Is the Church leaving our leaders and members to struggle alone?
Alex Wenxuan // July 16, 2020, 8:01 pm
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.
When Deputy Senior Pastor of Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church (BBTC), Chua Seng Lee, 54, heard last year that a pastor in Singapore had committed suicide, the news “hit something in my gut”.
“Of course, the parties involved didn’t want people to know, so you only hear that the person passed away, you don’t know the cause.”
The question in his mind was: “Why do pastors like myself have to struggle alone?”
Have we provided a safe space?
It was this question that drove Ps Chua to find out more about the perception of mental health issues in Singapore churches and to uncover how prepared they are to minister to church leaders and congregation members with such issues.
As a first step, Ps Chua partnered with Focus on the Family Singapore to conduct a survey of 400 church leaders from January to February this year.
While there is an acknowledgment of the need to address mental health issues, many churches feel ill-equipped to do so.
Results showed that while there is a growing acknowledgment of the need to address mental health issues, many churches still feel ill-equipped to do so.
As much as 85% of church leaders said that they felt their church needed to do more about mental health issues.
But only 28% of the same respondents felt that their church has equipped them sufficiently to help a person who is facing a mental health issue.
In fact, only 65% of leaders felt that their church is a safe space to talk about mental health issues.
Are we perpetuating misconceptions?
The stigma surrounding mental health issues is evident.
According to the survey, 1 in 2 leaders see mental health disorders as a spiritual issue.
“Some people feel that if you are a believer, you should not have mental illness,” said Ps Chua. “But Man is susceptible to all kinds of sicknesses. Mental health illness is a sickness.
“There are some who say that, if you have depression, it means there is something wrong with your faith.”
“There are some who say that, if you have depression, it means there is something wrong with your faith. You don’t believe in God enough. You didn’t read your Bible enough. You didn’t do your Quiet Time enough. These are common accusations that are unfounded.”
Another misconception he has heard is that mental health illnesses are caused solely by genetic factors. Yet another is that church leaders should not have depression.
“But there are characters in the Bible who have displayed signs and symptoms of depression like helplessness, a sense of worthlessness and self-condemnation,” said Ps Chua, naming Elijah, David and Paul as examples.
These misconceptions have led leaders to avoid talking about their mental health issues, let alone seek help.
Leaders fear that others will label them as being unable to handle stress, and that their members will be afraid of them. Ultimately leaders may be afraid of losing their opportunity to serve, he said.
Are we prepared to help?
The fears are not unfounded. Ps Chua once counselled a pastor who admitted that he was suffering from depression. The pastor’s senior pastor had immediately asked: “So, when are you resigning?”
“If you only have a superficial understanding of the issue, you only can offer superficial help.”
Ps Chua said this episode shows why more needs to be done to educate leaders about mental health issues. People who manage their mental illnesses well are completely functional, and are capable of serving in the church.
From the survey results, leaders are willing to help their members with mental health issues. But only 2 in 3 leaders know at least three professionals to whom they could refer members with mental health issues.
This ill-preparedness in the church to deal with mental health issues traces back to the stigma, which is especially prevalent in the older generation.
“If you only have a superficial understanding of the issue, you only can offer superficial help. And sometimes this superficial help can backfire,” said Ps Chua.
He hopes that raising awareness of mental health issues in the church is just the start. Our next step: Giving support to those who need it.
“I just wanted it all to end”: One man’s search for God in the dark
Suicide among the young: When hope – in God – is the way out
We are an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of our readers, such as yourself, to continue serving the kingdom. Every dollar donated goes directly back into our editorial coverage.
Would you consider partnering with us in our kingdom work by supporting us financially, either as a one-off donation, or a recurring pledge?Support Salt&Light