Exploring a Christian approach to mental health and wellbeing
The discussion of mental health and wellbeing is ever-present in contemporary life, which is a welcome shift from previous generations. However, it can also be a challenge to navigate as Christians. What does the Bible say about our mental wellbeing, and how does that contradict or reinforce what the world says? How do we practically care for our mental health as Christians, and how do we care for others, in light of our faith?
This is what one south western Sydney church wanted to explore when they invited Keith and Sarah Condie from the Mental Health and Pastoral Care Institute (MHPCI) to speak.
Bringing together all congregations
In September 2023 Moorebank Hammondville Anglican Church (MHAC) ran a ‘Big Day In’ event for all their members. This happens every two years, alternating with a weekend away. Both the Big Day In and the weekend away act as a way to bring all three congregations together to learn and fellowship together.
This year, the Big Day In was titled ‘Finding peace in the storm: a Christian approach to mental health and wellbeing.’ Senior Minister Stephen Cook and his team were keen to focus on mental health, recognising that mental health awareness is such a feature of contemporary life.
He shares, “We wanted some expert help to think about this ‘Christianly’. It’s universally applicable – all of us are connected with someone who has or will experience mental health challenges. Possibly even ourselves!”
“All of us are connected with someone who has or will experience mental health challenges. Possibly even ourselves!”
Around 80 people attended the Big Day In, from teenagers to 90-year-olds. MHAC also ran a kids program to enable families to attend as well.
With many of the MHAC staff having experienced Keith’s teaching at Moore College, and many more of their church members having been enriched by their resources and training on marriage, they knew getting the MHPCI co-directors in was essential to the day.
Stephen says of the Condies, “We love them, we trust them and we’ve been enormously blessed by their ministry, individually and together over the years and are thankful to God for them.”
Unpacking mental health through God’s wisdom
MHAC had three main goals in addressing this topic together, as a church family, and in discussion with the Condies, these became the basis for what was taught and discussed on the day (and at church the following day!)
Normalising mental illness as part of the fall
Firstly, it was important during the Big Day In to recognise that mental illness is part of living in a fallen world and remind the people of MHAC that as Christ’s followers, we’re not exempted from these experiences.
Stephen says, “Understanding mental illness as a normal part of life enables us to share our experiences more openly with each other. If we can help people understand their own experience or that of their loved ones, our hope is that will help them engage with God and move towards their Christian family.”
Developing wisdom in managing mental health
Secondly, they wanted to consider how, as individuals and a church, they could wisely manage their mental health. Stephen reflects, “We asked the question, ‘What does it mean for us to live wisely as creatures as well as Christians?’ We wanted to holistically consider what resources God has given us to care for our mental health.”
This was something Keith and Sarah brought great wisdom and experience to. Where this topic can often see people gravitate towards either spiritualising everything or medicalising everything, the Condies presented a holistic approach.
Stephen says, “What was truly excellent was the holistic framework presented to us. All truth is God’s truth – we want to bring the best of our medical understanding to this issue at the same time as we think Biblically about our experience.”
Caring for each other through mental illness
Thirdly, MHAC was keen for people to gain skills in caring for those experiencing mental illness. Stephen shares, “It’s easy to feel paralysed when you don’t know what to do or what to say about a loved one’s suffering. Pastorally equipping people to stay engaged and yet to also understand their limitations was important for us.”
A stand-out from Keith and Sarah on this aspect of the day was the ‘Ten Tips’ information card they shared. This card was a great resource to give people and worked to keep equipping them to love and care for others well.
Engaged and equipped
The talks from Keith and Sarah at the Saturday event and the combined Sunday service were extremely well-received and useful. Over 70% of the attendees reported they found the material very helpful or extremely helpful!
As one attendee reflected, “It was a very good choice of topic that I found personally helpful, and which gave me a heightened awareness of how to help and support others.”
Interested in addressing the topic of mental health and wellbeing in your church? Consider running our Press On course this year, inviting your church members and the local community to participate in the course to build their resilience and mental wellbeing.