Many churches today have large congregations with an exciting worship experience (loud music and cool lighting effects) as well as inspiring and exhorting preachers/teachers who are real, honest, and engaging. The whole experience is incredible!
While many enjoy these inspirational environments, people who are experiencing anxiety may be extra sensitive to these settings. Individuals who are experiencing anxiety are actually getting more blood flow and energy to the threat centers of their brain, leaving them on high alert. Thus, many end up being over-stimulated in these church environments, igniting more anxiety, tense feelings, nervousness, or even agitation. It can make it hard to process the worship and message, especially if it has the tone of the above points (“fight the good fight”).
Ultimately, the person ends up feeling a sense of failure for not being able to handle going to church and they may even stop going altogether. In many of these situations, they are blaming themselves without ever realizing that it is the environment (and sometimes, even the message) that is getting them worked up and making it difficult for them to connect and participate.
"HOWEVER, WE'RE SEEING THAT CHURCHES ARE READY, WILLING AND WANTING TO SEE LIVES TRANSFORMED!"
As we work with many churches across the country, we give them simple understanding and always find church leaders extremely open and intrigued, asking lots of questions. In fact, some of these church leaders honestly say, “Ugh, we’ve been doing it wrong for so long … I’ve never known this, please show us how to make this better.”
We never blame or point fingers, but rather empathize with their confusion: “Hey, we did it wrong, too, we get it and we’re here to help us all learn!” We focus more on having an informative and open dialogue with church leaders so they have more understanding, education, and even training with different skills and tools.
The church is on a learning curve with those in distress … notice I said “learning” and we need to give room for this. I remember my own learning process with my wife and family. As I learned, everything got better with incredible results. So, we give grace and patience for the church’s learning curve because we know that, as they learn, they will see incredible transformation of lives.
Question 2: Some of the challenges seem to be centered around how different people perceive and define emotional and mental distress (and "mental health" conditions." While some may see it as a physical condition, others attribute it to sin or to other spiritual principles. How do you personally and professionally make sense of this ... even mental illness? Do you think this has any spiritual connection?
It’s interesting how this question comes up in most Q & A panels (or sometimes they avoid it). Most answer this by explaining that our mental distress or disorder is a result of living in a fallen world with our “fallenness,” sin or sin nature, or in other words, our “brokenness.”
I think one way to look at this is by asking any parent how they feel about their child living with any type of challenge, disability, or even a mental illness. You will hear a different story than a story of brokenness. You’ll hear their absolute love for their child (with tears) and almost never hear them refer to their child as the result of fallenness, sin, or “brokenness.” They always refer to their child as pure love, joy, and they are absolutely perfect to them. Despite their child’s condition, they always see their child as a masterpiece of unique love.
Isn’t that how Jesus always sees us … even when we experience overwhelming discouragement, distress, or depression? Isn’t that how Jesus sees our constant spiritual connection? Isn’t that the spiritual story we are always working with?
"IN JESUS, WE'RE IN A WHOLENESS JOURNEY, NOT A BROKENNESS JOURNEY."