visit the Grace Alliance's online Grace Academy.