HOW A SERMON SERIES ON MENTAL HEALTH BROUGHT HEALING TO A CHURCH
A perceived need among church leaders and church members led to a survey on mental health, which led to a dynamic and transformative sermon series.
By Clayton Hentzel
During the pandemic, I regularly participated in Zoom calls with pastors from across the country. One of those calls was with The Solomon Foundation. Early in the pandemic, Doug Crozier, the CEO of TSF, put counselor Dr. Wes Beavis on retainer. Dr. Beavis briefly shared some mental health tips on each weekly call. He provided everyone with a little help and a little hope.
A PERVASIVE PROBLEM
During that time, I read reports of how mental health issues were on the rise among our nation’s pastors; at one point, I saw a statistic that 38 percent of pastors had seriously considered quitting the ministry over the preceding 12 months.
But pastors weren’t the only people experiencing anxiety. In the summer of 2022, Ben Cachiaras, lead minister of Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland, wrote in Christian Standard:
We have a problem.
Emotional well-being is in serious decline. It’s a palpable crisis that was bad before the pandemic. The isolation, social upheaval, polarization, and massive changes with work, school, and life have exacerbated the crisis, creating an extended ambiguity and heightened stress that’s a perfect cocktail for burnout and emotional struggle. . . .
No wonder the World Health Organization’s recent scientific brief states that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased 25 percent since the pandemic’s arrival in early 2020.
Recent surveys reveal a radical downturn in attitudes and soaring levels of anxiety and worry on all fronts. Anxiety is now the No. 1 issue for women. And for men, it’s No. 2, behind alcohol and drugs. . . .
Generation Z (those born 1999 to 2015) is the most stressed-out generation ever. In recent years the share of high school students who say they experience “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent—the highest level of sadness ever recorded, according to an April 2022 article at the Association for Psychological Science website (psychologicalscience.org). So, almost half our kids feel hopeless! And 50 percent of parents of teens report worsened or new mental health problems in their teens since the beginning of the pandemic; most times it’s depression and anxiety. Many children and young adults are fearful, sad, and struggling with life. As a result, suicide has become epidemic; it is now the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24.
Eventually, I felt compelled to speak to the church about this growing issue via a sermon series. I started planning, and I soon realized a comprehensive approach would require 12 weeks of sermons. I felt uneasy. It was a big commitment on very touchy subject matter. I did not have a sense of peace about it. In fact, I was extremely nervous. I found myself asking these questions: Would people leave the church? Would people feel our sermons didn’t suitably address the real issues? Could a preacher really provide hope and help in these areas?
A CALL TO HONESTY
Then I came across the song “Honest” by Kyndal Inskeep that was making its way through social media. The words broke my heart. She sang about telling people she was “whole” and “happy,” while really she was “healing” and “grieving.” She sang of “praying for someone to show me what love is.” And perhaps the best lyric: “I’ll give you roses just hoping you don’t see the weeds in my garden.”
I began to wonder whether these were the words and thoughts of many people in our church. So, we did a survey. In our congregation, 6 percent of the respondents said they weren’t dealing with any issues. However, 82 percent of folks said they were dealing with anxiety and worry, 71 percent were dealing with burnout and stress, 48 percent were dealing with depression, 51 percent were dealing with self-esteem issues, 19 percent with trauma, and 9 percent with suicide. It was easy to conclude that 100 percent of our church knew or loved someone who was dealing with at least one of these issues.
In short, everyone needed some degree of help and hope—and not just those dealing with these issues, but also those who cared deeply for those dealing with these issues.
WEEDS IN YOUR GARDEN?
How many of you reading this have weeds in your garden but keep giving roses to all of the people in your life who ask you, “How are you doing?” How many of you reading this are holding a handful of roses given to you by people you love and care for but who have no idea what is going on between your ears and in your heart.
The good news is we know where to get the best help and the most hope. Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings give us the tools to navigate mental health issues and to minister to those who struggle with them.
Our ministry team spent four weeks introducing the series. We preached on how to think through the four buckets of mental health. We showed people that although they have mental health challenges, God knows every person, accepts them, and loves them. Then we spent a week on each of the main topics represented in the survey mentioned above. We concluded the series with Hope Weekend, where we gave God the “weeds” in our garden. I joined in this, of course.
The freedom, grace, mercy, strength, and hope we have in Jesus is just what this world needs. Mental health issues are the next great mission field. In helping to address these needs, the church will help share the love of Jesus with many.
ADDRESSING REAL NEEDS
God used this sermon series in a profound way! Our church grew 10 percent the first weekend (a summer weekend, I might add). By the fifth week, we were up an additional 10 percent. We helped to meet a very real need. The response of our people is what most surprised me. Our people love and are thankful for our church, but this series seemed to unlock a different emotion: pride. Our people were proud of our church for stepping out to address a real kitchen-table issue that so many people discuss and deal with.
Our church created a website to share this series with other pastors and churches. To date, many have used these tools to provide help and hope in their context, and those churches have experienced similar results.
The website, www.weedsinmygarden.net, has sermon transcripts (that were reviewed and edited by mental health professionals), videos, testimonials, creative elements, and much more. We estimate that more than 50,000 people have gone through this series or a series inspired by this one. May God bless you on your journey to take help and hope to those who desperately need it.
Clayton Hentzel serves as lead pastor of The Crossing, a multisite church located in three states across the Midwest.