The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts throughout nearly every corner of society and in nearly every corner of the globe. Perhaps no area of civic life has been affected more than church, aside from the healthcare field.
The pandemic had immediate effects, with all-out closures lasting weeks if not months. And there have been ongoing effects that continue to this day — and may continue for years to come.
To be frank, many of these effects are (or at least appear to be) quite negative, but there are glimmers of hope to be found. In some ways, the pandemic has even opened new areas or avenues for ministry.
Let’s look together at some resources that can help equip pastors with the tools to address isolation, mental health, and other related issues that are affecting your church body because of the pandemic.
We once again sat down with Dr. Henry Cloud to discuss this important topic. Cloud is a psychologist, the author of Changes That Heal and an expert on mental health and the church who has produced numerous mental health church resources over the course of his career.
Church Mental Health Programs Became More Crucial
The pandemic caused countless social, financial, family and emotional disruptions, both in and outside the church. These disruptions have made mental health an area of marked need for believers and unbelievers alike.
Dr. Cloud points out the tremendous opportunity that churches need to be a part of the solution:
“If we … become aware of an area of life in which [someone] needs something from God, we should think of other people as a part of the solution. We need to look to the church to see what resources are available to get that person’s needs met and help the person grow. We must not forget that biblical growth is designed to include the body of Christ – other people serving as God’s instruments.”
With this increased need for mental health care in the church, Dr. Cloud recognized the need for church leadership training programs that can equip churches to minister to those with mental health needs. For this reason, Cloud has produced and released Churches That Heal, a digital toolkit for churches and church leaders providing the biblical resources needed to address mental health issues from a perspective that’s scientifically sound and biblically faithful.
Church Mental Health Starts with the Health of Church Leaders
The health of any community, including church communities, begins with the health of its leaders. But how are you, as a pastor or faith leader, doing right now, really?
A Rising and Deeply Concerning Trend
Unfortunately, the answer is “not well at all.” And that doesn’t bode well for the mental health of the church.
A recent Barna survey shows a greater number of pastors are rethinking their profession and correlates this finding with rising stress, burnout and progressively degrading mental health.
The reasons for elevated stress among church leaders are many, including a global pandemic and associated isolation, sickness and death. Increasing polarization in society and within churches plays a role, as well.
Left unchecked, many pastors are heading quickly toward points of mental health crisis.
Barna’s 2016 survey revealed that 85% of pastors considered their mental health to be good to excellent. By October 2021, that figure dropped by 25 points to just 60%.
A Silent Epidemic No More
Of course, pastoral burnout is not a new phenomenon. What’s perhaps new is how it has come out of the shadows. Dan White, who runs the Kineo Center, a ministry to ministry leaders, commented to CT that burnout existed as a “silent epidemic” up until COVID-19. The pandemic turned a silent burnout epidemic into something even more widespread, and no longer silent.
What Pastors Can Do to Address Their Own and Their Staff’s Mental Health
So, what can you as a ministry leader do to address this wave of mental health crises in your own life, and in the lives of your staff?
The solutions are in most cases like what pastors can and should do for their congregations. But taking the time to work through these solutions as a pastoral body first is crucial.
Create a Culture of Transparency
Far too often, people suffer in silence with their mental health due to a culture that seems unwelcoming. Churches can, even unintentionally, create an image where success and stability equal godliness and respect. People—let alone leaders—feel that they can’t admit flaws like anxiety and depression.
To address a church staff’s mental health, start by creating a culture of transparency, a place where it’s OK to talk about this stuff. And the easiest way to start that culture change is by talking about it yourself.
Dr. Cloud points out the danger of hiding mental health struggles from community:
“Troubled times, sickness, and other struggles require answers and support outside of ourselves. We are not intended to go it alone, and we will ultimately fail if we do not reach out. We were made to take in and use grace, love, and truth from two external sources: God and other people … The Bible teaches that we need both the divine and the human, both God and community.”
Recognize the Signs
Next, learn to recognize the signs of burnout, depression and other mental health concerns common among pastors and ministry leaders. These won’t look the same in everyone, but here are some behaviors that could reveal mental health burdens:
- Increased anger and irritation
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Escapism through media or alcohol overuse
- Despair or despondency
Where you see these warning signs in yourself or your team, it’s time to act and get help.
Utilize Effective Resources like Churches That Heal
Finally, it’s imperative that ministry leaders — especially those without adequate training in mental health — don’t go it alone. Relying on quality, effective resources that balance both biblical fidelity and sound psychology is key to providing and receiving appropriate healing in this area.
Churches That Heal is one of the newest church leadership training programs, and one of the few that takes this balanced approach. The program starts with church leadership, helping them to identify and address their own mental health needs and struggles first.
Other resources that may be helpful include the following: