We both love how Matthew has taken the concept of sin and given a breath of fresh air to the topic. You must read this book because in its pages you will finally gain a biblical perspective on sin and what it takes to free yourself from the bonds that so easily entangle!

Gary and Michael Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
When mental illness afflicts a loved one, how can we understand what is happening and respond appropriately? This biblically-literate and scientifically-informed book offers helpful insight, encouragement, and practical advice. For pastors and for those who hurt for those who hurt, Matthew Stanford offers sensitive and welcome guidance.

David G. Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mental Health Grace Alliance

I would like to officially announce the start of a new organization, the Mental Health Grace Alliance (MHGA). MHGA is a faith-based non-profit organization started by myself and Joe Padilla to assist mentally individuals and their families. Presently we offer individual family counseling, a bi-weekly support group, workshops, seminars and published mental health resourses, pastor/church training and mental health ministry development. For more information or to offer support please contact us at mhgracealliance@gmail.com.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ministering to the Mentally Ill

What is a ministry to those experiencing mental illness?
A ministry that addresses mental illness is one that provides compassion, love, support, education, counseling and acceptance to people who have symptoms of a mental illness. Individuals experiencing psychological distress often seek out religious leaders for assistance with the struggles associated with mental illness. A mental health ministry provides holistic care through the application of both biblical truth and psychological resources.

Why is there a need?
Mental illness can affect anyone, male or female, young and old, and from different socioeconomic, religious and cultural backgrounds. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 26.2% of Americans 18 years old or older suffer symptoms of a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. NIMH cites mental illness as the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada for individuals between the ages of 15-44. People suffering from mental illnesses experience difficulty with the activities of daily living. Thinking, concentrating, remembering and relating to others are only a few of the many challenges. Similar to physical illness, if there is no intervention, mental illness causes difficulty with coping and functioning in life. Some well-known examples of mental illness are depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Too often mental illness still carries with it a social stigma. A study I conducted in 2007 found that approximately one-third of the study’s participants diagnosed with a mental disorder reported having a negative experience with a church when they sought help for a mental health issue. However, years of research indicates that mental disorders are the result of biological and environment factors no different than cancer or heart disease. It is not the result of personal weakness or character flaws. Mental disorders, like other diseases, are treatable. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) states that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals suffering from mental illness see a significant reduction in symptoms through effective psychological or pharmacological treatment.

The failure to address mental illness can have a negative impact on society, leading to an increase in unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, unnecessary disabilities and incarcerations, and suicides. According to NAMI, the cost for untreated mental illness is more than $1 billion annually. As with all illness, early identification and intervention significantly increase the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Stepping out in faith
Here are some “first steps” to consider before your congregation begins a ministry to those with mental illness:

• Participate in assessments designed to discover the scope of the need in your community and the resources your congregation possesses to meet that need.
• Based on the outcomes of the assessments, both internal and external, determine the level of interest in your congregation in this ministry and what, if any gaps exist in community care for this population.
• Learn about the factors contributing to poverty, unemployment, housing, and school drop-out rates in your community.
• Research existing programs and development projects in your community; find out as much as you can about existing programs.
• Look for ways your church can partner with a program or organization to meet a need.
• Once the interest for this ministry has been confirmed and research completed, begin educating the congregation and recruiting volunteers.
• Research local and national statistics.

What this ministry might look like in your church
There are many levels of ministry engagement that are available to your congregation. Here are just a few ideas:

• From your research and assessment information, develop and implement an educational campaign for your congregation about mental illness and its impact on families, communities and churches.
• Begin a support group for those individuals suffering from a mental illness; if you have a licensed counselor in your congregation, ask him or her to facilitate, or to recommend another professional from the community.
• If you have the resources, offer individual counseling, several support groups, Bible studies, and fellowship meals.
• Begin a benevolence fund to help pay for the costs associated with treating mental illness.
• Post emergency hotline numbers on bulletin boards in your church, church bulletin and newsletter that people in crisis can call.

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Sin is Called Disorder

One question I am commonly asked by Christians is, “Can sin be considered a disorder?” Typically what the person who asks this question wants to know is, “Can behavior associated with psychiatric disorders (for which there may or may not be a treatment) be considered sinful or wrong?” Of the behaviors I have written about in the past, many presently are (rage, lying/stealing, addiction) or were at one time (homosexuality) associated with specific psychiatric disorders. But does calling a behavior the Bible considers sinful, a disorder, somehow make that behavior no longer sin? Absolutely not!

In the context of medicine, a disorder is a condition in which there is a disturbance of normal functioning. To be disordered is to be broken; thrown into a state of disarray or confusion. In no way does labeling a behavior as disordered cause one to assume that the behavior is normal or accepted. In fact just the opposite is true; disordered behavior is abnormal and implies the need for change. Sinful behavior, like all behavior, is a complex interplay between physical (biological), mental and spiritual factors. I find that the choice of label, disorder or sin, often results from one’s perspective. If one focuses on the external or physical (biological), ignoring the spiritual, then one may call an abnormal behavior a disorder while a focus on internal or spiritual aspects may result in the same behavior being labeled as sin. One label does not somehow change or limit the other; both describe the same behavior from different vantage points or perspectives.

The labeling of a behavior as both sin and disorder also results from the availability of effective treatments or interventions that temper or limit the expression of the problem behavior. Given that all behavior is rooted in biology, it is understandable then that some sinful behaviors (e.g., addiction) can be altered through the use of physical remedies. The fact that there is such an overlap between behaviors considered disordered and those considered sinful is further proof that both biological and spiritual factors are involved. This having been said, it is important to realize that while some sins may rightly be thought of as disorders, not all disordered behaviors are sin.