Having had some personal experience with depression, yet without any experience with clinical depression, I am grateful for the lessons I’m learning, as a minister of God, regarding how the church can support the clinically depressed.
Grief-induced depression, or depression induced due to change etc, i.e., non-clinical depression, is very far removed from clinical depression. These two are poles apart. And whilst the former person might be encouraged by words from the Bible, the latter—the people who have struggled with clinical depression—may inevitably feel condemned because they are misunderstood. They are, therefore, so far as the church is concerned, misrepresented. For, the church exists to speak into the hearts of suffering people as these, by a compassion beyond words.
The Church and Its Role In Ministering to the Clinically Depressed
The church has a very specific role when it comes to ministering to the clinically depressed. The church is no snake oil healer, nor is it a place where someone might be diagnosed. Anything other than supporting a person with clinical depression, by just journeying non-judgmentally with them, treads the fine line of ministry malpractice. The reason being, those who are clinically depressed are so home to feeling condemned, due to their experience and indeed even within their own thoughts. The only thing that defeats such mindsets of condemnation is an eternal commitment to compassion; no matter what. Besides, the church and its ministers are unqualified to do anything other than to support—but they’re perfectly qualified to do that, because they’re invigorated by the compassion of the Holy Spirit.
We ought to know that the church exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Yet, that becomes too clichéd. Too often we find the church knows the right words to say but there is an emptiness of compassion; the words lack sincerity and they lack meaning, and as a function, Christ loses credibility—even when God is the only credible overall Guide.
As a church, and as ministers, there is sometimes a role for facilitating the right level of medical support, if required (i.e., helping connect people with proven [caring and competent] medical and health professionals). I’ve heard some who have been clinically depressed say to me that they felt that the biochemical balance had to be restored first and foremost, before any real spiritual work could be done (which they, alone, are to be masters of, with a minister’s support). As ministers, and as encouragers, we are to ensure that we validate the need to achieve biochemical balance—the need for pharmaceuticals to restore physiological balance to the body and mind.
More than anything else what we can do, within our churches, is to unconditionally accept those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, clinical depression. It must be a safe place to come to, where all vagaries of mood are accepted and never judged. Clinical depression cannot be explained to the layperson. We are to offer compassion.
What we cannot understand or explain needs only compassion.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.