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Dear Youth Pastors: Please Talk About Mental Health

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Dear Youth Pastors:

I was involved in a church youth group when I was younger. No one there ever told me I couldn’t talk about mental health. But no one ever told me that I could, either. Cultural stigma still dictates much of what we do and don’t discuss openly.

Invite conversations, and do so specifically. Fear of something loses some of its grip once it is named.

Stand on a stage and talk about depression. Talk about suicide. Talk about self-injury and anxiety and addiction and eating disorders and a thousand other things. Talk about pain. Talk until you’ve run out of ways to say “you are not alone in this thing. It can be named and known and we can fight together.”

Say that it’s OK to not be OK, because so many of your students don’t feel OK:

I could go all day, giving you statistics from here and here and here and seriously, I could keep going until I ran out of reasons to give you.

But you already have reasons. You have reasons you hang out with and that you take on retreats and play silly games with and preach to and laugh with and cry with. You have reasons because you have students.

You have reasons to talk about mental health.

Your students need you to. Your church needs you to. The next generation of Christians battling to feel less alone needs you to.

In the past few months I’ve written a post addressed to Pastors and a post on how ministries can better engage with mental health, and they both apply to you, too. But I wanted to write to just you, because I know your job is so special.

If you teach your students that the church is a place where they really can bring their burdens, that church is the place for open and honest and painful conversations, that nothing is off-limits and that you’re willing to lean into the dark and heavy places with them, you’re doing something amazing: You’re loving them like Jesus.

You’re sacrificing your comfort zone, you’re sacrificing knowing what you’re doing, you’re sacrificing going home at night knowing you fully resolved someone’s problems. And you’re sacrificing it for something more beautiful. You’re stepping into confusion and hurt and pain and mess to love someone. Just like I believe Jesus stepped out of heaven and into our mess.

If the hallmark of cruciform love is sacrifice, if our job as Christians isn’t to wait for Heaven but to enact heaven here and now by stepping into people’s hells, then how can we avoid topics that are hurting people because we’re uncomfortable with them?

And beyond that, you’ll be shaping the future. You’ll be shaping Christians that will be running ministries and churches and families in 15 years and they’ll remember your courage. They’ll think back and remember and they’ll run screaming into the dark parts of those around them carrying the light with no hesitation because you taught them it was OK to talk about heavy things. And their students will do the same, and one day we will be a church that is fully open about our pain, where everyone knows they can bring every part of them, without hesitation. And it will have started with you and your students.

So be brave. Be bold. Be a light in dark places, even when it’s hard. Talk about things you wouldn’t normally.

They need you to.

Follow this journey on Robert Vore’s site

Thinkstock photo

Originally published: May 10, 2016
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