Make a difference near you
One of the aims of Mind and Soul is to help you engage the local church and enhance mental health services. The main reason for this is that whilst a website can be a good resource and a conference can be encouraging, human growth and change is more of a process than an event.
Human processes happen best in local communities - where God intended them to happen. For some people this will be a local church, and we would certainly encourage you to be part of a local church and for that church to work towards being mental health friendly. However, others will find it better to try and start something outside a specific church, or alongside several.
This article therefore, looks at four things you can do to make a difference locally. They are in order for a reason, because we think things develop best in this order. You can do it in a different order, of course, but it is usually best to go from small to bigger, rather than to start big and then this not go anywhere.
1. Ask God to make a start
If this is something that is meant to happen near you, we believe that God will make known to you a handful of like-minded people to journey with you. Three or more is all you need. Pray for Him to show you who these people are and make a focus of getting to know them. If they are really like you, they will have been looking forward to this, though it might not seem like that on first meeting. In your group of three, you will probably be able to think of a few more people locally [maybe 8-10] who you know have an interest in mental health and Christianity.
You are now ready for the next step, although there is no reason why you could not stay small and have some discussion at this stage first. Mind and Soul started as a bunch of people meeting in my front room for the first year. I was also blogging to get my own thinking straightened out, which was the beginning of this website.
Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to keep a list of everything that is hapenning across the country - there is too much going on [which is encouraging]. If you are really struggling to find any one to talk to locally, you could search the Association of Christian Counsellors
and get in touch with those counsellors to see who they know.
2. Create a regular focus
People need rhythm - this is why we have weeks, seasons and months. You need to step out at some point and start something - the book of Ecclesiastes says this is like throwing your bread upon the water and not being sure if it will return to you (Ecc 11v1-8). It can take a lot of courage to step out and start something - I mean, what if no-one turns up? However, in our experience, people are hungry to talk about this topic. This is another reason why you want your small team [as mentioned above] to do this with you - this is not a one-person thing, we feel.
Monthly seems about right for this kind of thing. People have too much on for it to be weekly, and a termly event is too formal and more of, well, an event. Try to choose a neutral venue as you will want to advertise as widely as possible. We met for a couple of years in the back room of a local pub - and we got it for free providing we ate enough bar snacks and drank enough beer! You could meet in a local church, but some who might be interested may have negative church experiences - and some food [and drink if appropriate] helps things along.
A few things are really important to think through:
1. You need [ideally] a MIX of mental health professionals , Christian professionals [Christian counsellors, pastoral workers, church leaders, etc] and also people with their own story or who are relatives and carers. It doesnt matter if you can't persuade a particular person like a psychiatrist to come along as there are many others who have training, but to try to get a mix of clinical, pastoral and personal perspectives.
2. Decide on the focus for the meeting. You could start a SUPPORT group for people with particular needs such as those who are still unwell or chronically unwell, but monthly may well be too infrequent and this is best done within the pastoral structures of a local church. We would suggest you make it a group for DISCUSSION - i.e. people need to be of a certain wellness to attend, though not necessarily 100% well. The aim should be for talking and sharing, mutual education/debate and support in each others roles.
3. It needs to be really USER-LED. As a psychiatrist, I [Rob] learnt lots from my first group about the power of shared leadership, which is different to how I was trained in a hospital. It is amazing how creative people can be when equipped and how much we can learn from others who at first glance might seem to have little to give. The main trick is to keep Jesus at the centre, but not worry too much about the edges. Don't get hung up on secondary differences such as denominations - and you may need to gently mediate at times! But DO make it clear (best to do this with your own character and witness) that this is a Christian group and that both faith and psychology must be held in tension. I find it helpful to think of it like a mountain with Jesus at the centre/summit and the exact edge of the mountain being less clear where it meets the plain.
The group I [Rob] was part of in Leeds and Bradford was one of the most amazing Christian communities I have ever been privileged to be in. We were able to worship God, unified in many cases by nothing other than our love of Him. We were able to learn from both the professionals and those who were experts because of their own lived experience. We were able to punch well above our weight - this is where Mind and Soul started and where I learned my key lessons. Remember that many weak links are stronger than a few strong links - as the group grows there will be less uniformity but this can be a great strength as wider networks are influenced. Remember also not to set out with this type of functioning group as a goal - just set out. Cast the bread - you will learn as much from the casting and even from seeming failure as you do from the goal - and there will be ups and downs along the way!
3. Run a Mental Health Sunday
A good next step is to try and run a Sunday service with a mental health focus. A local pastor may be more willing to consider the topic if they know there is a local group behind it. See
this longer article
for ideas and resources for such a sunday.
4. Put on an event
A local conference can be a great encouragement for people. Look at
our first ever programme
in Leeds, run in a local church and advertise through local church networks and also magazines, hospital email etc. We got about 80 people to attend which amazed us.
Other things to remember for conferences are:
have a quiet space for people to pray of they are distressed,
ask your local Christian bookshop to run a bookstall or provide some on sale-or-return (see some of our book reviews),
keep it gently Christian so those of other faith feel conformable (such as an opening prayer - best not to sing if numbers are small!) but do be clear that this is a Christian event and not a multi-faith one,
start at 10am and finish by 330pm to allow time to travel,
make sure you have slides on the computer in advance. You can also download anything you like from this website and our
vimeo video channel
to show on the day.
The key thing for 3 and 4 is that you have step 2 to invite people back to and this is unlikely to start without 1. Go for it!
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