Are You Hiding God?

Why It’s Hard For Ministry Leaders To Be Transparent

If you’ve looked at the news lately you’ve seen that the world is talking about mental health.  From sports stars, to musicians, to politicians, People are becoming more and more open about their mental health.  People are also waking up to the dramatic (and often tragic) effects of mental illness on our young people.

So why is there still a stigma around mental illness in the church?  As I was listening to a recent LifeSupport podcast I was prompted to write about the reasons why ministry leaders don’t talk about their own struggles.

Guest: Ryan Alexander

Lead pastor, Hosanna Church, Minnesota

As a child and as a young adult, Ryan struggled with severe anxiety.  Like many young people today, he felt that the world wasn’t safe.  Ryan’s anxiety eventually overwhelmed him and his mental health problems culminated with two suicide attempts at the ages of 18 and 20.

During his appearance on the podcast Ryan shares some of his journey of healing and how God met him in the midst of his struggle.

Later in life Ryan would go on to enter ministry and shortly before taking over as lead pastor of a large church, he used a weekend teaching opportunity to share the story of his struggles with mental health. That opportunity to share gave him a feeling of freedom because he no longer had anything to hide.

Ryan received hundreds of emails thanking him for being so vulnerable.  Hearing this message of transparency made people feel more connected to him, and gave people in the church permission to deal with the problems in their own lives.  Since that message series 5 years ago, Ryan’s church has gone on to become a model of transparency and effective ministry for mental health (and many other areas).

“The story of the bible is a story of trauma in many ways”

Paul and Ryan go on to talk about why pastors don’t often feel permission to talk about their struggles.  Here are a few reasons church leaders don’t talk about their mental health and our responses.

  • Fear
    • God is bigger than your fear.
    • There are people sitting in your pews who are also afraid. They are afraid to talk about their pain because they think that church isn’t a place where people talk about pain.  Those people need you to model vulnerability and Christian community.  Great leaders can look past their own fear to see the needs of others.
  • It’s Not About Me
    • Church leaders believe that the focus should be on God rather than them. We all know that people can put ministry leaders up on pedestals.  It is possible to “put yourself in the story” too many times and make it about you. But, most church leaders live in the shadows rather than the spotlight.  Sharing your personal struggles can be a great opportunity to connect with those you lead, and show how God works in real life situations.
  • I’m Not Qualified
    • Everyone is qualified to talk about themselves and how God is working in their life.
    • Most church leaders have very little training in dealing with mental health issues, and should not try to act as mental health counselors unless they have specific training. However, people who are struggling with their mental health have many needs that can be supported by the church.  Mental illness requires a community of care. The local church should be the first in line to help create that community of care.
    • You can partner with those who are qualified to do the things you can’t. There are Christian counselors and therapists in most areas, or who are available online.  Many of these professionals have systems in place for partnering with local churches and can walk you through the referral process.
  • I am expected to look like a “Complete Christian”
    • There are many churches where there is an expectation that the pastors will somehow not be human. If you are in such a position, you are being asked to do the impossible.  It is unhealthy, and unbiblical for Christians to pretend that normal human problems will not enter into the lives of church leaders.
    • There are probably people sitting in your church who actually believe it’s possible to somehow be a perfect Christian. Because they believe this, they pretend to be something they are not. The people you lead need you to show and tell them that there is no such thing as a complete or perfect Christian, that, the fact that we are not perfect is the whole point of Christ’s sacrifice in the first place. 

When you hide your problems you hide opportunities to show God at work in your life.

We created to help you start discussions about mental health, to help remove stigma so people can find hope and healing through God.  We pray that LifeSupport helps you grow your church.

If there are other reasons you don’t share your struggles we’d love to hear them and will treat your communication as confidential.  Please email any comments to [email protected]

Looking For Ways to Build Mental Health Ministry?

Check out our article – An Overview of Mental Health Ministry