The Church and Mental Health-Vulnerability, Part 1

written by Amber Fuller, LMFT and owner of Fuller Living

I recently was asked to be a part of a video that’s being produced and I was tasked with talking about how the Church can help minister to those struggling with a mental health issue, spoken from a mental health professionals point of view. I was honored to be a part of this and so very thankful that I was asked.

I’m extremely passionate about this topic and have actually considered writing a book about it. I’ve been on the receiving end of both “the good” and “the weak” of support from local churches. Needless to say, I have a lot to say about this topic. I found myself feeling overwhelmed with everything that I wanted to say, so I decided that I would break it up into different parts in order to organize my thoughts in a way that makes sense.

While being a part of the production, the producer really wanted to key in on a personal experience that I had been through and how the Church was supportive through that experience as well as how the Church can be supportive for others going through the same experience. I decided that I would be opening up about my husband’s disclosure of his sexual addiction.

So there I was, bright lights and all, discussing mine and my husband’s most once was deepest and vulnerable spot in our hearts. About 12 years ago, my husband had disclosed to me that he had a sexual addiction and had also participated in sexual infidelity. When I talk about it now it’s seen as our biggest blessing, but it wasn’t always that way. It was my biggest pain at one point. When my husband had disclosed to me, we threw ourselves into anything we could that had to do with the local church. We started building a community. My husband participated in a men’s group that changed the course of our history and relationship. So, because of this, I brought it up during the production. I found myself talking about how one of the best ways a church can support those going through mental health struggles is by providing an environment in which small community is promoted and flourishing. In order for this to happen, a church has to be willing to delegate, and delegate well. They have to be willing to relinquish control. That’s a scary thing to do. As an owner of Fuller Living, I have to relinquish control daily and trust that the (incredible) providers are doing their job (and they are 🙂 ). So, in short, one of the most significant ways a church can be supportive is to create those small groups and promote them. It’s in these small groups, that people get real, raw, grow, and are vulnerable.

That leads me to my next point. I found myself talking a TON about vulnerability. Not you and I being vulnerable per say, but rather, that the church leadership is vulnerable. In talking with the producer, who is also a pastor, he took the words out of my mouth during the interview, “the pastor that gets up on the stage and talks about how they looked at porn last week and how Christ came for the sinner…THAT is the pastor that has me deciding, I’m all in”. Yep. This. I say it time and time again, I respect (and kind of expect) that the pulpit is not only a place used for teaching, preaching, and planning, but it’s also a place for vulnerability to ensue thus breeding freedom for themselves and others. When I find myself listening to sermons being preached from the pulpit that include some form of disclosure, it’s in those moments that I’m touched the most.

There is a HUGE difference as well, between saying something like, “I used to have a porn problem” vs saying “I looked at porn last night”. I want to know that my church leadership is struggling with me and that they themselves are modeling vulnerability. It’s in being vulnerable that shame dies. It has a ripple effect. If a leader is willing to talk about their current mental health struggles, then so am I, and the majority of other people as well, and it’s through talking about this that freedom and healing is found. The heart of all of it is honesty. One of the most supportive things that the Church can do is be brave enough to be honest. Please know that I know there’s a fine line and that some things aren’t meant for sharing on a stage in front of a large group of people, however, the majority of topics is just fine to share.

I also discussed training the lay pastors and small group leaders to be willing to be vulnerable as well. I shared how my husband shows up to our small group that we lead and almost every week shares the current big deal sin that he is struggling with. Most people have said to us, “it’s because you’re willing to share that stuff that I kept coming. I was tired of sitting in groups where it felt like nobody was being real and leaving me feeling like I Was the only ‘sinner’ in the group”.

So, speaking from the view of a mental health professional to a church leader that wants to support their church goers through mental health crisis, one of the biggest gifts you can give that church goer is your vulnerable story. All of a sudden, for that church goer, their problem just grew smaller, their confidence and hope in their ability to overcome just grew bigger, and their feeling of supported is overwhelming. I could go on and on about this topic, but at some point I would start to sound like I was rambling. Please, on behalf of my fellow congregants, don’t let your secret stay in the closet because it has a ripple effect, and the ripple effect is that the church goers secrets then will stay in the closet.

Stay tuned for Part 2. I’ll be sharing about the extent to which a church leader or pastor should be providing counsel as well as purpose and value.