3 Ingredients of a Safe Church for your Mental Health

‘Am I doing ok?’ was the question I was most frequently asked when I was a pastor/chaplain. ‘Is this Church safe’ was another. Keeping pace were other limping souls …

  • ‘Am I welcome here’
  • ‘Does God really love me?’
  • ‘I can’t seem to get it right’
  • ‘… keeps telling me that I need to do … if I am going to be ok and be part of this church’
  • ‘I keep going back to my addiction, I feel so guilty, God is angry’

At this point nice gentle Pastor Barry feels like getting a whip, going to certain churches and people, overturning pews, casting out tithing bags and shouting…

‘Stop laying heavy burdens on broken backs’

Stories flood my mind of beautiful people carrying guilt loads handed to them by constipated Christians.

Bound up by rules, formality, accountability, hats on Sunday, ‘never question leadership’, black and white, and of course mental illness being the result of sin in your life.

I could rant on more but I think you get the picture.

Three ingredients needed

  1. Compassion not Castigation

    ‘To suffer with’ is the root meaning of the word compassion. It says I am there with you in your struggle.

    Castigation means to punish, to chastise and to bring back into a religiously pure state of chastity.

    In the beautiful but agonizing book of Job, we find a man called Job who has lost everything. Family wiped out, business failure, loss of health and then three friends come. They sit with him, mourn with him and say nothing. Job 2:11-13

    Then they start to speak and offer their supposed wisdom in a hope to bring him back to a place of chastity. Job obviously must have done something wrong.

    There are some people that you need to say ‘Go away, you’re not helping’.

    A friend of Jesus called Mark tells us a story where Jesus is invited to come and pray for a supposedly dead child. People laughed at Jesus when he suggested that the child is but asleep. Mark writes ‘Then he put them all outside’ Mark 5:40.

    We read those words with such a polite version of Jesus but just maybe Jesus ‘showed them the door’.

    Those who don’t show compassion need to be shown the door.


  2. Creativity not Castration

    When the box is formed and the person is placed in it, then both Spirit (Holy) and spirit (our emotion spark of life) are crushed.

    So many times when a Mental illness is discovered the castration of creativity creeps in. The leaders become fearful of what this person may say or do. The battle with an addiction supposedly renders the addict unworthy and having nothing to offer until they have (trigger warning: loaded terms of a religious nature ahead) ‘won the victory’.

    Some of the most significant and profound preaching I have heard and still remember to this day have come from people wrestling with psychotic voices, gambling addictions, sexual compulsions and personality disorders.

    These Charles Spurgeon‘s ( famous preacher who suffered severe bouts of depression) cut through the religious clutter and went straight to the heart.

    We need more creative voices from the gutter of life, not less.

    Turning the page is an opportunity for you to express yourself.

    I want some guest posts, but please no religious claptrap B.S. fluff.  Email me if you’re interested. barry@turningthepage.info

  3. Connection not Control

We seem to think that accountability works.

That if you have accountability partners, groups, policies, protocols and procedures that this will somehow promote good spiritual living.

It doesn’t.

Instead, we hide our failings even further and further away. We don’t share the struggle because we fear control, castigation, and castration.

Spirituality becomes a rule book rather than a relationship.

Groups tend to emphasize accountability when they don’t know how to relate. Larry Crabb

I need a friend who is not afraid of my failings. Who will plumb the depths and never leave, even when I am drowning and they feel hopelessly equipped to know what to do.

Your Mindset Matters

So what are you going to do help change a mindset? Perhaps fall in love with compassion, creativity, and connection. Three ingredients of a safe church.

Do it just for one other person, do it for yourself, and watch the world change.

Quotes to consider

  • A sense of control can fuel motivation, but for that drive to produce insights and innovations, people need to know their suggestions won’t be ignored, that their mistakes won’t be held against them. And they need to know that everyone else has their back. Charles Duhigg
  • The most powerful thing we can do to help someone change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness. Larry Crabb
  • Sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is to talk honestly about being wrong. Nadia Bolz Weber

Questions to answer and leave a comment below or anonymously

  1. Did I offend you? Why?
  2. Which of the three mindsets are most needed in your opinion?
  3. Does accountability work without a deep connection?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Karl Fredrickson


7 Replies to “3 Ingredients of a Safe Church for your Mental Health”

  1. My wife is experiencing immense emotional pain, possibly as a result of childhood experiences.  My best friend’s wife somehow managed to trigger the pain so she blames the ‘toxic’ relationship for her pain.
    Her blame is very painful for me to bear.
    It is hard to refrain from ‘explaining’ and ‘reasoning’ [controlling]
    It is difficult to to sit next to her in compassion and listen to her blame me and our friend for her pain.
    It is painful to give up (sacrifice) my friendship for the gain of preserving my marriage relationship.
    But the path that Jesus showed was of compassion and connection, not so much correcting and controlling.
    I’m called to follow Jesus, whose Way is Good

  2. Friendship requires assistance when different cultures and an emotionally frightened/accountability oriented community are involved in our Church culture. Let alone the relationship I profess with Jesus being an offering which I bring from my daily trials with a very fractured street.
    It’s nature and our love for what we share that binds us in any case.
    My husband and I each draw deeply from The call of love from He who is. Scriptural and Eucharistic, reassuring and nourishing a way which is Jesus’ life: his body in time.

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