The Church’s Mission and Psychiatric Disorders

May 15, 2013

The Church’s Mission and Psychiatric Disorders

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Robert Cheong

The Church’s Mission and Psychiatric Disorders

BCC Staff Note: We describe the BCC’s Grace & Truth blog as “Voices from the Biblical Counseling Community.” The modern biblical counseling movement spans a diverse spectrum of people and organizations committed to a view of people helping summarized by the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement. It is with this diversity in mind that we have run a series of posts addressing the important issue of biblical counseling and mental illness. In addition to today’s post by Dr. Robert Cheong, we’d encourage you to read:

A Growing Awareness

Steve, a man in your small group, shares that he was recently diagnosed with bi-polar after years of all-too-familiar cycles of erratic behavior and seasons of despair. He confesses that his marriage is a mess and his wife told him that she can’t trust him anymore.

Anne, a young woman who faithfully serves in the prayer ministry, pulls you aside and confides that she has been experiencing psychotic episodes which are now linked with schizophrenia. Some of her friends in her accountability group care about her deeply but have pulled back, not knowing what to do or how to act around her.

You are also becoming more and more aware of the number of men and women throughout the church who have shared about their ongoing struggle with depression. Some even admitted, with shameful hesitation, that they battle with desires to end their lives.

Your heart and soul are deeply stirred by the profound needs of God’s people. Can the church make a difference in the lives of those struggling in these and other ways?

Overwhelmed and Confused

Whether you are a church member or ministry leader you might find yourself filled with a sense of compassion, but it is eclipsed by feelings of fear, ignorance, and incompetence. In your head you affirm the gospel is enough for those living with mental illness but in your heart you find yourself tentative, unsure of how the gospel can tangibly make a difference not just for eternity, but here and now.

Perhaps your experience within the church has been filled with heated debates as to the validity of psychiatric disorders [i]and consequently, the appropriateness of using psychiatric medications. Or perhaps you have witnessed the church delegate all counseling responsibilities to the mental health professionals who have trained for years and specialize in such difficult issues. Being fixated on either end of the spectrum can undermine God’s mission by approaching such issues in either an overly simplistic or complex way.

So what can and must we do as the church?

God’s Mission for the Church

The particulars of life do not change God’s mission, but rather, serve as the context for his redemptive work. So what is God’s mission for the church? God calls us, as his people, to join him as he advances his kingdom in this world, spreading his glory while making his name known.

But how can we participate in such a mission? By loving one another both in the church and world in ways that help everyone involved to see, trust and obey Jesus as our living hope, perfect love and merciful Redeemer.

Everyday Mission and Common Factors

How can we make a difference in Steve’s life and marriage as he and his wife desperately desire refuge from their chaotic world? How can members of Anne’s community journey alongside her with confidence, free from the pressure of “fixing her” or saying the wrong thing? How can we offer hope to those men and women who are struggling with the enduring darkness of depression?

According to mental health professionals, there are four common factors associated with change:[ii]

  • 40%: Social support, life experiences outside of counseling,
  • 30%: Common factors in counseling—warmth, empathy, acceptance, encouragement of risk-taking, etc.
  • 15%: Expectancy of receiving help (placebo effect),
  • 15%: Counseling theory and techniques.

Looking at this list we quickly see the first three factors, totaling 85%, can and often do take place within the church as God’s people draw near and bear one another’s burdens. Regarding the last 15% associated with counseling theory and techniques, we have to believe that our God, who designed, created, and redeemed us as His people, has given us what we need for life and godliness through knowing him and abiding in his love through Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11).

But we must grow in helping one another live out the incomparable realities of God’s presence, promises and power in our failing bodies. The gospel specializes in dealing with disordered living on this side of heaven … so must we as the church.

Needed Community Inside and Outside the Church

Not only must the church step out by faith to care for one another with the gospel in the church and world, but we should do so as a community for three broad reasons. First, God has called each of his children, not a select few, to make disciples (Matthew 28. 18-20). He has also called pastors to equip the saints to participate in God’s mission (Ephesians 4:12-16). As the body of Christ, we must journey together with lock arms to and fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 3:12-14). God has gifted the many members of his body (not just the trained professionals) to work as one to accomplish his mission.

A second important aspect of ministry as a community involves learning and growing with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who serve in the mental health field, both in our own church and in surrounding churches. Such intentional relationships centered on Jesus and his deep and powerful work of redemption will sharpen everyone involved (Proverbs 27:17), resulting in wise, well-rounded ministry.

The last aspect of community to keep in mind is being witnesses to the gospel’s transforming power as we work alongside social workers, mental health professionals and others in the city when we care for those inside and outside the church. God is glorified when we team up with case workers and they listen to how the gospel is personally connected to real life and watch the members of the church gather around and love their “clients” during times of deep suffering and brokenness.

Jesus’ Invitation and Promise

Steve and his wife, Anne and her community, and those struggling with depression, along with every person in the church, can and must respond to Jesus’ continual invitation to come to Him and find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). He also promises that when we draw near to the throne of grace we will receive mercy and find grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus not only sits on the throne of grace, but he is God’s grace. Jesus is always with us, even in the midst of our chaos, delusions, and darkness.

The Rest of the Story

To see how Sojourn Community Church has taken steps to equip the church to care for those struggling with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and chronic depression, check out the Care in Community Training conducted in January 2013.

Join the Conversation: What About You?

As a church leader, what vision have you given the church for God’s mission and how have you equipped them to care for one another with the gospel?

As a church member, how have you personally carried out God’s call to come alongside those struggling with the seemingly overwhelming stresses of life?

Do you think the gospel can make a difference in the lives of those struggling with a psychiatric disorder?

Are you willing to participate in God’s redemptive work in the lives of those around you?

May God give us the grace to fight the good fight of faith for His glory!


[i]In this article the terms “psychiatric disorders” and “mental illness” are used interchangeably.

[ii]Siang-yang Tan. (1995). “The Effectiveness of Psychotherapy: Implications of Outcome Research Findings for Clinical Practice,” in Journal Psychology and Christianity, Vol. 14(1), 66-72. Lambert, M. (1992). “Implications of Outcome Research for Psychotherapy Integration,” in J. Norcross & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration (pp. 94–129). New York: Basic Books, cited in James W. Drisko’s article, “Common Factors in Psychotherapy Outcome: Meta-Analytic Findings and Their Implications for Practice and Research” in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, (2004). www.familiesinsociety.org.


5 thoughts on “The Church’s Mission and Psychiatric Disorders

  1. Pingback: Mental Illness and Compassion | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

  2. Thanks Robert for the helpful article. We have been really inspired by the work you’ve done at Sojourn and have begun the slow process of equipping our leaders to understand and practice the dynamics of gospel care. I think the gospel can make a huge difference in the lives of those struggling with psychiatric disorders. But I also think “huge” needs to be qualified.

    Someone who is, relatively speaking, more healthy, may make more noticeable improvements than somebody whose disorders are more extreme. And because the changes are more noticeable, we can be tempted to think that the gospel has done more transforming work in the healthier person’s life. And I suppose in one sense that is true. But in another sense, the greater the obstacles a person’s disorder presents, the more God’s glory and the power of the gospel is manifested when change does occur. Even if it seems that the person is still highly dysfunctional.

    I’m no expert. But it seems that for some, the hope of massive change in this life is unlikely. Yet the glory manifested by these “miserable saints” continually holding onto the hope of salvation is incredible. And while we often think we’re here to help them get healthy, I think God uses them to help us understand the gospel in far more significant ways.

  3. Pingback: A Biblical Counseling Perspective on Mental Illness | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

  4. Andy, you bring up a great point! The “huge” difference that the gospel enables is the persevering belief and hope in Jesus, as the way, truth and life. You are right … God is glorified even in situations where the only evidence of redemption is the moment-by-moment trust in God despite the ongoing struggle!

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