7 ways to implement a mental health ministry plan in your church

October 9, 2019

National Mental Illness Awareness Week is traditionally held in early October to draw attention to the struggles of the 20% of adults and children who experience a mental health disorder in any given year. I have been tremendously encouraged by the proliferation of churches implementing influential and creative ministry strategies to share Christ’s love with individuals and families affected by the full range of mental health conditions since last year's awareness week.  

Several influences are serving as catalysts to the new interest in mental health ministry. Research published by LifeWay over the past five years has pointed out the need for more effective ministry for families impacted by severe mental illness along with the need to reexamine church processes when members approach pastors and church staff because they are or a loved one is contemplating suicide. Several ministries with a national scope have emerged to resource churches with an interest in mental health. Finally, denominations and organizations such as the ERLC have done a wonderful job of increasing awareness of mental health concerns.  

Our Key Ministry team has connected with many churches seeking to implement a mental health ministry plan. Here are seven ideas we've seen implemented that churches might consider in the coming year.  

1. Preaching on mental health-related topics. According to the LifeWay study, the most common response from family members when asked how churches might better assist them in caring for loved ones with mental illness was to talk more openly about mental illness so that that the topic is not taboo. Pastors seeking an example of a sermon series on mental health might check out the messages Rick Warren shared at Saddleback Church in the aftermath of  suicide.

One senior pastor followed a weekend mental health training for staff and volunteers by opening Sunday morning worship with a prayer for everyone present suffering from depression. Our team has participated in Mental Health Sundays hosted by local churches to launch or increase awareness of their ministries. One of the most powerful experiences I witnessed during a Mental Health Sunday was a "conversation" hosted by the pastor between services in which several highly respected church members shared their personal experiences with mental illness.  

2. Offering biblically-sound mental health education and support groups for education, encouragement, and support. The Grace Alliance was launched nearly 10 years ago by a Baylor University neuropsychology professor and a Baptist pastor caring for his wife as she received treatment for bipolar disorder. They provide a model for Grace Groups for individuals, families, and college students hosted by churches in every region of the country. Fresh Hope is another national ministry organization offering Christ-centered peer support groups in over 25 states and six countries.

3. Helping members and attendees access mental health services, including high quality counseling. The LifeWay mental illness study revealed a huge disconnect between perceptions of pastors and family members regarding availability of mental health referral lists to members in need—68% of pastors (but only 28% of family members of someone with acute mental illness) reported their church maintains such a list. 

A large church in our home region supported the creation of Fieldstone Counseling, a network of counseling centers supporting the needs of local church members. Counseling centers develop partnerships with churches in the communities they serve. Khesed Wellness is a nonprofit organization in Colorado that places licensed mental health professionals who agree to see clients for a discounted fee in office space donated by local churches.  

4. Educating church staff and volunteers. More and more pastors and staff members are attending trainings focused on helping families of children with common mental health or developmental disabilities overcome the challenges they experience in attending church. We're seeing increases in the number of churches training staff in mental health first aidand trauma-informed careSeminarieshave begun to schedule mental health training events for pastors, alumni, and students.

5. Opening a mental health resource center. Crossroads Church in central Ohio opened a mental health resource boothin a prominent location with free resources from NAMI, other educational resources and brochures from counseling centers personally vetted by members of the mental health ministry team. A team member staffs the booth at all worship services to make personal connections. Jeremy Smith is a counselor who serves on their mental health team and authors the Church and Mental Health blog. He developed a series of mental health awareness cardsdistributed through the resource booth available for use by other churches. 

6. Establishing a suicide protection policy. Awareness of a need for churches to develop and implement suicide protection policies has intensified as a result of the steep increases in suicide rates reported among teenagers and adults in the U.S.; the observation that many Americans approach pastors as first responders during a mental health crisis; and the extensive publicity around the suicide of Jarrid Wilson, a young pastor, author, and mental health advocate. Here's one example of such a policy, available for churches to adapt to their local situations.

7. Providing tangible help to affected individuals and families. One simple, yet powerful way to express care for families in the midst of a mental health crisis is to provide casseroles and other prepared meals if the church does so for families experiencing other medical crises.   

The vast preponderance of families caring for children and teens with serious emotional disturbances have little or no access to respite care. Churches offering respite events for children with special needs can welcome families of children with severe mental illness by eliminating requirements for parents to identify their child's disability at registration.   

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a start. Is your church doing something that's working well in ministry with families impacted by mental illness that you didn't see here? Our ministry team would love to hear from you and explore how we might help you share your church's strategy with a larger audience.  

Stephen Grcevich

Stephen Grcevich, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, serving as president and founder of Key Ministry, an organization that promotes meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. He is the author of Mental … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24