Feeling my way through a global pandemic
October 22nd, 2020 / By: Kie Bowman | SBTC President / comments
An African American spiritual, first published around the time of the Civil War, seems surprisingly relevant and contemporary for our times:
“Nobody knows the
trouble I've seen
Nobody knows the sorrow...
Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down
Sometimes I'm almost
to the ground.”
Even for the most naturally optimistic among us, we may occasionally relate to feeling down and “almost to the ground.” That can be especially true during a global pandemic which, at this writing, hangs on tenaciously.
We know what the pandemic has done to our church attendance. We have suffered through the economic impact. We have weathered the toll it took through this political season. The coronavirus has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, including how we feel. By the way, how do you feel? For many people, feeling our way through the pandemic has been rough.
Research from the CDC paints a picture of millions of Americans suffering from mental health challenges related to the coronavirus due to the lockdowns, job losses, and other factors associated with the pandemic. For example, during June of this year, 40 percent of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health or drug abuse with more than 10 percent seriously considering suicide.
Are the people of our churches at risk for mental health challenges during this difficult season? In a recent Baptist Press article, Ed Stetzer said churches are going to face “a real crisis coming very soon.” He suggests ministering to Christians with mental health issues, exacerbated by COVID-19, is as urgent as the ministries of financial management, caring for the physically ill and small groups.
My training does not qualify me as an expert on mental health diagnosis or treatment, but as a pastor I can recommend at least three ways our churches can minister to people who find themselves struggling with anxiety, anger, discouragement, loneliness, fear, and other COVID-induced emotional reactions.
Prayer and the Word
The Old Testament prophet recognized the relationship between our faith and mental health when he called out to God: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trust; in you” (Isa. 26:3). How can we help people keep their minds “stayed” on God? Obviously, Bible study plays a role in the spiritual growth of every believer; but the psalmist recognized a correlation between Scripture and emotional peace when he wrote: “Abundant peace belongs to those who love Your instruction; nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165). In addition to the reading of Scripture, prayer plays a part in keeping us emotionally healthy. Paul said: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). We can worry, or we can pray. Prayer is better.
At times, in addition to the spiritual disciplines, the mental health needs of our Christian brothers and sisters require the support of professionals. For those instances, we should readily suggest qualified counseling. Any church can help their people connect with the right Christian counseling in their area by contacting Tony Wolfe with the Church Health and Leadership Department of the SBTC (sbtexas.com).
Preach and teach
Finally, every church has a unique platform to help people struggling with every kind of real-life issue if the pastor will leverage the power of the pulpit. Preachers can preach a series on emotional well-being. We can invite Christian counselors to teach our congregations on the best mental health practices. We can focus attention on various resources available by posting information on our church websites, church newsletters and on social media platforms. Honestly, when we want to help people – we can find a way.
The coronavirus has disrupted and, in many ways, injured our lives. As we rebuild our ministries in the weeks and months ahead, we can help our people, many of whom may be suffering in silence, when we focus on emotionally healthy congregations.