Where Are the Gatekeepers?
As I have been pressing on in my continuing education, learning about trauma, abuse and neglect, and mental illness/disorders, I’ve been seeing more and more clearly how many gaps exist across our society to even recognize, let alone help those in these great areas of need. As I am continuing along with my Mental Health Coach training, there is a term for those who are in the places to fill these gaps: the Gatekeeper Model. Unfortunately this model is not taught.
Doctors and nurses, teachers and school counselors, law enforcement and EMS, and most importantly pastors and church leaders are some of the key people who hold positions that should also function as the role of “Gatekeeper”. They are the ones who will most likely be involved with individuals in crisis and needing help beyond what is seen on the surface.
Churches are of the first places hurting people turn to for help, before counselors, therapists, and community groups. Churches are unique in that they also work with the full lifespan: infants, children, teens, young adults, and on through to the elderly and the dying. From children's church, teen youth groups, small Bible study groups, and the full congregation, what an amazing opportunity the church has at reaching such a vast spread of society! So, what is the church doing to help the hurting?
Heartbreakingly, 30-40% of individuals with a mental illness encounter negative interactions in church. 66% of pastors say that they don’t even talk about these issues from the pulpit, and 25% don’t even want to work with them because it takes too much time. For those who do find any attempt to help, it is often over-spiritualized or categorized as a spiritual issue like sin (i.e. just pray more, trust more, some sin in your life is to blame, demonic oppression/possession, etc.). People are coming into the church at various points of entry, looking for someone to help them, but only receiving surface level care, at best. A large part of that is because there is little to no training for any of the leaders involved in churches to help them recognize deeper problems beyond the surface.
In the end, not only do we push people from church, but from Jesus, and possibly towards death. I was just told a story about a woman, who did not know Jesus as her Savior, decided to visit a church after having been encouraged by a friend for a while to do so. She went in wearing pants, and was escorted out by several men because apparently women are not allowed to wear pants in this particular church. A few weeks later, she was killed in a car accident. This church missed out totally on the very thing we were given charge to do, to share the Gospel of Christ with the world! What about someone who comes in saying that they are struggling with suicidal thoughts and they are ignored or given inadequate care, what does the church say then when they follow through? How many Christians have responded with venomous words of damnation to those who died from suicide? How much blood does the church have on their hands because they fail to bridge the gap we have in our hurting world? And what of these individuals' eternal destination when they left the church, hurting worse than when they went in?
Psalm 6 shows us a very raw portrait of how David was struggling deeply in depression. "Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am frail; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are in agony. My soul is deeply distressed. How long, O LORD, how long?" All through scripture we can find examples of these dark times in people’s lives, even for Jesus. "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.' Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground." Luke 22:42-44
These verses are in the Bible to not only bring hope to those who are in despair, but also to highlight how important it is that we, the Church body, need to bear with one another in times of burden. It is time for society to recognize the need for trauma informed care, and remove the negative stigmas of mental illness. It is time for the church to step up and fill the gap, become trauma informed and trained in mental illness; be the Gatekeeper for the children, the women, the men who are suffering. The church can do this by ensuring that all of their leadership, from the infant caregivers, children and teen pastors, to the senior pastor, all have training in trauma and mental illness/disorders with Mental Health Coaches being the primary point of contact so that individuals are not bounced around and falling through the cracks. All of these people can successfully bridge the gaps by providing lay counseling, life coaching, pastoral care, advocacy, and family care. This is beyond handing a list of resources, but connecting with people in a meaningful way that tells them they are cared for and safe, with resources available if further help is needed.
"The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears; He delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted; He saves the contrite in spirit." Psalm 34: 17-18