Ministry & Mental Health: Collaboration

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What does collaboration look like in ministry? In a recent Mastermind session with Youth Ministry Booster, I discussed the fourth guiding principle for Trauma Informed Ministry, “Mutuality and Collaboration.” We discussed how we see mutuality with those who have experienced significant trauma in their lives? However, there’s another side to the topic of collaboration.

Pastors and ministry leaders often encounter challenges they aren’t adequately equipped to handle. I was recently reading “The Rest of God” by Mark Buchanan. In the book, he described counseling a “troubled teen” and he didn’t know what to do or say. He felt completely out of his depth. He points out how unprepared he was for that aspect of ministry.

If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you’ve felt this. I have good news for us all. The Holy Spirit works even when we’re clueless. In Mark’s story, he talks about how God gave him words that helped, but it wasn’t anything he would have thought of on his own.

I can relate. There have been times when really difficult things have happened and God has blessed me with momentary miraculous wisdom to do and say the right thing. I’m sure you can relate to that too. The Spirit equips us for the work at hand.

Unfortunately, we’re not always listening as we should. Sometimes we let fear and unpreparedness creep in and steal the right words from us. I’m sure you can think back to a moment you wish you could take back.

This is why collaboration is essential. There are resources we should be tapping into. This takes work. If we do it right, it takes a lot of work. But there’s good news! Once the groundwork has been laid, it saves work in the future and helps us serve better and be more authentic.

If someone comes to us in a crisis that we know we’re not equipped to handle, we can be honest and vulnerable about our own limitations. We can personally connect them to a helpful resource. This doesn’t mean we walk away. Rather, we step into the pastoral care role. We listen, pray, and guide. But we let professional counselors, therapists, or whoever, do their job.

There are three aspects of this kind of collaboration. All take time, but all are valuable.

Prepare

Preparation is always the first step you have to take. You prepare by learning what resources are available and which ones you need to connect with. This is the most time-consuming, tedious, and often frustrating piece. If you’re not familiar with mental health resources in your community, it can seem overwhelming just to figure out where to start. My first suggestion is to start local.

Get to know those in your local community organizations or local governments who already have lists of available resources. This can vary from state to state or even city to city. What can be frustrating is that lists like this aren’t always up to date. If you’re fortunate enough to get a premade list of resources, don’t assume your work is done. Verify the information and add to it if necessary.

Another resource that might be helpful is 211. Keep in mind that 211 is dependent on partners to keep their information up to date. They’re also better or worse depending on your location.

Once you have a list of resources, keep it in an easy-to-access area and make it easy to update. Schedule time at least once a year (more frequently if possible) to verify and update your lists.

Warm Connection

We need to start by having a list of resources available. But a list by itself can be cold and not always helpful. There needs to be warmth to the way we do this. We should be able to connect our people to a real human being if at all possible. Instead of saying, “I hear the community clinic might be able to help you with that,” we want to be able to say something like, “Let’s talk to my friend John at the community clinic.”

Often people get dumped from one place to another, from one service to another with little or no follow-up. This is how people get lost in the cracks. Our mental healthcare system in this country is beyond broken. The church needs to step up to help fill in some of these missed connections. We need to step up for the sake of those God has called us to love.

Your church may already have connections to some of the organizations and services in your community. If they do, start there. If there is no connection at all, set up a meeting with someone. Try to form some way to regularly communicate. This does take time. I know that time is always limited in ministry. However, if you can, this will open up so many doors for you to serve those God brings your way.

Pastoral Care

This part is last but it’s definitely not the least. Most pastors aren’t mental health professionals. They are pastors and that is a vital role in people’s lives. If someone in your church is going through a mental health crisis, connect them with professional help, but don’t ever abandon them. Don’t pass them off and walk away. They may want you to drive them to an appointment. They may need to sit with you and pray about the things they’re going through or figuring out. They may need you to simply check on them.

As pastors, we get to do things mental health professionals don’t get to do. We get to walk through this life side by side with that person helping them see where God is moving along the way. We get to love them like Christ loves us.

Is this easy? No.

Is this time-consuming? Yes.

Is this a better way to love? Absolutely!