Facing Mental Illness As A Church Leader

Pastoring Through Mental Illness

Facing mental illness as a church leader is scary.  Pastors and church leaders are held to a high standard. But what about those who have a mental illness? Are they capable of doing the work of the Lord?

A LifeSupport Podcast welcomed a man with a captivating story as he shared his struggle with Bi-Polar Disorder while pastoring and the hopelessness he felt. His story shows that there is always hope in Christ and God can use anyone no matter the illness or disease.

Pastor Brad Hoefs

Brad was loving his growing church. He became a senior pastor at just 29 years old and his church was one of the fastest-growing churches in North America and word was spreading all over about it. He was determined and driven by his work, and it was his life.

This led to hypomania as Brad delved deeper and deeper into his work. An attempt to relocate his church brought on a dispute with the city and that led to more and more stress. This is when he started to experience some different kinds of behavior associated with mania. But he believed he could handle things and didn’t want to tell anyone about it.

Then out of nowhere, something went wrong. Terribly wrong.

Brad had a manic episode in public, he was ticketed for it, and it was all over the news. He was forced to resign from his position. A group of people came to him and told him that they believed this was mental illness and not sin. This same group ended up starting their own church and asked Brad to pastor it.

Brad took a lot of time off to get better and went back to pastoring. However, everyday was still a struggle. After seven years of pastoring at the church, he went back off the rails mentally when he mixed his medication. Another manic episode landed him in the hospital, and he was in the news again.

In an attempt to learn more about Bi-Polar Disorder, Brad attended some small groups. Unfortunately, though, each time he left these groups, he felt more hopeless as they did nothing to help, but talk about how bad and difficult the disorder was. Brad was desperate for something that was hopeful, and faith based.

Without any luck, Brad decided to start his own group and over the years that group grew into several groups all over the world.

Mental Illness is a ‘Brain Problem,’ Not a Sin Problem

In the LifeSupport Podcast, Brad explained the depths of mental illness in hopes that others would have a better understanding of what it is.

  1. Mental illness is a result of a broken world – Like any other disease or illness, mental illness is the result of a broken and sinful world. This does not mean the person with the disease is more sinful than a healthier person. Brad said this fact gave him solace and more hope in knowing that.
  2. Mental illnesses are ‘unseen’ – Unlike other illnesses that have physical ailments, mental illnesses are ‘unseen,’ meaning you can look at someone and have no idea. The symptoms from Bi-Polar disease are the behaviors or thoughts that come from having a ‘bad brain.’
  3. Compassion is required for mental illness – Brad said he believes the church needs to understand the functions of the brain to really understand mental illnesses and people suffering from them. He says the same level of compassion needs to be brought to these people, just like people with other kinds of illnesses.
  4. There is hope for people with mental illnesses – Brad mentioned that anyone with a mental illness can live well if they receive the proper treatment and receive the proper care.
  5. Love is needed – As simple as it sounds, loving someone with a mental illness can make the biggest difference in someone’s life. Many people with mental illnesses have trouble loving themselves and despite the challenges, someone coming into their life and loving them for who they are can bring the hope that person needs.

Fresh Hope is There for Those With Mental Illnesses

After starting his own mental health group, it took off. Now Brad is the founder of a ministry called Fresh Hope For Mental Health a safe place for people to process their pain and guide and support them along with their loved ones.

God is now using Brad in ways he never imagined. He is now able to help many people who have the same struggles he once did. Brad wrote a book called ‘Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis. He is also a State-certified Intentional Peer Support Specialist, and he was appointed by the Governor of Nebraska to serve on the State Advisory Committee on Mental Health Services.


We created lifesupportresources.org 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.

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