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“Thank you very much for shepherding your flock, and looking out for our fellow Singaporeans and those who are living here. We are all truly grateful and duly encouraged," Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said in a pre-recorded message of encouragement to pastors and ministry staff. His message was played at the end of the Christian Mental Health Conference on Friday (July 16). Screengrab from webinar.

As the inaugural Christian Mental Health Conference drew to a close on Friday (July 16), pastors, ministry leaders and mental health experts attending the Zoom seminar were surprised with a thank you from a Member of Parliament and a song from a popular local actress-singer.

In a pre-recorded video, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (below) offered words of encouragement and appreciation.

The Little Nonya singer, Olivia Ong, gave a heart-stirring rendition of Thank You for Giving to the Lord. The song is about people who benefitted from the work of those who gave of themselves to the Lord.

The two-day conference was an effort to kickstart more conversations about mental health in the Church.

Thirty-five speakers covered more than 20 topics ranging from addictions to seeing mental wholeness through the Cross of Christ. A session in breakout rooms gave church leaders the opportunity to form connections with mental health professionals for the holistic care of their flock.

Sharing by pastors who experienced burnout emphasised the need for self-care and safe circles of support and friendship for those in ministry.

Self-care is crucial

Mr Tan, the Speaker of Parliament, said in the pre-recorded video that he had been invited by a friend to share his appreciation to pastors at the conference. His friend had told him: “Many care for others, few get appreciated in return, many suffer in silence.”

This resonated with Mr Tan who acknowledged that leadership positions, especially in “more public fronting” ones, “takes a lot out of us”.

He addressed the pastors: “You are clearly doing God’s work. We all know how important it is, especially in times like these where there’s a lot of strain, a lot of challenges, people are struggling with different difficulties.

“The listening ear that you provide, the counsel that you provide, the prayers, the empathy, compassion and love that you display makes a great deal of difference and I thank you for that.”

“The listening ear, the counsel that you provide, the prayers, the empathy, love you display makes a great deal of difference.”

He reminded: “But we are also human beings.” 

Though they are nourished by God who provides in different ways, things can be “very trying” in this age of woke culture, social media and widespread criticism. He acknowledged it can be “very hurtful”.

“It can also create a lot of pressure on us because we bear the responsibility to look out for our flock.

“You’re trying your best, in the best judgement to do what you believe to be right. But yet, all these comments eat away at us. It erodes our confidence sometimes … It creates a lot of mental pressure.”

This can be compounded by the fact that pastoral staff have few avenues to share their challenges.

“As we take on all that burden of reaching out to those who need help, the burden increases on yourself, too.

“So, self-care, self-help is really critical. So, I just want to encourage everybody: Thank you for the work that you do in the respective areas of work at church, or other spaces in which you serve.”

You make a difference

“Do know that there are many people who support the work you do,” Mr Tan told pastors. “But they may not always be forthcoming in sharing their perspectives.”

He added: “So it is a reminder to all of us as well to perhaps not be shy about encouraging others, giving a compliment or two, cheering others on.

“It really goes a long way. Those of you who have received that, you know how big a difference it can make. It really cheers up your day.”

“You used to teach my Sunday School when I was only eight. Every week you’d say a prayer… One day when you said a prayer, I asked Jesus in my heart,” Olivia Ong sang in Thank You for Giving to the Lord. Screengrab from webinar.

In this fallen world, criticisms will not go away, he continued. Remembering the purpose of service, and Who we are serving, is helpful in providing sustenance.

“Thank you very much for shepherding your flock, and looking out for our fellow Singaporeans and those who are living here. We are all truly grateful and duly encouraged.

He encouraged them that what they do really makes a difference.

“For the person who you reach out to … it means everything.”


STORIES FROM THE CHRISTIAN MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE 2021:

Religion plays a key role in wider mental health blueprint: IMH CEO

Pastors and mental health professionals to gather for Christian mental health conference

About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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