In my time as a Pastor, I was also a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. One of the things I found absolutely disturbing was the lack of knowledge by pastors in regards to mental health. I think the most disturbing part was not those pastors didn’t know, they didn’t WANT to know. I found the farther I got into my pastoral career the more I realized the massive stigma with mental health. When asking about what pastors thought of mental health and therapy, I generally ran into three main answers we will discuss here. However, I want to say this upfront- If you are reading this and are struggling with mental health, SEEK A PROFESSIONAL, NOT A PASTOR. It doesn’t make you no longer Christian to take care of an ailment than going to the doctor for a broken foot.
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Mentally Ill due to Committing Sin
Here is the one I heard the most and it went something like this- “In order for a mental disorder to have occurred, they must have done something to invite evil in.” What is really being said is it is the patients fault they are sick. Unfortunately I have seen this playout with Physical illness as well. Then I hear things like this:
“I don’t know that a Christian can really be in
depression and have no joy. Just read
I would argue that the reader should also go to Psalm 13:
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me
forever? How long will you hide your face
from me? How long must I wrestle with my
thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my
The reality is a person can have joy in the Lord and still carry mental illness. No one questions the cancer patient or the COVID survivor, why is mental health any different. Biblically its okay to upset with God, and its ok to not be ok and still rejoice in the Lord. People are not ill because they sin. People get mentally ill because of their environment, their history and sometimes even from their treatment within the churches that are ready to expel them for seeking help. Mental Health is not a barometer for sin. There are plenty of mentally healthy people who abuse in the church.
Mentally Ill due to Demonic Possession
“All mental illness proves is that the person is carrying a demon.” Surprisingly, for a church trying to become more modern and leave angels and demons in myth, this answer is given to me all the time. Now I won’t argue the similarities in traits given by the Bible and what we understand as mental illness. And the reality is I do still firmly believe in Angels and Demons. But the problem here is that many church folk immediately go for the possession answer. But the reality is that actual demonic possession is rare even in the Bible. So, it should be the last thing we look at when trying to help someone who may have mental illness.
It is far more likely a person is suffering from possession due to the struggles in their life than a demon randomly finding its way into someone’s life. It is estimated that 12.5% of the world population has experienced depression, and on average the onset is at 33 years old. Thats over 300 million people. The word demon occurs 75 times in scripture, and not all of these are possessions. Many of these are interactions, not possessions. So just speaking by the numbers, possession being the cause of mental illness is more rare than ligntening striking in the same place 3 time!
Mental Illness doesnt come from possession, it comes from the very real pain many suffer through in silence. That silence is caused becasue of the fear of being accused of posession or being at fault for some sin that has let the illness in. We simply must do better as Pastors.
Mentally Ill due to a Lack of Faith
This ridiculous argument comes straight from the Prosperity Gospel Movement. A movement that teaches God wants us wealthy and healthy. It also teaches the reason we are not wealthy or healthy is because our faith is not strong enough. This heresy of the highest order. Jesus is not a lottery ticket or a wishing well. There is no VIP section in the Kingdom of Heaven. The reality is mental issues stem from psycho-social factors hat occur in a world full of fallen people. The bigger issue, we as pastors must face is that many of these incidents occur at the hands of the pastor or the church. We blame the victim when we say the issue they have is because of them. We need to own our faults and do better.
A Plea to Pastors
The best advice I could possibly give those in ministry is to educate yourself. Throughout my seminary years i did 3 hours of a 96 hour program of study on counseling. First, seminaries need to become more people focused and less focused on pushing theological doctrines. Theology without humanity is pointless and if we cant reach people in their humanity, we will never reach them in their theology. We, as pastors must be willing to relinquish control over parishoners and encourage them to get the help they need. We must desire to get them the help that we cannot provide with seminary education. The truth is, we never should have had control over anyone. The pastoral community must realize that mental health is spiritual and it is biblical. Mental health is Spiritual Health.