By Allen White
Most people are well aware of actor Robin Williams’ passing this week. The public outpouring from every sector is tremendous. This man touched a lot of people’s lives. Whether they embraced him as Mork from Ork, or “Captain, my captain,” or a DJ in Vietnam, or a loveable, hope-inspiring doctor in Patch Adams, Robin Williams connected deeply in a lighthearted way with such a broad cross section of people. His inner child was his outer adult, which shows bravery most of us lack. But, pastor, before Robin Williams appears in your sermon, here are a few things to consider:
1. Suicide has had a Personal Effect on Your Congregation.
Somehow, someway, everyone’s lives are touched by suicide. For me, it was a friend who took his life during the last week of Bible college, because he lived in such turmoil he could see no way forward. Most people don’t consider suicide, but some do. Some of the people who hear your words will see a friend or loved one in Robin Williams’ coffin. Others will see themselves.
If you send Robin Williams to Hell, you are also sending their loved ones there. If you send Robin Williams to Heaven, what are you saying to those whose thoughts venture to suicide in their darker moments. I’m intentionally not saying where to take this, but I am encouraging you to think about this.
2. Finding Jesus is NOT the Cure for Depression.
God can heal physical and mental diseases. No doubt. Personally, I have prayed for people who have received miraculous healing. I’ve also prayed with people who received miraculous grace that got them through one day at a time.
If Robin Williams had died of cancer or heart disease, we might be more understanding. After all, many physical illnesses are incurable. Mental illness is also incurable. While mental illness can be managed and treated, it never goes away.
For some reason, especially in the church, we often judge people who are mentally ill as making poor choices in their lives or somehow not fully trusting in God. It’s almost as if physical impairments can’t be helped, but mental impairments just require people to simply try harder. If trying hard cured mental illness, then mental illness would be cured, because I don’t ‘know of anyone who tries harder to fit in or just function than people who struggle with these diseases.
There are plenty of Christians who love Jesus with all of their hearts and have committed their entire lives to him, yet they are Schizophrenic, Bipolar, Clinically Depressed or smitten with another illness. There are also Christians who love Jesus, and they struggle with diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a number of other mostly preventable conditions which are actually within their control. Their deaths may not be imminent, but they certainly will come sooner than they should.
Mental and spiritual matters seem more inseparable than physical and spiritual matters. The fine line between the soul and spirit is hard to navigate. Can our souls be saved, while our minds are “lost”? That doesn’t even make sense. We are whole beings. Yet, just as the Apostle Paul prayed for his tormenting illness to disappear, God offered grace instead of healing.
3. The Church Must Do Something.
People suffering from mental illness are often misunderstood and stigmatized. As hard as they try, they often don’t fit in. If they have a family, the family often feels like outsiders as well. Where can they find acceptance and understanding? If it’s not the church, then where?
What help and support does your church offer to those with mental illness and their caregivers and families? Are they welcome through your doors? When they come, are you prepared to accept them? Will you offer support? Are there organizations in your community that your church can partner with? At a minimum, could you offer a meeting room for a NAMI group for free? Are you familiar with Rick and Kay Warren’s conference at Saddleback called The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church?
People with mental illness are exceptional. Certainly every mentally ill person is not a comic genius like Robin Williams, but they are exceptional because they don’t fit into the norm. Institutions are best equipped to serve those in the norm — schools, government, even the church cater to the average Joe. Most institutions are either too small to have resources or are too large to deal with exceptions. Yet, there are families with autistic children (1 in 88 children now) who will never fit into your Sunday school without being a “behavior problem.” Should they just stay home? After all, there are 87 out of 88 to pursue.
No one is doing great work with the mentally ill. They are constantly shuffled back and forth from agency to agency. Most will end up in jail or homeless or dead. The church possesses the hope of the world. If anyone should care, shouldn’t it be the church? Begin to equip yourself, and God will use you. Be open.
Before you mention Robin Williams, do you truly understand his illness? It’s not easy to reconcile a life that brought so much pleasure to so many, yet was tormented by so much pain. Before you go there, what are you willing to do to help the next “Robin Williams” who walks through your church door?
It was probably too soon to write a blog post about Robin Williams. But, so many posts and comments are appearing that are condemning Robin Williams and judging him without truly knowing him or understanding his struggle. I felt I needed to saysomething. This is a tragic loss.
If you need a sermon illustration for Sunday, use something else. It’s too soon. Robin Williams affected many, many lives and means so much to so many. A trite sermon illustration does him a disservice. He was a very special person, exceptional even.
How Do I Meet the Emotional Needs of My Group Members?
By Allen White
Brett Eastman and I are working with a growing number of churches at Lifetogether.com to help them produce their own video-based curriculum and grow their small group ministries successfully. As we watch churches take big steps forward for the Kingdom, we also see the enemy at work. Divisive church members, staff setbacks, and a variety of other things seem to surface. For the record, Brett and I are not causing any of this trouble. But, there is an enemy who doesn’t like to see churches make bold moves in connecting and growing their people to reach others and serve their communities. For all of my friends who are struggling today, I’d like to share one of the most popular posts from my devotional blog over at http://galatians419.blogspot.com. If you’re worried and stressed today, I hope these words encourage you.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27
We can’t add anything to our life by worrying. We might even shorten our lives by worrying.
When we worry about something, we put ourselves through the same physiological state as if the event was actually happening. Our brain knows the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, but our nervous system does not. Worry puts our bodies in a state of emergency – fight or flight.
Our blood pressure goes up. Our heart races. Our palms begin to sweat. Our stomachs produce extra acid to digest what’s there. No wonder worriers end up with ulcers. The body doesn’t know the difference between a real emergency and an imagined one.
Our lives are in God’s hand. The length of our lives is determined by God Himself (Job 14:5
). We can’t add to that. God is in control. We are not. So, what do we do when we’re overcome with worry?
The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7
Since God is in control, there is really no reason to be anxious about anything. But, when we do feel anxious, it means that we’re out of our depth. We are worrying about things that are well into the future and out of our hands. When that warning light pops up on the dashboard of our souls, we must take the next step.
Give our worry to God in prayer. If we’re still worried about it after we’ve prayed, then give it over to God again and again and again. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
God knows the resolution to every one of our problems. God knows what we’ll feel like when our current problem is resolved, so before the problem is even resolved, God gives us something that we don’t deserve. He gives us the peace that we will experience when everything is okay. But, He gives us the peace now, even though the resolution is still in process.
What are you worried about today? Stop and give the situation to God. Even if your prayer is “God, I don’t know what to do. Please take this over and help me.” He will help you.
Then, when you start worrying about it again (and you might), stop and pray again. If that warning light comes on again, stop and pray again.
I share a story in my stress management class about a woman who went to see a psychologist about worrying. The doctor prescribed a biblical remedy. He gave her a card with the word “STOP” on one side and Philippians 4:6-7
on the other side. He told her that every time she started to worry, she should get the card out and read it out loud.
The next week the patient was pleased to report that the first day she had to use the card 20 times, but by the end of the week she only had to use it twice a day.
What are you worried about right now? A worry is something you think about three times a day or more. What are those worries?
God doesn’t want you to worry. He’s got this one (and the next one). Place your worries into God’s hands, and He will give you His peace in return.
The pace of life can certainly interfere with group life. A wise person observed, “Today, people have more ways than ever to connect, yet are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” I would certainly agree. There is a big difference between things that keep us busy versus things that keep us connected.
Facebook is an incomplete substitute for face time. But, face time can be rare. What do you do when group members are on the road with their job or overwhelmed with their kids?
Well, what happens outside of the group effects what happens in the group. The time we spend with our group members outside of the group meeting will increase the quality of the group meeting experience. Typically, we would think of inviting group members to a barbecue (or is that grilling out?); meeting for a cup of coffee; or even running an errand together. But, what do you do when they can’t get together?
Phone a Friend. Busy friends probably don’t have an hour to talk, but they might have a few minutes. Just call to let them know that you’re thinking about them. A quick check-in to follow up on a prayer request or let them know that they’re missed means a lot to group members. Recommendation: It’s best that male leaders call male group members, and females call females. We wouldn’t want our concern to appear to be something else.
Pray on Their Voice Mail. If you feel prompted to pray for one of your group members, why not let them know? When you call, even if you just get their voice mail, let them know that you are praying for them and their situation. You might even want to pray right there on the phone. It will especially mean a lot to let them know you just called because you care, and that’s it. If you add on two or three reminders, questions or other information at the end, they might wonder why you really called. Suggestion: This works great on personal voice mail, but not so great on a home answering machine. Just imagine if someone else in the house hears a message that says, “I am praying for you and the difficulties you are having with your spouse…”
Email. Written communication is far more difficult than in-person or even voice communication. Emails lack tone of voice and attitude. If I emailed, “Glad you could make it to group last night,” did I mean:
A. I was glad that you were there.
B. Even though you were very late, I’m glad you could make it.
C. Even though your attendance has been very erratic, I’m glad you could grace us with your presence.
D. I feel like the group is a very low priority to you, so…
You get the picture. Emails can help us stay connected, if we know a person well, and if we are very clear with what we mean. Caution: Never try to resolve a conflict via email. It will turn into a nightmare. Even if someone shoots you an angry email, ask when you can meet face to face to discuss the situation. If you write an email in response to a conflict, push “Delete” not “Send.”
Social Networking. While Twitter, Facebook, Text Messages, Instant Messages, Skype, Tokbox and other social media tools can be overwhelming, they can also help you stay up to date with your group members. Again, the same cautions apply as with emails. It’s not the same as a conversation over coffee, but sometimes 140 characters or less is better than nothing.
Blog or Yahoo Group. A blog is a great way to share announcements and information with your group and receive their comments. Blogs are fairly easy to set up and many like blogger.com are free. Your group members can subscribe in a variety of ways and connect with each other. Yahoo Groups are another way to stay connected. Like blogs, yahoo groups can be made public or private depending on the level of communication your group is giving.
It’s great to get everyone together, but sometimes that’s hard to do. While these other means of keeping contact are not as good as a group meeting, they just might help your group stay connected with busy people.