Monday, January 27, 2020

Mental health and ministry

Recently my wife Amy combined the things she learned from a youth mental first aid course, our last five years of ministry and some threads from her sociology PhD to present a course called 'Mental Health and Ministry.' Amy's PhD is funded by the Victorian state government as a way of figuring out how to measure the usefulness of their leadership-training funding in regional areas. Her thesis is focused on finding out what helps or hinders regional leaders. A key idea she's identified is that leaders operate within systems (even entrepreneurs, who break the mould to create new businesses).

Amy's course came in three parts. The first part based on the youth mental first aid course, emphasised reactions and referrals. Mental health manifests differently, so the best path is react calmly and evaluating the severity (but not the cause and treatment of mental illness, that's the job of a medical professional) and then offering a referral based on the situation. At its simplest, referral could mean connecting the person to a safe friend or at its most extreme calling emergency services. In the second part of the course Amy emphasised that our pastoral purpose should be to create a healthy system of care. Amy used a simple care matrix to help people in ministry think through how to help those they are pastorally responsible for. The four columns of the matrix are are about identifying the 'mental health need', the 'spiritual need', the 'social need' and our 'own needs'. So often mental health situations are confronting and complex so it helps to pause and plan out what's going on and what needs to happen.

The third and final part Amy gave a brief primer about Narcissism. A big part of pastoral ministry is helping people and so manipulative behaviour can be both a shock and a surprise. Not everyone wants to be helped or help. Narcissism is a behaviour that is characterised by a strong emphasis on the needs, feelings and desires of the narcissist. They will seek to control people or situations in order to fulfil their own needs, feelings or desires. The opposite of a narcissist is often labeled an echo, someone who always prioritises the needs, feelings and desires of other people. Healthy people have a bit of both, because having a certain degree of self-confidence is good and to live in a healthy community you need to know when and how to serve others.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists by Craig Malkin is an excellent introduction to Narcissism. Side by Side: walking with others in wisdom and love by Ed Welch is a helpful primer for how to provide pastoral help to those in your pastoral care who want to be helped.  Calvin's Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 by Scott M. Manetsch is a meaty theological and historical case-study of a church based pastoral care system.