I met recently with a gifted, outgoing Christian woman, who is a great blessing to her church, but has also struggled with a range of mental health issues. Despite being heavily involved in church ministry, she is often sidelined and labelled as ‘not quite up to par’. In her experience, the term ‘mental health’ acts as a convenient ‘keep off’ sticker, which enables others to categorise and then dismiss her. We talked about how being given this label has stopped her from relating to others and she said this:
‘Sometimes I just want it to be ok to be me. And not to have to apologise all the time. I’m not a thing you put a sticker on – ‘oh it’s just X, with her mental health problems’. I want to say hey, it’s ok to talk to me, to ask me how I’m doing. You don’t need to be embarrassed or talk about me or act like I’m not there. Yes, sometimes I get overtired. Sometimes I like things to be quiet and to just rest. Sometimes if there’s too much going on and too many people it makes me feel a bit sick. I don’t always know the right thing to say. But I’m trying. I don’t want to be a special case’.
This is not just an issue for women. Another friend of ours is a respected leader in a growing church. A few months ago, he was experiencing personal pressures which he felt were damaging his ability to love the Lord. In order to be accountable and to lead with integrity and honesty, he tentatively broached the issue with his colleagues, only to be met with embarrassment and disdain. As he concluded, ‘Opening up is just too risky. Emotion is just seen as weakness. No-one wants to be seen as flaky – we can’t afford a liability on the team. We can talk the talk (about grace) but the reality is you either man up, or get out’.
Based on this criteria, leaders such as John the Baptist (‘no people skills, no ambition and what is with that locust diet?), Moses (not so hot at public speaking, bit of a live wire, too old) and Peter (‘tried to chop someone’s arm off, clearly on drugs’), wouldn’t even make it to the boardroom, let alone Sir Alan’s office. Where are the broken pots, the fearful, trembling disciples of The Man who was ‘crucified in weakness’? (2 Cor 13:4)
If we’ve got to ‘keep it together’ at church, where can we be real?