I’ve always said our greatest ministry comes out of our greatest pain. That’s why Kay and I have focused the last few years on helping churches better engage people with mental illness.
Many of you know that our younger son, Matthew, battled mental illness almost his entire life. His profound suffering impacted everyone in our family. He experienced many, many moments of despair over his short 27 years of life. Then, in 2013, in one impulsive moment of despair, Matthew took his life.
In the months after Matthew’s death, Kay and I decided we wouldn’t waste our pain. We wanted God to use the pain to help local churches around the world faithfully serve the mentally ill.
As we prayed about what God wanted us to do to help Saddleback and other churches minister in this area, God gave us five biblical truths to establish the foundation of everything we do:
1. Every person has dignity.
God made every single person in his image and for his purpose. Mental illness doesn’t change that truth one bit. If a person’s heart is beating right now, God has a purpose for his or her life, even if it isn’t easy to see.
Isaiah 46:3 says, “I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born” (NLT). God cares for us from the moment we are conceived to the moment we stop breathing. That means we don’t have dignity because a government says we do. We don’t have dignity because of our economic status. Our dignity doesn’t come from our appearance or from psychology.
Our Creator gives us our dignity.
Just read Psalm 139. The Bible says that God formed each of us in our mother’s womb. He saw us before we were born and scheduled every day of our lives.
That’s how much God thinks of us—and all other people on this planet, no matter how confused their minds may be.
2. All of us are broken.
As we deal with people struggling with mental illness, we must remember that we live in a fallen world. All of us have mental illnesses. We all have our own weaknesses and wounds. We have our own fears, obsessive thoughts, and compulsions.
We don’t minister to those with mental illness by lording our mental state over them. We’re not better than them. We are them.
That means we need each other. It’s why God allows disabilities. If you didn’t have any disabilities, you would be arrogant. You’d be self-centered. You wouldn’t need anyone’s help.
3. Even though we’re broken, we’re deeply loved and valued.
I love what God says in Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (CSB). God’s love for you and for everyone living with mental illness is unconditional and unending. God’s love isn’t fickle. It’s consistent. Our brokenness doesn’t make God love us any less. What we do doesn’t add anything or subtract anything from our value.
If I wadded up a $50 bill, would you still want it? If I rubbed it in dirt, would you take it? Of course you would! No matter how much damage you do to a $50 bill, its value doesn’t change. It’s still worth $50.
The same is true for people who are struggling with mental illness. No matter how sick people are, God still loves them. God still values them. We should, too.
4. We get well within relationships.
No one has all of the solutions to mental illness. But we have each other. This is where the church really shines. We’re better together.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to reach out to those who are oppressed and fulfill Christ’s law of love. Mental illness tends to create isolation. It’s one of the most tragic ways mental illness impacts people’s lives. Nothing is worse for someone who is struggling with mental illness than to be isolated from others.
Our churches must become places where people can be honest about their mental illnesses. We need to become places of hope and refuge for broken people. Too often people with mental illnesses must wear masks everywhere they go. Let our churches become the places where people with mental illness can discover they will never be alone again.
5. What isn’t healed on earth will be healed in heaven.
That’s good news that’ll keep all of us pressing on when this kind of ministry gets difficult (and it will). We can’t give up. We can’t stop helping—because this world isn’t the end of the story.
But I’ve read the end of the book. We win. We win against illness. We win against brokenness. Revelation 21:4 reminds us that one day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Pastor, the men and women struggling with mental illness need to know this. They need to know that mental illness will not win.
I believe we’re just at the beginning of what God wants to do through the church to minister to those with mental illness. With these five truths as the core of our mandate, God will use the church to heal the broken and battered of this world.
Know that we’re praying for you and pulling for you in this work!