In talking to people at the various meetings and workshops that I have attended, I have heard that some people have left their church because of the way that they or a family member were treated after it was discovered that they had a mental or emotional disturbance. Also, people have been made to feel guilty about their illness in a way that would not be done if they had a physical ailment.
Some have turned away from the church
Some have turned away from the church because they have been told that their mental illness is a result of lack of faith, a sinful nature, or not enough prayer. Of course, not all churches respond this way when someone has a need of assistance with a mental or emotional struggle, but I am finding that it has happened often enough that all of us must come up with ways to help health providers and faith leaders rethink how we can work together to form a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual network that can support those who, for whatever reason, are not getting the assistance that they need from either sector.
To be successful in helping others, Christian Leaders should first examine themselves
To be successful in helping others, Christian Leaders should first examine themselves and uncover their true feelings about mental health, as it applies to themselves, and others. Any prejudices, stigmas, or misconceptions must be acknowledged, studied and weighed in an honest and nonjudgmental manner. This self-assessment could serve as a first step for each leader to determine what next steps should be taken to ensure that the mental health of his congregation is not dismissed, overlooked, or mishandled.
The Bible has well over thirty verses that refer specifically to the mind. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul uses an analogy of the physical body to get them to see how important each of them is to the formation of the body of Christ.  It would be presumptuous for a pastor to automatically deny that it might be possible that he has need of a “mental checkup.” The mind is a vital part of the body, and the care of it should not be treated any differently than the care of any other part of the body.
In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Peter Scazzero devotes an entire chapter to “The Emotionally Unhealthy Leader.” Scazzero provides a checklist of statements with a rating scale entitled How Healthy Is Your Leadership? The first statement on the list reads, “I take sufficient time to experience and process difficult emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness.” 
Scazzero goes on to state, “If we can agree that the long-term consequences of unhealthy leadership are a threat to the health and effectiveness of the church, the question we have to ask ourselves is, Why do we persist in unhealthy patterns?”  A healthy congregation requires healthy leadership, and the stigma of mental illness within the church community cannot be eliminated if it is not acknowledged, addressed, examined, and openly discussed.
Within the Church of God (Seventh Day), “Pastor” is not merely a title
Within the Church of God (Seventh Day), “Pastor” is not merely a title. It is an ordained calling that takes on the responsibility for an entire congregation of people, affecting not just those immediate members, but also the surrounding communities and the entire General Conference. Just as the charge that Jesus made was not solely for His original disciples, “…go and make disciples of all nations…” , the warnings of God that Jeremiah brought to the leaders in Judah can be applied to our leaders today, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”…”I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing…”.
Being good stewards of such an enormous trust can be gratifying. It can also be stressful, time-consuming, and at times, overwhelming. All of this is in addition to, for some, obligation to family, duty to an outside job, and continual education, seminars and conferences.
There is constant pressure on pastors to be strong in faith and “perfect” in conduct
There is constant pressure on pastors to be strong in faith and “perfect” in conduct. If not mindful, pastors can be subject to burnout. They can suffer from depression, and succumb to worldly temptations, including addictions and infidelity. The moods and behaviors of the pastor can influence other leaders and the entire congregation. A healthy church cannot thrive under unhealthy leadership.
It is not easy to admit to being weak, ill, or vulnerable. This is especially true for those who are in a leadership position. As stated earlier, to some, this is seen as a lack of faith. However, all of us within the conference are striving towards the goal of building the foundation for a Vibrant 21st-Century Church of God (Seventh Day). It is imperative that we end the stigma of “mental illness.” Let us take the necessary measures to ensure that our congregations are spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally healthy; it starts with the leaders.
Watch for Part 3 coming soon!
Still have questions about how you fit into Christian leadership? Check out these resources:
- How You Can Clarify Your Calling
- Fulfilling Your Purpose: How “The Call” Can Clarify Your Focus
- Why Jesus-Followers Should See Themselves as Leaders
Want to dive even deeper into discovering your vocation? Download our free guide to Discovering Your Leadership Strengths and consider taking Artios Christian College’s five-week introductory course, Essentials of Vibrant Leadership (LEA 111).
 1 Cor. 12:12-27 (NIV)
 Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 34-35.
 Ibid. 33
 Matt. 28:16-20 (NIV)
 Jer. 23:1-4 (NIV)
Boa, Kenneth. Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan, 1997
Rose, Whaid. Dream in Progress: The Vision of a Vibrant 21st Church of God (Seventh Day).
General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), 2011
Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015
Smientana, Bob. “Mental Illness Remains Taboo Topic for Many Pastors”. LifeWay Research.
September 22, 2014. June 12, 2019. lifewayresearch.com
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