I have been blessed with the gift of gab—love talking—and meaningful conversations are simply great for me. Never would I ever have imagined myself as an ordained pastor. And definitely not preaching and teaching the Word of God or being a licensed mental health counselor. I am grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me to operate in the gifts and calling of God on my life.
This new area of raising the awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing, particularly in the Black and brown communities is exciting. And to go through the church/faith community first, talking with pastors and community leaders asking, “How are you nurturing your soul, your mind, your will, and your emotions,” is even more exciting and promising. Let me emphasize here what I mean by nurturing. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines nurture as “That which promotes growth; education; instruction.” And the scripture reference is Ephesians 6:4, telling fathers how to interact with their children, “ … not to provoke to anger, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” In how many messages or parenting classes is this emphasized, but we see daily the result of angry children, yes, even in the church?
We as leaders in the Body of Christ have been diligent to preach/teach the Word of God for spiritual growth and development of believers, but how many of those messages, pre-pandemic, really spoke to the mind of believers, the health and well-being, from a biblical perspective and the encouragement to seek professional help when necessary? I do not recall any, even from me as a pastor/leader/counselor, I am sad to say.
God thought it important enough to include the mind as one of the areas that we are to focus our attention on towards Him. In Mark 12:30 NKJV, Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment (emphasis mine). Now a commandment is not optional, it is a requirement, and you know when we are completing these forms, if we do not do what is required, there is no processing of the information, and the same premise is applicable here. There is a qualifier before the areas —“all”—which means just that.
Additionally, the Apostle Paul tells us that it is imperative that there is a “change” that must take place, which is transformative in nature—a metamorphosis. A portion of Romans 12:2 in The Message says, “ … Fix your attention on God. You will be changed from the inside out … ” Most of the time when this passage is shared the focus is only on the spiritual part of our lives, but the metamorphosis happens in the mind, helping our thoughts to be different, which changes our lives.
As it relates to the mental well-being of believers it is crucial for change to happen in and to our leaders in the church, especially in the Black and brown ones. Sadly, the subject is not discussed; it is avoided and/or ignored. Alicia Montgomery, in her article “Why Black Churches Need to Do Better with Mental Health Issues,” talks about how many Black people have heard of an aunt with “bad nerves” or a “distant relative that just has not been right since … ” But there is no mention of them suffering from anxiety or depression because of the stigma associated with it. Taraja P. Henson, a famous actress, is now an activist for mental health in Black communities, and noted that mental health issues have multiplied during the pandemic. She started a foundation to help address the stigma and the disparity of services to Black people.
Thema Bryant, newly elected leader of the American Psychological Association and ordained elder in the A.M.E. church, in an article in The Philadelphia Tribune, is “drawing from the church to reshape mental health care.” The article says, “Even before the pandemic, rates of suicide were rising among Black adolescents faster than any other racial or ethnic group. Demand for culturally sensitive and accessible mental health services has surged in the face of worsening depression and anxiety among Black and Latino people, though according to 2019 census data, fewer than one in five psychologists are people of color and fewer than one in thirty is Black.” She is out to change the landscape of the psychological approach to mental health in the Black and brown communities.
Bishop T.D. Jakes was intentional in offering counseling services in his church that were biblically based and included a professional model. I know this first hand, because when I was in graduate school for my master’s in counseling, he recruited one of my professors to help get this center up and running when he moved his ministry to Dallas, Texas. I applaud him for his insight to see and do something about the need.
The leader’s influence
Pastors/faith leaders have an influence like no other, regardless of ethnicity, denomination, or any other affiliation. Our members and others come to us for many things; we are the gatekeepers of our communities. What is necessary in moving forward with this idea of raising the awareness of the importance of mental well-being in the church? Pastors/faith/community leaders must first be honest and mindful of their own mental well-being. We must be willing to model what is preached, as well as seek professional help, including mental health care, when needed. I am being transparent here, I know what it is to be depressed, to have imposter syndrome, and a whole lot of other things that weigh heavily on your mind. While I resolved years ago not to worry about anything, life still comes at you, as John 16:33 said it would. And yes, we must have joy in life as we navigate through it, and sometimes it calls for help.
Other options include what is a buzz word now, self-care. There is a focus on the physical need for optimal health, and we attend church, bible studies, et cetera, to deal with our spiritual being. However, the soul (mind, will, and emotions) is just as important. One thing I am practicing in seeking to take care of my soul is to be intentional to think about what I am thinking about. As a professional counselor, I am careful not to take on the things I hear as my own, especially when it is a reminder of my past, and even present circumstances. I practice conscious deep breathing, which is a great replenishment and alignment for the body and mind. I take time to have great conversations that are uplifting; it refuels me. And after I have poured out, preaching/teaching in a workshop or conference, I take solitary time, me time.
I would like to leave you with four things to ponder by Dr. Robert E. Brown, Sr., and I call them “truths about the mind”:
- Faith is the Mind’s Movement: 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38 both say, “…the just shall live by faith” (emphasis mine). To walk and live, is to move; we must do something.
- Hope is the Mind’s Medicine: Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Dr. Leaf says, “When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.”
- Memory is the Mind’s Motivation: When you think of the things God has done, and is doing, especially when everything and everyone else does not believe, it motivates you to keep pressing forward. Jesus said we should believe Him for the very work’s sake.
- Focus is the Mind’s method of Manifestation: “What you pay attention to you get more of.”