Can we do disability ministry across a theological chasm?

MallC_WeddingFrom the very beginning of Key Ministry, we’ve never had any theological “litmus test” churches had to pass before we would serve them. We’ve sought to come alongside all Christian churches. We’ve historically had Board members representing churches from a number of Christian traditions (churches attended by current Board members include Evangelical Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic and non-demoninational), and we have more than enough work to do fulfilling our primary mission.

The church from which our ministry was launched and the church I’ve attended for much of my adult life (until seeking dismissal from the PC-USA seven years ago) would fairly be described as “traditional” in its beliefs in the midst of a denomination that was becoming progressively more “liberal” in theology and its’ approach to social issues. From my perspective, one reason our church stayed in the denomination as long as it did was the importance leadership placed upon continuing relationships with congregations we disagreed with theologically in the hope we could continue to maintain some influence with them…and influence is generally impossible without relationship.

DSC00189_2We’ve held trainings in lots of different churches with very different theological perspectives than those held by a majority of our Board members (or my home church) and we’ve always been welcomed warmly. We had a great event at a church where the senior pastor at the time was openly critical of one of our Board members on his blog. Enthusiasm for the cause of helping kids and families connect with the church has (up to now) been enough to overcome differences in theology or teaching.

I’m concerned that the divisiveness we’ve seen over issues including the authority of the Bible, standards of personal conduct for church leaders and endorsement of same-sex marriage will very soon make it impossible for disability ministry leaders on one side of the divide to serve churches on the other side of the divide. Here’s a message that a disability ministry colleague shared with me last Friday…

What’s the church? I’m working with a United Church of Christ congreation on some disability issues. I think the denomination is pretty liberal across the board. They “get” disability ministry and one of the only ones open to my message. I know they are cheering today. What will happen to them? How do I as their brother in Christ work with them? I see fruits, but I also see judgments.

I’m hopeful of the best, bur preparing for the worst. Clearly, the fault lines have been emerging over the last five-plus years. Key Ministry’s volunteer accountant attends an Anglican church that conducts business and some worship services out of the church my family attends after they were evicted from their building by their previous denomination. The cause of the eviction as described by the local paper was “disputes regarding interpretation of the Bible and certain basic tenets, including details of Jesus’ resurrection.” The increasingly frequent news stories about denominations and churches ending up in court over property matters and demands for payment from churches seeking to be released from their denominations are a tragedy and a distraction from the work that desperately needs to be done in the culture. At the same time, the “liberal” pastor I made reference to above was very clearly hurt by the perception he was seen as a “heretic” by conservatives within his denomination.

I did a run on the data we at Key collect online when churches contact us for consultation. Here’s what we found in terms of the makeup of the churches that contacted us online in the last 2+ years…

Key Church referrals

I went through our consultation requests since the beginning of 2015…We’ve averaged a little over six requests/month this year and we’ve received one from a “mainline” church this year…and that request came from a volunteer as opposed to a church staff member.

It’s sad (unlike the experience of my ministry colleague) that we’ve received so few requests from churches on the liberal end of the theological spectrum. At the same time, we may have missed out on a major opportunity to expand the impact of our ministry because of having sponsored a blog that featured a few guest posts authored by a leader from a church with a theological perspective incompatible with the “conservative” organization that approached us.

If there’s anything that church leaders adhering to reformed/traditional theology and those with more “progressive” views ought to be able to agree upon is the importance of sharing the love of Christ with kids and families impacted by disability who are currently excluded from local congregations of ANY Christian tradition. But in response to the point raised by my colleague, have we reached the point where the distrust in the church for ministries and ministry leaders who routinely serve the “other side” is such that we in disability ministry will be forced to choose one side of the theological chasm or the other at the risk of losing the opportunity to minister altogether?

Photo courtesy of United Church of Christ General Synod.

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shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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Mobilize the people…

BZTIn the final installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve examines the importance of engaging and mobilizing the people of your church to do the work of a thriving mental health ministry.

Mental health ministry isn’t a spectator sport. Everyone gets to play.

Your people are your greatest asset in reaching out to and building relationships with children, teens and adults with mental illness and their families. Given the statistics on the prevalence of mental illness among kids and adults in the U.S., it’s a fair statement that most of your attendees/members will know at least one person impacted by mental illness lacking a meaningful connection to a local church. Empowering them to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” can have a powerful impact in your local community.

Let’s look at the different ways your mental health inclusion team might empower the people of your church to own your church’s ministry…

Libby Key MinistryService: Often, the most meaningful ministry a church can offer takes place through the spontaneous action of individual Christians in responding to and meeting needs where God has placed them. Libby Peterson from our team did a fabulous job here describing the mindset with which your church’s people can approach the challenge…

Here is one small step. If the Lord has you in proximity to a family (impacted by mental illness) who does not know Jesus – in other words – if you encounter this family where you live, work or play – take a small step towards them. Begin to seek God’s help in building a relationship. Invite the mom for coffee, the dad to a sporting event, the child for a play date, offer to grab groceries on your next trip or just call some afternoon to say “Hi”. Trust the Lord will use that relationship for HIS glory – after all Jesus lives IN YOU and as this family grows in relationship with you – they will inevitably begin to see Jesus. Watch for opportunities to BRING them into a gathering of people who love Jesus. Be open to inviting them to belong – and know that it’s in the belonging that people often first come to believe!

Others will have more defined service roles…leading a small group, participating in your church’s respite ministry, serving as a Stephen Minister-but everyone has a place to serve on your team.

Evangelism: Everyone in your church who has come to faith in Jesus has the opportunity to share the Good News with the people God places in their path on a daily basis. How might your inclusion team keep this opportunity at the forefront of their minds?

During our discussion of online church and social media, we touched on the importance of making resources available to your church members in formats that can be shared easily through social media. Given that the average American adult now spends 5.6 hours/day consuming  digital media, your people are increasingly likely to encounter people God places along their digital path. How can your team empower and resource your teens and adults to share the Good News and invite those they encounter online into relationship with the people of your church, and ultimately, into a relationship with Jesus?

Presence: Our friend Jim Hukill discussed the importance of the ministry of presence in this talk from Inclusion Fusion 2012. Here’s how the folks at Fuller Youth Institute describe presence

Neil Holm defines this concept as “a faith presence that accompanies each person on the journey through life.” This presence in each of us reflects God’s presence, love, and peace. Central to this ministry philosophy is the idea of “being with.” The love and presence of God is embodied as we are with the other person in their moment of crisis. A ministry of presence can bring comfort and express care without words. Presence encompasses physical, emotional, and spiritual care. This is sacramental presence. It is a revelation of Jesus’ care and compassion through listening, being with, and affirming.

The church is everywhere the people of your church have been positioned. How will your team prepare your people to extend this ministry where they’ve been placed?

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shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

Posted in Advocacy, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Online community…component of a mental health inclusion strategy?

Online groupsIn the ninth installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve explores ways in which churches can creatively establish online communities and incorporate strategies to use these communities as part of an overall plan for building relationships with families impacted by mental illness.

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

The sage advice given to Tom Cruise’s character by “the late, great Dicky Fox” in the movie Jerry Maguire is foundational to any intentional strategy to reach out to and include children and teens with mental illness and their families.

If I had it to do over again (and I might), I’d relabel Key Ministry’s Front Door initiative as “online community” as opposed to “online church.” When we put church services online, we weren’t trying to create an alternative experience of church so much as we were trying to create an additional pathway to relationship with the help of some cutting edge technology. The goal of any online ministry effort of ours is to create relationships that move families impacted by disability one step closer to an experience of “church” in the physical presence of other Christ followers.

More and more churches are live streaming services or establishing online campuses. Even more are diving into social media and for good reason…that’s where the people are!

99.9% of churches will enter into online expressions of ministry for reasons other than outreach to families with disabilities. As your church builds an online presence, I see several compelling reasons for your church’s mental health/disability ministries to go along for the ride…

  • It’s an easy way to lower the resistance to engaging church attendees and members in evangelism and outreach.
  • It levels the playing field for persons who struggle with social communication or social anxiety.
  • Technology allows you to inexpensively target underserved families (such as families impacted by mental illness) and increase the likelihood of connecting them with people in  your church who can help them take the next step toward worshiping in the physical presence of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

How might a mental health inclusion project use existing/developing resources for ministry online as part of a plan? Here are six ways that churches can use tools they’re already developing to reach…

  • Online Church 060115Worship services: As the cost of live streaming online video content continues to fall, more and more churches are making available online access to worship services in real time. Other churches are archiving the content of sermon messages on video hosting services like Vimeo. Facebook is now seeking to compete with YouTube for viewers (and advertising dollars) and at the time of this post allows page managers to upload videos of up to 45 minutes duration. If your church is producing video content, the mental health inclusion team might ask how that content could be used to help persons with mental illness and their families connect with the members and attendees of your church? How would use your video content to promote conversation and relationship?
  • Small group experiences: Videoconferencing technology has progressed to the point that interactive, online small groups represent a potentially effective strategy for including teens and adults in small groups when work or school demands or the lack of availability of child care would otherwise present insurmountable obstacles to group participation. We’ve seen the future and it works. How could you reach and include families your church isn’t currently serving (including families impacted by mental illness or trauma) through launching online groups?

Not every group needs to take place in real time. Private/closed online groups hosted on Facebook have been effective for our ministry in creating dialogues around topics of interest. As more churches offer adult education and Bible studies online through Facebook, blogs and other platforms, how would your church seek to engage and include families without a church home, including families impacted by mental illness?

  • Serving: Online ministry provides ample opportunity for “reverse inclusion.” How could your church’s volunteer team use people with a background in mental health or personal experience with mental illness through representing your church’s ministry online?
  • Prayer: Does your church have a prayer ministry? How could your inclusion team come alongside your church’s prayer ministry to extend themselves into the surrounding mental health community?

Our team realizes that thinking about mental health inclusion when online ministry technology is still in its’ infancy is more outside the experience of most church leaders than any other intervention we’ve discussed. We’re also convinced that online ministry offers the potential for contributing to an effective mental health ministry strategy where very few strategies exist. Here’s why…

  • Online ministry is outwardly-focused.
  • Online ministry provides an inexpensive opportunity for churches to overcome the relationship deficits common among many families impacted by mental illness.
  • Online ministry levels the playing field for persons who struggle with social anxiety or social communication.
  • Online ministry allows families to connect with church in a sensory environment of their choosing.
  • Online ministry eliminates the need for individuals and families to self-identify with a mental health disability in order to get the accommodations they might need to participate in a ministry event or activity.

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Steve NilsWe’ve developed a resource page on the topic of online ministry that contains several video presentations from Key Ministry including video from two of the church’s most prominent thought leaders in online ministry (Nils Smith from Community Bible Church and Jay Kranda from Saddleback Church) and helpful links to just about every resource a church might need to learn more of how technology may be applied to reach families impacted by disability.

Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Promoting mental health inclusion at church? Respond to the family’s most immediate needs

shutterstock_165733445In the eighth installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve discusses how churches can be the hands and feet of Christ through responding to practical needs of families both inside and outside the church impacted by mental illness. 

If we’re to have an impact as the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are outside the church, we first have to get better at addressing the practical needs of families impacted by mental illness who are already part of the church or those who have some connection to the church. Imagine the reaction of someone desperate for care and support who feels overlooked while the church pours into others!

At the same time, our ministry colleague (and former Key Ministry Church Consultant) Mike Woods frequently reminds us of the importance of “outwardly-focused inclusion.” Because we’ve hypothesized that families of kids with mental illness and trauma are significantly less likely to attend church or participate in other activities offered to promote discipleship, we can’t wait for them to come to us…we need to be intentional about going to them.

We’re going to look at an inventory of ideas for churches seeking to serve kids, teens and adults with mental illness and their families. We’ll start this list with strategies primarily intended for those who already have a connection with the church and end with activities more likely to impact persons outside our congregations.

  • Intercessory prayer: How often have you heard your pastor or another pastor pray for people impacted by mental illness during a worship service? Regularly scheduled public prayer is a powerful strategy for affirming attendees struggling with mental illness and conveying a sense of welcome to visitors impacted by mental illness.
  • Casseroles: Every church that I’ve attended church in my adult life had some type of ministry to provide food to families following the birth of a baby or during an illness. Would your church make sure that a family with a child in the hospital has something to eat? What if their child is in a psychiatric hospital? During a segment on the crisis in children’s mental health that aired last year on 60 Minutes, one mother put it like this…

My daughter, when she was thirteen was hit by a car and fortunately was fine, except for a very bad broken leg. The church organized a brigade of casserole makers, the neighbors brought casseroles, friends, families, everybody. Six months before that, Christina had spent two months on a psychiatric ward, and we had no casseroles. And I’m not blaming the church or the neighbors or anything…because of the stigma, we didn’t tell people.

  • Hospital visits: In many churches a pastor or member of the pastoral care team will seek to visits members/attendees in the hospital or another extended or long-term care facility. Would a child or teen in a psychiatric or residential treatment facility get a visit from the children’s or student pastor? What about the adult child of a member in assisted housing?
  • Counseling: Many adults or kids who could very much benefit from counseling are unable to afford it. Since many seek help from the church already, the availability of high quality counseling services offered free of charge or at an affordable price through a local church helps address a very pressing need.
  • Referral services: Many families don’t know where to turn when mental illness strikes in the family. Churches provide a valuable service when they can help families identify appropriate practitioners/agencies for their mental health needs and help facilitate a connection.
  • Compassion: Many churches have a benevolence or “deacon’s fund” to provide financial assistance to members or attendees with pressing financial needs. Churches can communicate the availability of support when families have no other way of addressing a short-term mental health need…one-time consultations, prescription refills, transportation, child care for a parent receiving treatment.
  • Community: Persons with mental illness and their family members are frequently experiencing social isolation and a lack of support. Many churches offer Stephen Ministers or similar high-quality, confidential caregivers to support hurting people.
  • IMG_0751Mental health-focused worship services: Many churches will designate a specific weekend as a “Disability Ministry” or “Special Needs Ministry” Sunday. In our home area, we’re seeing churches host worship specifically for families with identified special needs. Why not host a worship service with a mental health-specific theme with appropriate worship music and teaching promoted to families of kids and adults with mental illness who lack a church home?
  • After school programming: Kids who struggle with mental illness are more likely to come from single-parent families, may benefit from structured environments and need opportunities to work on social skills in a nurturing and accepting environment. Have you ever considered offering ministry for kids and teens after school? Wanda Parker and her team at KidTrek have developed good models for after-school ministry. Because higher rates of mental illness are reported among kids with learning disabilities, after school tutoring programs provide churches opportunities to provide kids with adult mentors while meeting immediate needs.
  • Parent advocates: Many kids with mental illness will require special education services (covered under an IEP) or school-based accommodations (covered under a 504 plan). A church can provide an invaluable service to parents by providing trained advocates to accompany parents to educational planning meetings at schools. Advocates may also help families access needed services through the mental health system.
  • Prison/homeless ministry: You’ve probably never thought of your church’s homeless ministry or  prison ministry as mental health outreach. 26% of homeless persons are characterized by SAMHSA as having “severe mental illness.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately, 24% of jail inmates, 15% of state prisoners, and 10% of federal prisoners reported at least one symptom of a psychotic disorder. Local jail inmates had the highest rate of symptoms of a mental health disorder (60%), followed by State (49%), and Federal prisoners (40%). How can your church better support the mental health needs of those you serve through these ministries?

We’re always interested in learning of new ways in which churches have provided meaningful service to families impacted of mental illness. Know of a church doing great work in mental health ministry? Doing something innovative? Let us know by posting a comment or link below.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Psych meds don’t turn kids into mass murderers

IMG_0905In society’s never-ending quest to deflect attention from the real problems that contribute to events such as took place last Wednesday night in Charleston, I found myself with a message from a frightened parent reading articles reading articles in her Facebook news feed like this one from the left end of our cultural spectrum or this one from the right suggesting a link between mass murder and treatment with ADHD medication, antidepressants or anxiolytics. Here’s what she said at the end of her message…

This makes me sad…,the stigma is so pervasive. My family has a history of stuff where SSRI’s have helped. Stuff like this? This doesn’t help.

As many of you are aware, I’m a physician (child psychiatrist) from a group practice that participated in a government-funded research network conducting studies designed to look at safety issues with psychiatric medications commonly prescribed to children and teens.

This statement won’t come as a surprise to any parent or caregiver who has ever tried to take their child to a specialist such as myself, but we’re plenty busy without having to go out and snatch kids from the mall in order to find enough patients to treat. Over the last 10-15 years, more and more kids who struggle with impulse control or anger management are brought to practices like mine, pediatric clinics or publicly-funded mental health centers because counseling, therapy or medicine has helped lots of kids. Treatment doesn’t help everybody and in the vast majority of cases, medication doesn’t completely eliminate the child or teen’s presenting problems, but why would we be surprised that kids on developmental trajectories marked by struggles with anger management or self-control would have been referred for mental health treatment?

Here are some facts…we have 6.4 million kids between the ages of 5 and 17 in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Between 50-60% are actively being treated with ADHD medication. 3.7% of kids ages 12-17 and 11% of Americans ages 12 and over are being treated with antidepressant medication (also used to treat anxiety). If a history of mental illness or mental health treatment were responsible for the mass shootings, we would literally have blood running in the streets.

Medication (or prior mental health treatment) hasn’t been shown to have caused ANY of these events. Each of the recent mass murders is unique…the theater shooter in Colorado as well as the gunman who shot Congresswoman Gabi Giffords had schizophrenia, the kid in California had high-functioning autism, the Sandy Hook shooter probably had more severe autism, and the Virginia Tech shooter had social anxiety.

There’s no evidence that the Charleston shooter had any mental health treatment, but he was arrested for possession of narcotics without a prescription. He planned and committed racially-motivated mass murder.

As Christians, we see ourselves as part of a larger story-good on the one side, evil on the other. Reading the accounts of what took place during the hour between the time the shooter entered and exited the church, I can’t help but observe a microcosm of the eternal battle between God and the evil one for the souls of men. From the Washington Post

Law enforcement officials said he had confessed, and that during the confession, expressed strong anti-black views. Officials characterized him as unrepentant and unashamed.

Roof told officers that he wanted word of his actions to spread, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Yet Roof also acknowledged to authorities that he had briefly reconsidered his plan during the time he spent watching the Bible study group after entering the church, two people briefed on the investigation said.

Roof said he “almost didn’t go through with it because they were so nice to him,” one of the people said, before he concluded that “I had to complete my mission.”

As he methodically fired and reloaded several times, the person said, Roof called out: “You all are taking over our country. Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”

Charleston isn’t about a mental health problem…it’s about an problem with evil. Evil may have won the battle on Wednesday but the Bible is very clear that evil will not win the war. And for reasons discussed at length here this past Friday, our culture is very reticent to acknowledge the existence of evil.

Hate Crime

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.

Amos 5:14 (ESV)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21 (ESV)

Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

1 Peter 3:11-12 (ESV)

I’d say to parents of kids on medication…Don’t let your hearts be troubled. For every kid who took medicine and went on to become a mass murderer, there are literally millions of who never hurt anybody and were able to live happier, more productive lives and grow up to be the people God intended them to be.

For those interested in reading more on the subject, here’s an earlier post we did looking specifically at the topic of medication safety in kids and teens.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

#CharlestonShooting… Evil or mental illness?

156x195-keith-ablow2In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Charleston, our culture is yet again engaged in a conversation as to why events like this continue to occur. While watching the coverage of the shooting on Fox News last night, Dr. Keith Ablow (the psychiatrist who serves as a Fox News contributor) made what struck me as a jaw-dropping statement…

“Most evil is mental illness.”

As a physician trained in child/adult psychiatry, I’m struck by the accuracy with which the Bible explains the human condition. NONE of us are good. Some of us who choose to reject God lose the benefit of conscience and are given over to a “debased mind”

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)

Modern society struggles to acknowledge the presence of evil. Some have attempted to use the new tools we have available to us in neuroscience to point to differences in brain structure or chemistry to explain why certain individuals commit heinous acts such as the slaughter that took place Wednesday night at the Emanuel AME church. Many of my colleagues openly reject the notion of any spiritual reality that we’re unable to measure or quantify. If you can’t image a soul on a fMRI scan, it must not exist. As a result, we’re left with observations such as this from Ron Rosenbaum

Of course, people still commit innumerable bad actions, but the idea that people make conscious decisions to hurt or harm is no longer sustainable, say the new brain scientists. For one thing, there is no such thing as “free will” with which to decide to commit evil. (Like evil, free will is an antiquated concept for most.) Autonomous, conscious decision-making itself may well be an illusion. And thus intentional evil is impossible.

1920430_10153112930588073_9051393141878408641_nAs a society, we seek to minimize the existence of evil because recognition of evil threatens our shared delusion that any absolute standard of right and wrong exists. We want to be masters of our own universe. To acknowledge the presence of right and wrong would require us to acknowledge the Creator of the universe who established the standards.

How do we make sense of the observation that many mass murderers in recent years were receiving treatment or manifesting symptoms of mental illness, and how do we make sense of the rates of mental illness cited among those incarcerated for serious crimes?

What mental illness does is that it makes it harder for some to continue to hide from the world the evil that exists within their hearts. Some struggle with conditions that make it more difficult for them to manage impulses or self-regulate emotions. Others may struggle to let go of obsessive thoughts that build over hours, days or months into violent rage, as with some of the “loners” who have committed mass murder. Sometimes, professionals can help treat the mental illness that predisposes some to act violently, but in doing so we’re treating symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. In most instances, mental illness doesn’t interfere with a person’s capacity to distinguish right from wrong and the Bible is very clear that we all bear moral accountability regardless of any condition that causes us more difficulty with controlling our thoughts, words and actions.

We can’t have the conversation we should have as a culture because most of us are far too uncomfortable with the prospect of examining our own hearts and the recognition that under the right circumstances, we’re all capable of acting in unspeakable ways. We have the example of the churchgoers in Nazi Germany who were complicit in the Holocaust. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was able to operate for over three decades because the attitudes prevalent in our culture blinded regulatory authorities to the realities of what was taking place inside his abortion clinic. Within the culture of academia, a professor of ethics at Princeton (Peter Singer) can be applauded for his advocacy of infanticide for severely disabled children and papers on the subject of “after-birth abortion” get published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. An argument can be made that the young man who confessed to the massacre in Charleston may have in some ways been a product of his environment.

The elites in academia, politics, entertainment and the media have perpetrated cultural delusions to rationalize their evil…and the evil of tens of millions of our fellow citizens. Increasingly, our politics is about preserving our cultural delusions around right and wrong. “You will be made to care” is ultimately about silencing the voices of people and institutions capable of prodding the consciences of those who maintain the status quo of the shared delusion about absolute truth, right and wrong.

shutterstock_139126682We’d like to maintain the delusion there’s a human fix to the problem…taking away guns, spending more money on mental health, providing more workshops on “diversity” or cultural sensitivity. But human fixes can’t work for spiritual problems. And the sinfulness (evil) within human hearts is the ultimate spiritual problem.

Evil is not mental illness. But mental illness sometimes makes it more difficult for men and women to keep the evil within them hidden.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Leading a spiritually disciplined life as a person with ADHD…

shutterstock_123414757All good Christians get up early in the morning to pray, read the Bible and quietly reflect upon God, don’t they? On the other hand, is it possible that there are kids and adults out there who truly have a heart for God even though they don’t engage in the central spiritual practices of the Christian faith as frequently or consistently as some in the church would think is optimal?

Persons with ADHD will expend more mental effort and energy to maintain a spiritually disciplined life. In an earlier post, we discussed some of the difficulties kids and adults with ADHD have with maintaining focus, delaying gratification, setting priorities, managing time and exhibiting self-control because of weaknesses in executive functioning. Let’s consider how those weaknesses might come into play when attempting to use some of the disciplines…

Prayer: Kids and adults with ADHD are more likely to struggle in setting aside time to pray consistently. They may have difficulty remembering what they wanted or needed to pray about when they make time to pray. Prayer logs and journals may be as important for the Christian with ADHD as daily planners and organizers are for the kid in school with ADHD. More importantly, persons with ADHD may have a more difficult time listening for God’s responses to prayer. The ability to “Be still and know that I am God” is a challenge for all of us in our modern society, but even more so for kids and adults with brains wired to notice the trivial and mundane.

BibleBible study: Kids and adults with ADHD are more prone to give up on Bible study when it becomes tedious. Many start off each year with good intentions to read through the Bible. They do OK through Genesis and Exodus, but the person with ADHD is going to struggle with Leviticus and has likely lost their resolve by the time they get to Numbers or Deuteronomy. Many kids with ADHD tell me they get distracted by other words on the page. I know lots of folks with ADHD who require highlighters while reading to focus on the main points. I don’t think God minds the Bible being all marked up if it helps the reader absorb more content. It’s important to remember (to paraphrase Reggie Joiner) that while all Scripture may be equally true, not all Scripture is equally important. One place where the church can help is by presenting the most important truths of Christianity in ways that are relevant, engaging and interesting. If kids with ADHD and their parents can’t stay focused long enough to get all the way through the Bible, let’s make sure they get the most important parts.

Meditation: Reflecting quietly upon a passage of Scripture or upon some attribute of God will be more challenging for kids and adults who have more difficulty holding words or images in their minds. The shorter the time spent in meditation and the more direction given to meditation, the more likely the exercise will be in facilitating spiritual growth.

Service: Kids with ADHD may have a difficult time remembering and getting started on uninteresting tasks. Just ask one to take out the garbage or clean his room if you need an illustration. On the other hand, serving can be a powerful experience if the act is meaningful and the skill set required fits within the giftedness of the person with ADHD. The kid or adult who has to be dragged to a Bible Study kicking and screaming may be all charged up about working on a Habitat crew, renovating houses for single moms in the city, or digging wells for villages in Africa.

Worship: Many kids and adults with ADHD may do better with worship events as participants as opposed to spectators. One of the churches we serve through Key Ministry offers monthly family worship experiences that parents attend with their elementary-age kids emphasizing Biblical virtues. The director told me every kid who performed on stage in their family worship was being treated for ADHD.

Evangelism: Evangelism is one spiritual discipline in which having some ADHD traits might be advantageous. Kids and adults with ADHD may have an easier time acting on the impulse to share their faith with others instead of pondering all the reasons why saying nothing might be a good idea. One observation I’ve made in working with lots of churches through Key Ministry is that a disproportionate number of senior pastors probably have ADHD, in part for the reason described above.

Bottom line…If God wanted cookie-cutter Christians, that’s what He would have made! We have a palette of spiritual disciplines because we won’t all grow closer to God in exactly the same way. The key for church leaders, parents and those who care for kids with ADHD is helping them identify those disciplines that excite them about God and help them grow closer to Him.

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shutterstock_24510829Key Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

Posted in ADHD, Key Ministry, Spiritual Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mitzi VanCleve…Help My Unbelief: “Religious OCD”

shutterstock_168659081Having lived with OCD for quite some time and experienced a lot of diverse obsessional themes, I can tell you that any persistent or long-held obsession is going to create a painful and debilitating level of anxiety, often accompanied by depression.

In order to demonstrate a level of respect and empathy for others, it is important for those of us with OCD to recognize that while our obsessional themes may differ, this doesn’t mean that our experience is more legitimate or painful than that of others.

“Religious OCD” or scrupulosity may not seem like a big deal to a person with OCD who isn’t a Christian but to those of us who have struggled with it, it is a very big deal. It might not even seem to be all that big of a deal to a psychologist who isn’t a Christian, because they cannot relate to the experience of being a Christian in comparison to the things which they deem to be real/legitimate to their own experiences. And, conversely; it might seem like a really big deal to a pastor who is trying to help someone who is suffering from religious OCD, but this may be because he might misunderstand it to be a spiritual problem instead of seeing it as a disorder.

These types of errant views about religious OCD can make the person who is afflicted feel even more isolated in their suffering. The isolation might go on for a very long time until they encounter other Christians who are going through the same thing or happen upon a Christian psychologist who specializes in the treatment of OCD.

The truth of the matter is that for the person with OCD who struggles with blasphemous thoughts or unrelenting questions and doubts concerning their relationship to God, it’s sheer torture. John Bunyan in describing how this form of OCD impacted him said: “Of all the temptations that ever I met with in my life, to question the being of God, and the truth of His gospel, is the worst, and the worst to be borne; when this temptation comes, it takes away my girdle from me, and removeth the foundation from under me.” (1)

While it may be true that most genuine believers will likely experience doubt at some point in their lives, most often it is of the fleeting sort and most definitely the sort which is laid to rest by the reassurance and truth’ of the Word of God. C.S. Lewis seemed to believe this to be the case when he wrote: “The soul that has once been waked, or stung, or uplifted by the desire for God, will inevitably (I think) awake to the fear of losing Him.” (2)

The experience of religious OCD is, however, entirely different; in cause, in duration and in the level of suffering it creates in the person who is afflicted.

The reason I wanted to address this form of OCD is that recently I’ve encountered a mindset on several OCD forums which either minimizes it in comparison to other obsessional themes or suggests that deep down the person who is experiencing it doesn’t really believe in God and therefore, should just let go of any or all efforts to know God or pursue religion of any sort.

Both of these attitudes err in regard to what it’s really like for the genuine believer to suffer from religious OCD and also in regard to what to do about it.

The first mindset suggests that the experience of Religious OCD cannot compare to the pain of other obsessions because to those who are making this assertion, religion is just a point of view rather than the foundation and underpinnings of a persons life. But, for the true Christian, religion isn’t just a point of view. Their “religion” is based in a very real and very meaningful relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. For those of us who have entered into this relationship, it is the central and most important aspect of what being fully human is. Our experience is different from the unbeliever because, “in Him, we live and move and have our being.” (3)

The second mindset completely dismisses the experience of religious OCD as being legitimate because the persons who are making this assertion feel that any belief in God is utterly nonsensical. To them, being anxious over the loss of a relationship with Christ would be akin to an adult falling apart because they weren’t sure that Santa Claus was real.

I have had several online conversations with people on OCD forums who have suggested to me that my “religious” obsessions could be easily overcome just by my admitting that deep down I didn’t really believe in God at all. These same people are quick to acknowledge the legitimacy of, as well as the agony that obsessions about contamination, health, sexual orientation, harming themes and themes which threaten their closest human relationships create. And yet, they remain dismissive of my experience of religious OCD.

Several of them have said things like; ” Yeah, I used to struggle with fears about God, but I finally realized that there isn’t any God, so I stopped going to church and now I’m not bothered by it any more.” Their solution to religious OCD is to suggest avoidance. Little do they realize that avoidance won’t work for a person who truly loves Christ any more than it would work for the person who is struggling with harming themes or relationship themes in regard to a close family member. The only thing that avoidance accomplishes in all these forms of OCD is to validate the obsessional fear and thereby bring even more distress and anxiety to the sufferer. These individuals would never suggest that the person who is suffering from harming obsessions or relationship OCD should avoid their child or their spouse, so why would they suggest that the Christian avoid Christ? The only answer I can come up with, is that they aren’t or never really were true believers and followers of Christ. They’ve never really understood what it means to have a relationship with Christ. They have never had the opportunity to actually; “taste and see that the Lord is good”, in the way that I have. (4)

My goal in sharing about my religious OCD is to reach out to those who are struggling and feeling isolated and alone in their experience. I want them to know that there are others out there who truly “get” what they are going through and therefore, can empathize and offer up encouragement and hope.

Religious OCD, while it has it’s roots in an actual disorder of the brain, also has it’s roots in the fact that OCD can only create obsessional themes about that which is nearest and dearest to the sufferer. And, for the Christian who is afflicted with OCD, it is, just as CS Lewis suggested, only natural that it would eventually pick on the most important relationship in one’s life.

To read more about my experiences with OCD please check out my E-book on Amazon at the following link:

(1)”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”: John Bunyan, Penguin Books Ltd.

(2) “Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer”, CS Lewis, Harcourt, Inc., Chapter Fourteen, Page 76.

(3) Acts 17:28 NIV Bible

(4) Psalm 34:8 NIV Bible

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10947709_612305872234627_941507695_nMitzi VanCleve is a mother and an author with a very powerful witness of how God has provided her with grace and strength through her personal experience with OCD and Social Anxiety Disorder. She’s recently launched a new blog, The OCD Christian to offer hope and encouragement to others experiencing similar struggles. Her book, Strivings Within-The OCD Christian is available at Amazon.

Posted in Anxiety Disorders, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The front door of your church…

FullSizeRenderIn the seventh installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve discusses how churches can enhance their ability to attract families impacted by mental illness through their website and social media sites.

Websites increasingly serve as the front door to our churches…a tool for introducing the church to first-time visitors and a strategy for communicating information about ministry opportunities and events to a population more likely to attend to their smartphones and tablets than to a traditional church bulletin. Websites and social media platforms will often represent the initial impression a family on the outside will form of your church…and may be especially important to families dealing with the social isolation frequently associated with mental illness.

This post has been the most challenging of the series for me to write because I’ve had a difficult time finding a prototype of a website I really liked, and readers view these posts months and years after they’re initially published…any links I post may be hopelessly dated. One of our ministry colleagues suggested The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as an excellent church website…I’ll borrow a few examples from there.

I’d prefer to share three general concepts for teams to consider in evaluating their church’s web presence as part of an overall inclusion plan for kids, teens and adults with mental illnesses and their families…

  • The more people can see, hear and experience of your ministry environments online, the better.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness experienced by children, teens and adults in the U.S. When I’m asked questions regarding the causes/treatment of  anxiety, the most important idea I seek to communicate is the observation that many people with anxiety have brains that come “hard-wired” to overestimate the level of danger or risk in a new setting or experience. The more they can discover in advance about a new situation, the easier it will be for them to enter into the situation.

Let’s consider this concept when it comes to church. One common fear many experience when visiting a new church is of being inappropriately dressed…too formal or too casual. Without communicating anything specific about the style of dress, this website includes pictures that help tell a story.

Village Church Worship Service

Village Kids

Village High School

It’s casual, contemporary and kids/students can expect to hear someone teach while being seated comfortably on the floor. Parents can see a number of “official-looking” volunteers in green t-shirts intermingled with their kids in an open environment.

Many churches emphasize involvement in small groups. Some might fear what to expect in a typical small group environment…Here’s a group that meets in homes where kids appear to be welcome.

Village small group

They also offer recovery groups at their “bricks and mortar” campuses, list the scope of the groups they offer, and offer this picture that may reflect upon the size of a typical group and the privacy of the group (held in a room with a closed door)…

Village Recovery Groups

The Village Church clearly endorses Biblical Counseling on a prominent page containing links to eight counseling groups based in the surrounding community endorsed by the church, and has links to specific books they’ve found helpful, including a book on overcoming fear, worry and anxiety.

They also offer some video to help parents of preschool-age kids anticipate what to expect when they come to visit…

If I were serving on staff at a church seeking to welcome kids, teens and adults with mental illness into the full scope of the church’s ministry activities, I’d have LOTS of video on my webpages and social media…

  • Video of worship services
  • Video of small groups
  • Video of mission trips/service activities
  • Video of weekend activities in age-appropriate ministry activities
  • Video of special events…VBS, retreats, picnics, gatherings, outreach, camping trips
  • Consider creating an obvious link/portal on your homepage to help families plan their initial visit(s) to your church or connect with an “inclusion concierge.”

People with common mental illnesses and many high functioning adults with autism spectrum disorders struggle greatly with social communication. I’ve mentioned before in our blog series on anxiety that many of the kids and families we serve are very dependent upon electronic communication (e-mail and text) and struggle greatly to use the phone. I started using the ratio of texting to talking as a screening question for social anxiety in teens.

We had routinely made use of electronic registration for families signing up for respite events in churches where we trained. Why not offer families the opportunity to e-mail a church they plan to visit where someone from the appropriate ministry areas could help arrange for an advance visit/tour for kids or adults who struggle in unfamiliar environments, preregister families for appropriate programming and (perhaps) connect them with an “inclusion concierge” to quietly arrange for appropriate accommodations…a seat on an aisle near the door for an adult prone to panic attacks and agoraphobia, preferential entrances for kids and adults with sensory processing issues, hand sanitizer  for persons with OCD, etc. Here’s a download from our resource kit your church could modify if putting together an online registration form for advance visits.

  • Use your church’s social media platforms to share links/posts with resources your attendees can share with families with mental health needs.

Earlier in the series, we discussed the importance of the messages teaching pastors communicate about mental health from the pulpit or stage to attendees or guests within the church. Your church’s blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts all play a vital role in communicating a sense of welcome to families outside the church. They are also tools that leaders place in the hands of church attendees to share with families within their social networks in need of a church home.

Where can churches get quality content to share from a Christian perspective on mental health-related topics? I’d hope this blog would offer more than enough resources to keep any social media director busy for a long time…just kidding! 

If I were putting together a short Twitter list of people/organizations to follow for mental health resources with a Christian worldview, I’d include…

  • My personal account @drgrcevich (I share lots of mental health related articles and studies that aren’t necessarily shared by Key Ministry)
  • Mental Health Grace Alliance @mhgracealliance
  • Jolene Philo @jolenephilo (co-author of Every Child Welcome, upcoming book on PTSD)
  • Amy Simpson @aresimpson (author of Troubled Minds, with Christianity Today)
  • Rhett Smith @rhetter (author of The Anxious Christian)

In summary, your church’s website and social media platforms are powerful tools in any mental health inclusion strategy…be strategic in making the most of them in any plan!

Next…Identify and respond to practical needs.

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VangieMissed the interview Vangie Rodenbeck did with Steve on Mental Illness and the Church? Check out their entire interview here. Vangie and Steve discussed…

  • The biggest obstacles children and adults with mental illness face in attending church
  • Why family ministry approaches make sense in implementing intentional mental health inclusion in your church
  • The available research on how churches are doing in supporting families impacted by mental illness
  • Helpful resources for those involved in children’s ministry, youth ministry and family ministry in better serving families in your church and your surrounding community impacted by mental illness.
Posted in Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What parents are most afraid to hear…

shutterstock_211263451One of the benefits I experienced during my days on the lecture circuit was the opportunity to meet wise and learned senior colleagues who shared pearls of knowledge that helped me see clinical situations in a new light. One such colleague is Dennis Rosen, a developmental pediatrician in Western Massachusetts well-known for treating kids with a variety of emotional or behavioral problems. He shared the anecdote below after an evening lecture:

Before he finishes a consultation, Dr. Rosen regularly asks parents “Deep down inside, is there anything you were afraid you’d find out as a result of our meeting today?” By far and away, the most common answer he receives is “I was afraid that I did something to cause my child’s problems.”

I suspect the fear of being told that their parenting strategies, family values or choices are the cause of their child’s emotional or behavioral problems presents a major obstacle to families becoming actively involved with a local church.

I came across a post from a pastor discussing signs suggesting a child may be unnecessarily provoked to anger by their parents. I suspect the pastor’s intent was to show that children posing behavior challenges may be the product of scripturally unsound parenting…five specific examples he used in his outline are shown below:

Signs of parent provocation in a child:

  • When you see kids pulling away from their parents
  • Angry outbursts from a child
  • Lack of joy in a child, seldom smile
  • Rebellion against authority
  • A child who says mean things to their parents or others

shutterstock_116109031When you see kids pulling away from their parents: A common sign seen in kids suffering from depression is the propensity to isolate oneself from friends and family members. Kids who have been adopted or kids in foster homes often pull away from parents in response to difficulty processing attachment issues related to early trauma, abuse or neglect.

Angry outbursts from a child: Kids with ADHD very frequently exhibit difficulties with the ability to regulate emotions. Kids with Bipolar Disorder often experience marked increases in anger and irritability during mood episodes. Kids with obsessive anxiety are prone to anger outbursts during transitions or when they’re perseverating on intrusive thoughts.

Lack of joy in a child, seldom smile: Common symptoms of depression

Rebellion against authority: This is pretty much the definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. A propensity to disrespect authority is seen in conditions associated with poor executive functioning and a lack of capacity to delay gratification.

A child who says mean things to their parents or others: This behavior can be attributed to pretty much any condition in the DSM-IV.

Getting to the root cause when kids experience the behaviors listed above can be pretty challenging. That’s why I had to do four years of med school, three years of general psychiatry residency and a two year child psychiatry fellowship in preparation for my job. There are all kinds of developmental, environmental, biological, genetic, psychosocial and spiritual issues at play in kids with issues. Is it possible that “scripturally unsound parenting” could contribute to the behaviors listed above? Absolutely. How might a parent of a child being treated for ADHD, depression, Bipolar Disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder hear the message described in the post? If that parent is exploring Christianity, would they experience grace in the teaching they experienced?

There are topics that are very difficult to discuss outside the context of a relationship. After I’ve gotten to know parents for a while, I can talk about “scripturally unsound parenting” because I’ve taken the time to understand all facets of their child’s situation. There may be parents who are trying their best visiting your church with kids who have bad genes, kids who experienced trauma or abuse, or kids who haven’t yet developed the skills to effectively self-regulate their emotions and behavior.  How do we welcome them and share with them the unconditional love Christ has for them? How do we as the church best communicate so we build the relationships necessary to cast influence in their family?

There’s a lot to say about how churches handle this issue.

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KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments