By / Oct 27

In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on mental health struggles, both globally and within religious communities. This shift in focus reflects a broader understanding and acceptance of mental health issues, moving beyond antiquated stigmas and toward a more compassionate and informed approach. The pastoral community is no exception to this trend, as recent data unveils a complex picture of the mental and emotional well-being of pastors and the congregations they shepherd.

A notable observation from the statistics is that a significant portion of younger pastors, under the age of 45, report struggling with mental health issues. In particular, a report by Lifeway Research reveals that 26%  of U.S. Protestant pastors overall and 46% of pastors who are under 45 say they face mental health challenges. And more than half of the church leaders have witnessed members of their congregations suffering from conditions like depression and bipolar disorder​.

Mental health struggles and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have further strained the mental and emotional health of both pastors and congregants. A Barna Group study reveals that while many pastors believe they understand the immediate needs of their congregants regarding spiritual and physical well-being, there’s a lesser clarity when it comes to mental and emotional health; only 24% of pastors “definitely” understand, while 65% “somewhat” understand these needs. This lack of clear understanding indicates a potential area of growth for pastoral education and support systems​​.

The pastoral role has traditionally involved a significant amount of one-on-one discipleship, a facet of ministry that was complicated by the pandemic’s social distancing mandates. Despite the hurdles, 66% of U.S church leaders report that they are doing well at providing one-on-one discipleship, although a third of them (33%) are struggling to meet the needs for ongoing discipleship amidst the pandemic. This highlights the importance of adaptability and the potential for developing new methods of pastoral care and discipleship​​.

In the midst of addressing congregational needs, pastors themselves are not exempt from facing their own mental and spiritual challenges. Around 49% of church leaders, according to the Barna Group, find it difficult to make time for personal spiritual development, an aspect that is crucial for maintaining mental and spiritual health and effectively ministering to others. The challenge of balancing personal spiritual growth with the demands of pastoral duties underscores the necessity for creating support systems and resources for pastors​​.

The need for resources

The statistics and insights gleaned from recent studies underscore the profound need for increased awareness, education, and resources dedicated to mental health within the pastoral community and the wider church body. The complexities of mental health demand a nuanced and compassionate approach, acknowledging the unique challenges faced by pastors and congregants alike. This call for awareness is not just a matter of bettering individual lives, but enriching the collective spiritual and emotional fabric of the church community.

The survey data also suggests a pressing need for the development of robust mental health programs and resources within the church. By investing in mental health education and resources, churches can become safe havens where individuals, including pastors, can find support, understanding, and healing. This would also involve creating platforms for open discussions around mental health, breaking down existing stigmas, and promoting a culture of understanding and support.

The Church has a unique opportunity to foster a culture of understanding and support around mental health and to be a place of hope and healing. This includes equipping pastors with the necessary tools and knowledge to navigate mental health challenges, both personally and within their congregations. The narratives surrounding mental health within the church are changing, and with informed, compassionate action, there’s hope for fostering a more understanding and supportive church environment.

By / Feb 17

This week marks the end of what can be considered the loneliest season of the year. 

The lonely season unofficially starts around Thanksgiving, extends through the Christmas season, peaks in the cold, dark days of January, and then finishes on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, for many people the loneliness they experience continues long after this season has passed. 

Loneliness occurs when there is a significant mismatch or discrepancy between a person’s actual social relations and relationships they need or desire. A person may experience loneliness because they are alone or isolated (known as social loneliness), but they may also experience loneliness while surrounded by people if those relations lack an intimate attachment (known as emotional loneliness). 

While loneliness has always been a part of the human condition, the current age is facing what has been described as an “epidemic of loneliness.” And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic led to even more social isolation. Today, more than half of U.S. adults (58%) are considered lonely.

Here are three ways we can serve those who are suffering from loneliness.

1. Know which groups are most likely to be lonely

Almost everyone experiences loneliness at certain times of the year or at specific times throughout their lives. But there are times during the human lifespan when loneliness is more likely to be acute.

Age: A study published in 2020 found that levels of loneliness were highest for people in their 20s and lowest in the 60s with another peak in the mid-40s. More than 2 in 5 adults (42%) aged 18 to 34 report “always” feeling “left out,” compared to just 16% of people aged 55 or older who say the same. 

Race: People from underrepresented racial groups are more likely to be lonely compared to the total adult population.

Income: Those with lower incomes are lonelier than those with higher incomes. Nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) earning less than $50,000 per year are classified as lonely—10 points higher than those earning $50,000 or more.

Parents: Parents are also likely to be lonely. About 65% of parents and guardians are classified as lonely, a 10-point gap compared to non-parents (55%). They also report a strong sense of feeling left out, as 42% of lonely parents always feel this way compared to 24% lonely non-parents.

Mothers are especially likely to be considered lonely (69%)—seven points higher than the rate of loneliness among fathers (62%). Single parents are particularly likely to struggle with loneliness, as more than 77% classify as lonely.

Christians can get lonely too. Just because we have Jesus does not mean that we don’t desire other relationships. “It would be cruel to suggest that human friendship is irrelevant once one has befriended by Christ,” Dane Ortlund writes in his book Gentle and Lowly. “God has made us for fellowship, for union on heart, with other people. Everyone gets lonely—including introverts.”

2. Recognize that social media is likely to cause more loneliness than it cures

One of the reasons people in their 20s may feel more lonely is because they are becoming increasingly socially isolated compared to earlier periods of their life, such as high school or college.

Social media may heighten the effect, since it can make other people appear—whether true or not—to have richer and more meaningful social lives than the person who feels lonely. Engaging with people on social media can also give us a false sense of intimacy, making us feel as if we have a relationship with people we don’t really know. The result of this “Instagram illusion” is that we can eventually feel even more emotionally lonely than we did before. 

If someone has higher than normal levels of engagement on social media, it is likely that they are suffering from social isolation, emotional loneliness, or both. Make an effort to engage with them as directly as possible, preferably in person. Encourage or invite them to participate in offline activities either with you or with a group.

Churches can also help by sponsoring activities that facilitate engagement between people who might not know each other. Too often, our default setting is to host events where church people interact primarily with their own friends and family. Make an extra effort to reach out to those who are struggling to find connection.

3. Help the lonely find their “family.”

Psalm 68:6 tells us, “God sets the lonely in families” (NIV). While this may sometimes be true of the natural family, it should always be true for the family of God.

“In biblical terms, the people in the pews around us are our family,” says Megan Hill. “Like the members of our biological family, we haven’t chosen them for ourselves, but they have been chosen for us, and we are therefore inseparably bound to them. Because we belong to Christ, we belong to his family.” 

One of the most helpful ways to serve the lonely is by helping them find the community of believers who will help them establish the relationships they truly need. Invite the lonely to church, and show them where they can find a family in Christ that will be with them for all eternity. 

By / Aug 22

This past week, I opened my computer and logged in to Facebook. I read an article about a recent shooting, scrolled past a post about a new virus, and read someone’s account of living with long COVID (long-term effects from the infection). Moving on to Twitter, I skimmed through a heated argument about the Dobbs decision, read news about famine and war, and saw several death announcements. I decided not to move on to Instagram. 

I often feel heavy and overwhelmed after spending time online, and I know I’m not alone. Someone recently shared with me how much he had struggled after reading about the Ukraine war. He saw pictures of a family being separated and began to replay these images in his mind. Lying awake at night, he considered what he would do in a similar scenario. 

Another person described her struggle with anxiety and racing thoughts. She had watched a video of a recent school shooting and couldn’t stop thinking about it. She worried about her own children. She grieved the children who were lost. The thoughts would not relent. 

Constant online access has made us daily witnesses to the grief and trauma of millions of people. Each time we open our internet browsers, we encounter news that forces us to consider issues of political conflict, theological disagreement, global suffering, financial stress, illness, and war. Many people feel a sense of tension. We want to stay informed, but too much information can leave us weighed down with thoughts and emotions that feel too heavy to bear. 

What should we do? Should we attempt to carry the sorrows and burdens of the world? Or should we distance ourselves from other peoples’ suffering to protect ourselves? Perhaps it is some of both. 

Remember those who suffer 

Scripture suggests there is something good and holy about remembering other peoples’ suffering, even when they are physically distant from us. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” We honor people in their suffering by not forgetting about them. Instead of withdrawing from the world, we bear witness to other peoples’ pain and remember them in the same way we would want to be remembered in similar circumstances. 

Remembering often awakens a sense of compassion, which often leads to a desire to act. It might lead us to pray, give money, volunteer, speak up, or push for change. These are all good things. But too much remembering can lead to racing thoughts and anxiety. Overextending compassion can result in compassion fatigue. Giving to the point of exhaustion can lead to burnout. Absorbing too many stories of other peoples’ trauma can result in secondary trauma. That feeling of tension remains. 

Carry your own load 

We can break out of this tension by balancing wisdom from Hebrews 13:3 with wisdom from Galatians 6:5. A few verses after we are told to carry other peoples’ burdens in Galatians 6:2, we are instructed to each carry our own load. 

Recently, I realized that I was trying to carry someone else’s load. This person was experiencing a heavy struggle, and there were some practical ways I could help to carry her burdens. I could listen and ask good questions. I could sit with her in her grief. But I could not fix the problem. There was a depth to her emotional pain that I could not truly, fully understand. Aspects of her suffering could only be carried between her and God. I had to let go. I had to let her carry her own load. 

As we are inundated with stories of global suffering, we may be tempted to carry loads that do not belong to us. We may hold on to a false sense of responsibility that leads us to overextend ourselves in our care and compassion for other people. We may attempt to fix problems and over identify with burdens that were never given to us to carry. 

Cast your anxiety on the Lord 

The other day, after I closed out of Facebook and Twitter and went to bed, my mind remained filled with thoughts about what I had just read. What if I also get long COVID? What do I think about this or that debate? How should I respond to this person or react to that cause? 

Lying in bed, I used a strategy I often teach people who come to me for counseling. I closed my eyes and began to mentally list my concerns. I gave each concern a name and visualized myself writing it down on a slip of paper. The pandemic and fear of illness went on one slip. Images of hungry, displaced people went on another. A political post that frustrated me, a news article about a school shooting, and several death announcements each got a slip. I took each slip of paper and visualized myself placing them inside a box one at a time. I closed the box and remembered that God was right there with me. I handed him the box and prayed a short prayer, releasing my concerns to him. 

In counseling, this strategy is called containment. In Scripture, we see this idea described in 1 Peter 5:7 as casting our anxieties on the Lord. It is a way to set aside thoughts, feelings, and images that feel upsetting or distressing so we can proceed with our day. The goal of containing our thoughts and giving them to God is not to ignore or downplay important issues. It isn’t being selfish, indifferent, or ignorant in the face of suffering. Instead, it is a way to accept God’s care for us. He invites us to trust him by releasing to him the fears, problems, and concerns we cannot solve. 

What people, causes, local issues, and global concerns weigh on you today? Sit for a moment and honor those who suffer by remembering them. Perhaps choose one or two ways to carry someone else’s burdens. But then, let go. Carry your own load, and let your neighbor do the same. Release your anxieties to God. The world is not yours to carry. 

By / May 10

As the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated trappings fade from view for many Americans, we are looking for a “new normal.” This is not merely a concern for business and government facilities, but for families as well. In October 2021, Brad Wilcox, Wendy Wang, Jason Carroll, and Lyman Stone released The Divided State of Our Unions: Family Formation in a (Post) COVID-19 America. Their research reveals a gap between religious and secular Americans concerning how marriage is viewed and whether its desirable. 

Much could, and should, be said concerning what the author’s data portends. However, in my reading, the study reminded me of an important, though much neglected book (likely due to its release date) from University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus (Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Regnerus is one of America’s leading researchers on marriage, sex, and religion, and his The Future of Christian Marriage makes an important contribution to our understanding of the culture of Christian marriage and dovetails well with the findings of The Divided State of Our Unions. 

A unique factor of Regnerus’ work lies in the global perspective it captures. Collecting survey data and interviews from participants in seven different countries (The United States, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Russia, Lebanon, and Nigeria) allows Regnerus to consider international trends in Christian marriage, not just an American context. This perspective produces the conclusion that “Christians around the world are increasingly accommodating . . . wider shifts in marriage trends. But there is also resistance . . . rooted in vibrant, productive religious groups” (3). It should not be surprising that the Christian faith and Christian marriage are tied together in a symbiotic relationship. But this positive correlation does signal a need for Christians, and especially the formative institutions of the Christian faith, to shore up both our understanding of discipleship to Christ and what precisely God means to do in the institution of marriage.

Marriage as a foundation or capstone?

On the latter, consider the broader trends Regnerus is concerned about. The most prominent is the shift from a foundation view of marriage to a capstone view. In the foundation view, marriage is an institution on which someone can construct a life of deep meaning and satisfaction. As such, those with a foundation view tend to marry earlier and do so with a premium on marriage’s practical importance and the complementary strengths of each spouse. By contrast, the capstone view understands marriage as something to build toward and a symbol of successful life development. As such, fewer people end up getting married; those who do tend to marry later, and with a greater emphasis on “psychological satisfaction.” Regnerus writes, “I cannot over emphasize how monumental, consequential, and subtle this shift is . . . . The capstone vision has unwittingly turned marriage into an unaffordable luxury good” (39-40). 

With Regnerus, I am concerned about the effects of this view within our churches. In my role as a pastor, I have been working with a young couple on their pre-marital counseling. They are among the first of their friends to get engaged, and they do so emerging into the post-COVID world. At the end of one discussion, I asked, “Do you have any questions?” which received the response, “Do you think culture, even within the church, does young people a disservice in encouraging us to wait until we are older and more settled to marry?” 

My initial response was to point out the pros and cons of both a late marriage and an early marriage. However, it struck me mid-sentence that I was essentially saying “foundational marriage or capstone marriage, there are strengths and weaknesses to both.” While this is certainly true in a limited way, it is also true that a capstone view has a host of unintended consequences when adopted on a societal scale and that a foundational view of marriage seems to have more correspondence with the biblical representation of marriage. Regnerus’ work in The Future of Christian Marriage reveals that these two models should not be primarily understood in light of the tradeoffs associated but assessed in terms of what they offer us and how they conform to the purpose of marriage as an institution.

In an age characterized by deconstruction, the capstone view exhibits remarkable vulnerability. It seems sensible, for example, to suggest an unsatisfying life will result in a deconstruction from the top down, thus beginning with the capstone. As such, a capstone marriage necessarily entails a “voluntary, consumption-oriented, and oft-temporary arrangement” (39). Moreover, increasing concerns about the decline of the middle class should provoke unease regarding this view. If there is either a reshuffling of the current middle class or a dissolution of it all together, then marriage will be perceived as out of reach for an increasing percentage of the populace. The ramifications of this echo throughout the book and one must imagine are only intensified as the world looks increasingly uncertain and unstable. 

However, the primary issue of the capstone view, according to Regnerus, is that it challenges the nature of marriage as tied to four primary expectations — totality (marriage as a comprehensive, whole life institution), children, permanence, and sexual fidelity. These four expectations are anticipated by nearly all marriages, yet they are incompatible and unrealistic on the capstone view. Here, Regnerus presents another critical insight, marriage is a ridged institution. That is, marriage generally rejects attempts to change or adapt its basic purpose or structure. He writes, 

“Marriage either works on its own terms, or it recedes. Alternate versions of marriage may be buttressed for a time—decades even—but the energy and resources it takes to prop up public opinion will wane eventually. Insofar as Christians’ understanding of marriage drifts away from the model [comprised of totality, fidelity, permanence, and children], their interest in marrying diminishes” (83). 

Marriage, as a ridged institution, is something one must enter to be formed as a person rather than to reformulate marriage around the desires and goals of the bride and groom. From a culture war position, we might take solace in knowing “Public relations campaigns can win ballot initiatives, but they cannot overhaul marriage,” but from a pastoral perspective we need to be concerned that “Marriage rates are shrinking, then, because of increasing disinterest in what marriage actually is” (84-85).

There is a part of me that wants to advocate, at this point, for a moratorium on Christian weddings involving the writing of unique vows or customization of much of the wedding ceremony. Regnerus’ work reminds us of the importance of tying younger Christians, especially as they begin to form their lives and families, to the ancient pathways and traditions of Christian formation — to advocate for seeing oneself as entering something not of one’s own making nor of one’s own purposes. We might do well then to consider what the contemporary resurgent interest in “liturgies” would tell us about preparing, officiating, and pastoring our young adults in marriage.

Correcting the capstone error

Regnerus offers a different avenue to firm up the future of Christian marriage: do away with cheap sex. In relationship to sex, Regnerus returns to the familiar ground of his previous book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (2017). The basic tenant of that work was that sex was becoming increasingly accessible and thus “cheap” for men. He writes, “Sex is cheap if women expect little from men in return for sex, and if men do not have to supply much time, attention, resources, recognition, or fidelity in order to experience sex . . . . The ‘cost’ of sex can be measured by the speed at which a new sexual partner can be found, or in the frequency with which one has sex” (91). 

While primarily being a criticism directed toward the broader culture, Regnerus expresses concern that the Christians do not see sex as being any more “expensive” or holding any more of an elevated view than the broader populace. This “cheap” sex disincentivized marriage and monogamy leading to women often needing to make painful tradeoffs to participate in the dating market. This cheap sex is a pre-requisite for the rise of the capstone view of marriage. Without accessible sex, men must mature and be willing to marry to have sex. If a culture can do away with cheap sex, it can return to a foundation view of marriage. 

There is a sense in which many pastors and Christian leaders are probably happy with a capstone view of marriage if it does not detract from a biblical sexual ethic. However, Regnerus’ data does not inspire confidence that young Christians are pursuing chastity. While we might wonder, at least for Americans, if this is a part of the backlash to the excesses of purity culture, the fact remains that sex — whether real or virtual — is readily available, and many young adults lack the theological equipment to understand why something so glamorized in both the church, and culture more broadly, should be off-limits for, say, an engaged couple planning their wedding.

As a pastor, I find that Regnerus’ concerns run on a parallel track to mine. I want to see the church be a haven against the pressures of cheap sex and expensive matrimony. Unfortunately, it seems that the ability to mobilize Christian institutions like denominations, parachurches, and Christian universities is fraught with the baggage of deconstructing the purity movement and the weakness of those institutions in our anti-institutional age.

If sex is cheap, chastity and matrimony are expensive, which leads to the finding that uncertainty plagues marriage. “Uncertainty and its siblings—ambiguity, individualism, and materialism—characterize the marriage market today, giving birth to the sense that our most significant relationships may be more disposable than we thought” (160). This is the result of several features of the modern world, including economic changes, parental divorce, social media, and online dating. Such features are also connected to the rise of generalized anxiety among young adults. 

It is helpful to remember and reflect that The Future of Christian Marriage was released early in 2020, thus prior to COVID-19 and its associated disruptions, as well as the new global uncertainty surrounding the Russian war on Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether such major events will be the cause of an increasing feeling of uncertainty or if they will reveal the surprising strength of the martial union and encourage a movement back to a foundational view with the church. In terms of COVID-19, Wilcox and Co.’s data was encouraging on this account.

The transition from a foundational view to capstone view happened much earlier among non-Christians. However, that move has not been accompanied by the projected benefits which were presumed to come from delays in marriage. Instead of resisting the cultural impulse, the church, according to Regnerus, appears to be following suit. In light of this, Regnerus closes his book with eight suggestions to “revitalize Christian Marriage” (161). The list reveals the importance of parents, the home, and the local church. In this way, it acts as a good reminder of the importance of subsidiarity and the small platoons of life. Like so many projects that lie ahead, the church will need the faithful presence and thoughtful resistance which accompanies confidence that we follow the risen Lord.

By / Apr 11

We are emerging from the two deadliest years in our country’s history. Let that sink in. There’s a reason your Facebook feed has been filled with more memorial posts than usual, that your own calendar has beckoned you to attend more funerals than you have in years — if you were even able to be present. Many of us are more than ready to return to the before times, when death was some far-off reality, something we could deal with later. But — as the pandemic gives way to war claiming innocent lives in Ukraine — the Church has a unique opportunity to offer to the world words for what it is enduring. God’s people also have a chance to extend to the grieving a hope that lives even in the face of death. 

No longer running from death

From 2019 to 2020, the death rate in the United States jumped by nearly 19%, and preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates it jumped another 2% in 2021. If you survived the last two years, it’s likely you know someone who didn’t. 

For me, it was my mom. I feared losing her for most of the 20 years since she was first diagnosed with cancer when I was in the seventh grade. But when her death came in 2020, I was surprised by God’s kindness hidden even in the hospice-calling and the funeral-planning. The psalms tell us that the death of each of those who die in faith is “precious in the sight of the Lord” (Psa. 116:15) and that he “is near to the brokenhearted” (Psa. 34:18). I found this to be palpably true. 

God cares for the dying and the grieving, and he wants his people to do this well, too. After trying to ignore and outrun death for years, I was surprised to see that Scripture did neither of these things. God’s Word sat with me in the reality and weight of death, while patiently offering surprising hope in the face of it. It did not rush toward a tidy conclusion about my loved one being in “a better place,” nor did it stew in some dark sadness to which the world tells me I am entitled while grieving. 

That’s because — unlike the counterfeits that offer us temporary reprieve — the hope we have in Christ in the face of death is not one that ignores or waters down its depths. It does not need to. No one acted like Goliath was not that big or menacing in telling the story of David defeating him. And no one needs to pretend the enemy of death that our Savior ultimately conquers is so small a foe. 

To speed past either the anguish that accompanies death or the hope that is dawning on the horizon undermines the very gospel story we claim to believe. And it will not ring true to the realities in which we live.

We do not need to run from discussions of death or to hide what the Bible has to say about it. Rather, a more robust theology of death prepares us to walk well through life in a fallen world — and all the loss it entails. It gives us a category for so much of what we see and grieve in the world, from the natural disasters popping up on our newsfeeds to the wrinkles appearing on our own faces. 

Considering death in light of its inevitability is not masochism; it is wisdom. It teaches us to number our own days, to labor — not in vain — but with eternity in view. Just like it helps to develop a theology of suffering — at least a hazy idea of how God might still be good when all is going wrong — before we dive headlong into it, it serves us to foster a theology of death before we are desperate for one.

So many around us are grieving specific and general losses. For too long, many churches have failed to give us a language and context for such grief and loss, even though the Bible provides each of these in spades. Considering with our churches and in personal study how the Bible views and addresses death gives us courage to enter into the broken places with others. It also prevents us from lobbing clichés at the grief-stricken that don’t align with Scripture and, frankly, do more harm than good. 

Suffering with others

God’s people have a better story to tell in the face of death. Yet, too often, we don’t take the opportunity to tell it because we are uncomfortable with the mysteries inherent in our understanding of it. But I would argue that what the world is looking for, more than our certainty, is our willingness to co-suffer with those who are facing and grieving the reality of death. 

When we attempt to do that, however feebly, we embody to others a Savior who faced death for us and experiences it with us. To that end, here are four practical ways God’s people can begin to better walk with others through death, offering to one another a form of the hope we are desperate for in times like these.

  1. Sit in the ash heap. Trusting God in the midst of our pain and others’ means we don’t have to explain it away. We can hold the truths that he is good and that this hurts in tension. And we can take a page from Job’s friends on those first seven days and just be quiet. The ministry of quiet presence is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to someone in the midst of grief. 
  1. Return to the Word. In sharp contrast to Christian culture at times, the Bible has plenty to say about death and grief. It depicts both in ways that ring true to reality. If you’re in the thick of it or know someone who is, you can start by borrowing the language of lament found throughout the Psalms. Though we think of praise as defining the Psalms, there are more psalms of lament in the Bible than any other type, not to mention an entire book called Lamentations. Lament prayers say at least two things: “I am hurting. And you are a God who hears.”
  1. Remember the dead. The Bible also points us to a rhythm of remembrance that has sustained God’s people across history. It can do the same now as we turn to face death alongside those who can no longer ignore it. Consider regular opportunities to remember the dead and your own mortality, such as Ash Wednesday or even communion. Did someone at your church lose a friend or family member a year ago or five years ago? Rather than wondering “How are you?” try asking, “What was she like?” It’s a story they just might be longing to tell. 
  1. Revive our Hope. Walking through death with others is a gracious reminder that we, too, will one day walk through these waters. Contemplating death allows us to consider Jesus’ words anew: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Consider as we walk through this season of Lent leading up to Easter that the hope is somehow heightened by being willing to face what is hard. It is because we are a people who die that it is good news to sing, “My Redeemer lives.” 

When we grow a greater theology of death, we are also more equipped to offer to the world the kernels of hope it contains. I recently read a New York Magazine article in which an atheist confessed that pandemic losses made her wonder if she should try church again. 

“Mostly I wanted a way to mourn,” Sarah Jones writes, “not just my own loss but the galloping mass death enveloping the world.” 

Jones adds that she was raised to be “a strict conservative Christian” but that she abandoned the evangelicalism that was not, in her experience, “good with mystery, or with death.” Belief in an afterlife felt “too easy.” And yet, she found herself searching for something like it when death took her grandfather and then a friend. 

“I didn’t need answers, not immediately,” she wrote, “but I wanted to know it was possible to find them if I worked hard enough to look . . . I wanted to stretch out my arms to something, even if I couldn’t tell what it was.” 

The apostle Paul thought about death enough to develop a vision for being like Christ in it (Phil. 3:10). What opportunities, I wonder, are we missing if we don’t do the same?

By / Mar 18

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every family in America. Some are still dealing with the aftermath of the disease. But the problem of substance abuse exacerbated by the pandemic might be a problem that lasts longer than the coronavirus.

The pandemic — as well as related policies to mitigate the spread of the virus — aggravated a host of factors that tend to increase the risk for substance abuse. For example, many people experienced sudden loss of income and employment and an increase in time spent at home alone or with dependents, leading to increased levels of stress. The result, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes, is that researchers have observed increases in substance use and drug overdoses in the United States since the pandemic was declared a national emergency in March 2020. 

Increased abuse of alcohol

The National Institute on Drug Abuse looked at the monthly per capita sales of alcoholic beverages in 14 states and compared sales in 2020 or 2021 compared to the 2017–2019 3-year average. They found that the percentage change in sales for all alcoholic beverages peaked with a 15% increase, and sales of spirits peaked at a 30% increase. 

This increase in sales is reflected in the surveys on consumption. A survey sponsored by RTI International conducted in May 2020 showed overall increases in alcohol consumption, with women, people with minor children in the home, and Black Americans disproportionately increasing their drinking in the short term after COVID-19 started. Compared with February 2020, average monthly consumption in April and November 2020 increased by 36% and 39%, respectively. Corresponding increases for the proportion exceeding drinking guidelines were 27% and 39%, and increases for binge drinking were 26% and 30%.

Using the estimated 166,052,940 people aged 21 or older nationally who drank in 2019, this translates to an increase from February to November 2020 of 1 billion more drinks per month, with 14.6 million more people exceeding drinking guidelines, and 9 million more people binge drinking in November 2020 compared with February 2020. 

According to the survey, the proportion exceeding drinking guidelines between February and November 2020 increased by 54% for women and by 32% for men, with more women than men exceeding recommended drinking guidelines between April and November 2020. The proportion of binge drinking between February and November 2020 also increased by 42% for women and by 32% for men. The largest increases in consumption during this period were for Black and Hispanic women (173% and 148%, respectively), Black men (173%), men of other races (209%), and women with children younger than age 5 (323%). 

The percentage of respondents with mental health issues who reported drinking to cope increased from 5% in February to 15% in November, and the percentage of those who drank for enhancement increased from 6% in February to 16.5% in November. 

Increase in drug overdoses

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a reporting system called ODMAP found that the early months of the pandemic brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019. The trend has continued throughout 2020, and more than 40 U.S. states saw increases in opioid-related mortality. 

In an interview with the APA, Mandy Owens, a researcher at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, says she’s observed a spike in substance use that includes an increase in both quantity and frequency of drug use during the pandemic. There also appears to be a substitution effect, as the quarantines, lockdowns, and other restrictions made access to certain substances such as heroin more difficult. For example, Owens says Washington state has seen an uptick in the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s increasingly produced illicitly, due to a shift in drug supply availability. 

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the “nation’s drug overdose epidemic continues to change and become worse.” That AMA finds that one prevailing theme is the fact that the epidemic now is driven by illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine, and cocaine, often in combination or in adulterated forms.

A survey published in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that 47% of respondents indicated their substance use had increased during COVID-19, and 38% said they believed they were at higher risk of overdose due to supply disruptions that made drugs more expensive, harder to get, and of unknown origin. Seven percent of survey respondents also indicated they had relapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to find help

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a National Helpline that is free, confidential, and provides treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s National Helpline can be reached by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357), via text message at 435748 (HELP4U), or TTY at 1-800-487-4889. 

As Christians, we should be ready and willing to care for those who come to us with a substance abuse problem. We can point them to the forgiveness and hope found in Christ while walking with them along the hard road to sobriety. Let’s pray that those who are struggling would get the help they need, find community in the body of Christ, and find freedom in the Savior. 

By / Feb 25

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the decline of global democracy, and the Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial. They also talk about the Queen’s recovery from COVID-19 and pursuing racial unity in the SBC. 

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Culture

  1. NBC News – Russia Launches Illegal Invasion of Ukraine
  2. Russia launched attacks on Ukraine from multiple fronts
  3. Putin’s speech
  4. Ukrainian president as a target
  5. Axios – Global democracy declines for 16th year, annual index finds
  6. CBS News – Ahmaud Arbery federal murder trial
  7. NBC News – Queen postpones more events after Covid positive

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By / Feb 18

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss the ERLC’s board of trustees voting to move forward with the sexual abuse assessment of the SBC, a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the pandemic slowing and becoming endemic. They also discuss evaluating our social media engagement and the SBC’s history within the pro-life movement.

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  1. Sexual Abuse Assessment of the SBC 
  2. Russian amassing more troops on Ukrainian border
  3. Russia invasion likely in next few days
  4. U.S. sends more aid to Poland as preparation for conflict continues
  5. America’s uneven pandemic off ramp

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  • Prison Fellowship | Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
  • Psalm 139 Project // Through the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC is placing 50 ultrasound machines by the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2023, and thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Southern Baptists and our pro-life partners, we’re already halfway to our goal. But requests for these lifesaving machines continue to pour in from around the country, and our team can’t keep up without your help. Will you take a stand for life by helping us place our next ultrasound machine? One hundred percent of financial contributions designated to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchasing ultrasound machines and providing training for workers. Learn more at ERLC.com/50by50.
By / Jan 21

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss President Biden’s press conference, the trust deficit in the U.S., and the failure of changing the filibuster. They also talk about a COVID-19 blind date that lasted for days, the pro-life movement and human dignity, and the value of senior adults. 

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  1. President Biden’s first year press conference 
  2. The U.S. has a trust deficit
  3. Attempt to change filibuster fails 
  4. Blind date lasts for days during COVID lockdowns 

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  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
By / Jan 14

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss U.S. and Russia negotiations, the prevalence of the Omicron variant, and why store shelves are so empty. They also talk about the drama between Australia and Novak Djokovic, protecting your children from social media’s harms, and ethical issues in technology to watch in 2022.

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  1. U.S. and Russian negotiations lead nowhere
  2. Fauci: Omicron will find “virtually everybody”
  3. McConnell takes issue with Biden’s big voting rights speech
  4. Why are store shelves empty? 
  5. Will Novak Djokovic play tennis in Australia? 

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  • The Big Wide Welcome // This episode was brought to you by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Big Wide Welcome by Trillia Newbell. Building on the popular book God’s Very Good Idea, The Big Wide Welcome inspires kids to be like Jesus and love others. Grab your copy and some free coloring sheets at thegoodbook.com.
  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.