Nearly half of Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can heal serious mental illness, according to a Nashville-based LifeWay Research survey.
Timothy Hart, a junior psychology major at PLNU, has goals to be a pastor but shares that his mental health causes caution in this desire.
“Mental health is a very touchy subject and I want to approach it with the utmost respect and understanding. My call to be a pastor is entwined with my desire to be active in the mental health community.” Hart shares that many churches deny the goodness of mental healthcare professionals. To deny help is to deny those who God called to healing.
Hart explains how God uses one another as answers to prayer. Therapy can be the answer that many seek, but using God to simply answer our wishes has hurt the church and does a disservice to God’s design and human wisdom.
“I have been told that mental health isn’t an issue for the church, it’s an issue for a doctor,” says Hart. “This is incredibly disappointing and dangerous idea. The decision to close our minds and deny Christ’s arms of healing to those suffering with mental health issues, declares we have failed in the duty of love.”
Dee Kelley, Pastor at First Church of the Nazarene, says that not only is mental health a serious issue, but the Bible actually speaks to it. “The Psalms show their lament and praise, but also the reflection of depression, paranoia, uncertainty and stress.”
Kelley also responds to the idea of using prayer alone to heal mental illness. “I think prayer is always great and always wonderful. Prayer as a substitute for counseling is horrific advice.”
Kelley shares that prayer has advantages for the individual, as well as for bringing awareness to those who support them, but “to think that [prayer] should be to the exclusion of other ways that God has given us to step in seems like a spiritual malpractice.”
Kelley correlates this to physical health, for instance, breaking an arm. Kelley believes God could heal a broken bone through prayer, but questions why God would heal when we have been given other resources. “It’s like turning your back on God’s gift to us in terms of our knowledge and insight and how the body heals.”
To push in the right direction of growth in the church, Kelley says the church needs to provide appropriate health care. “Do we place a stigma on [mental illness] or do we recognize that that person is still our pastor and he or she is still a person who is seeking to lead us in godly ways? This is just part of the human story and how we cope with that human story both individually and collectively says a whole lot about who we are as a community of faith.”
Kelley suggests weaving in language that acknowledges the percentage of the congregation experiencing mental illness.
“Church is a place for recovery,” says Kelley. “Church is a place for brokenness and it’s a place where you come where you don’t have to shine up everything, but you can say, ‘yeah I haven’t yet figured life out.’ It’s still a journey for me and because the spiritual side is so essential to my health I want it to also be the place where I can talk about those issues and not feel shame.”