5 Reasons Why The Church Is Failing People With Mental Illness & Addictions


Most of my posts are very theologically focused, where I really dig into the Bible.  This one will be slightly different. It will feel somewhat like I am taking a few jabs at some situations going on within modern Christianity. The reality is that I will, but I am hoping to not come from a cynical place, but a place that brings awareness and moves us forward.

I have heard multiple things about mental illness and addiction from a few different tribes within Christianity. Two of them have a mass amount of followers.

Here is a tweet that went out earlier this month from one of these leaders:

“We will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror, and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God.”

Here is another:

“Depression is a result of spiritual starvation. Overcome depression and emotional hardships by immersing yourself in God’s Word.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that much of the Christian community has failed and will continue to fail people who struggle with a form of mental illness or addiction.

5 of many reasons as to why I believe that this is happening:

1. We are used to Christian slogans that have the depth of a meme.

(examples: let go and let God, When God closes a door – He opens a window, everything happens for a reason, love the sinner – hate the sin, God will not give you more than you can handle, etc.) This is the depth of much of modern theology and therefore the answer to a problem may seem to be this simple and easy. When will we long for a deeper Christianity than this? When will we long for a deeper theology than this? The Jesus in the Bible deserves a richer faith than what our current state represents!

2. We are obsessed with simplified self-help.

3 easy steps to_____, 5 Steps that will change your life, 10 things that you can do even now to better your______… We have all heard these kinds of talks and seen these kinds of books.  The sad thing is that these self-help methods have made their way into modern preaching, because of their popularity. Now we give lists of to do’s that modify behavior, but do not have the ability to meet the darkness of our hearts the way the gospel does.

3. We are self-proclaimed experts.

Many pastors will attempt to give advice or help to people that really need to see an expert or licensed professional. Many lay people, with good intention, give bad advice as well. We need to understand that there is often times problems that are chemical and neurological. If you are not an expert in these fields, you will be unable to help in many ways. A simple, “you just need to pray more” or “you just need to have more faith” is not helpful. Let the experts do their job and get out of the way.

4. (For Addiction) We tell people to replace one addictive habit with another.

I was recently in a meeting with a pastor from one of the fastest growing churches in America who said, “I always tell people that to stop an addictive habit, you have to replace it with a different habit.” This is actually quite common, yet harmful. We often say, “in the times that you do or think about doing ______(insert addictive habit), pray or read your Bible.” (maybe I will write about religious habits and addiction to religion in a future post). Don’t tell them to replace it! People need to deal with feelings that they are trying to numb and the reality that they are trying to escape. This is where the gospel (good news) can meet people.

5. We don’t like anything unresolved.

We don’t like to deal with unresolved problems and lament. This is apparent in “Christian” movies that have very simple characters that resolve as simply and fast as a “Full House” episode from the 90’s. It is not real life, but we try to make that our reality. Life is messy! Life is not black and white! Real life sits in the tension of the gray areas of life.


“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:4

Our current state of each:

  1. Mental Illness: People are going to non-faith based psychologists who keep up with the latest finds in science and techniques. We are not currently leading any of the conversations around mental illness and healing. We are barely even a part of it.
  2. Addiction: I wish that you would know how many times people have told me that they wished that the church functioned like an AA meeting? I have heard this on quite a few occasions. This is because the church does not feel like a safe place for people to open up. Author Nate Larkin, in his book “Samson and the Pirate Monks”, talks about how he was either looked at as a project or with disgust. I have seen and heard stories, even in the last few months, of how close friends of mine have been misjudged and hurt. I also know that at many churches that say “come as you are”, staff members don’t feel comfortable being as authentic as they hope that a lay person will be with them.

Churches need to be the safest of places!!!

We as Christians are supposed to be God’s healing presence on the earth, but it seems that in the case of Mental Illness and Addiction, the opposite has happened.

When it comes to dealing with Mental Illness and Addiction, much of the Christian community needs to take the first step toward recovery and admit that there is a problem and the pain that much of this has caused has become unmanageable.

Then and only then can we change our harmful (yes many have been harmed) habits!

3 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why The Church Is Failing People With Mental Illness & Addictions

  1. This again is along the lines of what I share at times in my blog. I’ve had relatives with addictions, schizophrenia. I myself have suffered from depression a couple times. I’ve been blessed by great Christian therapists, New Life, I think it is, has nation-wide network. But my opinion is that mental health can mostly be solved in the family, or by an individual who allows the Holy Spirit to work in their deepest desires to send them loving support. There’s alot of brokenness in our families, and I believe anything the church can do to strengthen the family unit is so vital, the family affects every part of our lives, communities. Blessings,

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