The issue of mental health is vital and close to my heart. The reality is, for five straight years I would get a call from a friend in different parts of the country with heartbreaking news of a close friend or associate who had taken their life in an apparent suicide. The pressure of ministry is real and sometimes, for many, overwhelming. Yet, in the church, we are just coming to grips with this illness and talking about it openly.
In the context of church life, in which I have served the majority of my ministry career, to state you had a mental struggle would be met with the following responses: you need to pray more, increase your faith, rebuke Satan and keep moving, or some simple words of encouragement. While these leaders meant well, they were ill-equipped to identify or address the real need before them.
As a long-term bivocational pastor, I served in the Army as a recruiter for nearly 13 years prior to retirement. During this time, at least once per quarter, we would have a health and welfare day. This was a day we would shut down all operations to focus on and address stressors our soldiers and leaders were facing. This season of my life impressed upon me the need to never take a cry for help lightly. As believers we are called to have concern and encourage one another. Let us practice this in hopes of walking with each other in difficult times.
Recently, a friend reached out to me with the challenge of getting back into physical shape. I thought this was a great idea, after all I noticed that I had become a little heavier by the extra weight around my midsection. I noticed that my pants were a bit tight and that my shirts around the neck did not button like they had in years past. So, getting on the physical fitness program made a lot of sense, my good friend then took the time to put together a meal plan, a daily workout plan and even said providing accountability to each other would help us reach our goals of better health.
Let's consider this, most of us take an annual physical exam and dental exam each year. During the month of January, many of us will start signing up for an annual gym membership because we want to look our best. What would life be like if we committed to having an annual mental check-up? This doesn't mean that we are losing it or that we are falling apart, but it does mean we recognize the pressures and stressors of ministry can take a toll on all of us over time.
This year, after planting a church and pastoring for 10 years, at the beckoning of another friend, I reached out to a counselor and it was phenomenal. The meeting with this counselor gave me an opportunity to discuss some deep-rooted issues and work through some solutions to problems that had been nagging me for some time. Unlike going to the dentist, it wasn’t painful and it didn’t break the bank. What I walked away with was that I needed to make some changes in the pace I was running, that God was pleased with my ministry and I was reminded that I was loved regardless of how I felt about my current status of deemed success. Another caveat was that it opened a door for some family dynamics to be addressed and needed change to take place so that we could run the race set before us well and finish strong.
Bryant Lee serves as the senior pastor of Higher Expectations Church in Humble.