A few months ago, my cat Milo died unexpectedly. He was old, but we didn’t anticipate his death anytime soon, certainly not THAT day. But within five minutes of having an obvious stroke, he was gone.
Shortly before Milo died, I had just replenished our six-month supply of flea treatments. The package was still unopened, so I contacted chewy.com to learn if we could return the medicine for a refund.
In what was possibly the best customer service experience of my life, the Chewy rep told me immediately that they would refund the cost of the medicine, and I did not need to return it. She suggested that it could be donated to a local animal shelter.
A week later, flowers were delivered to my house. It wasn’t a birthday, anniversary or any other event, so I thought the driver had come to the wrong house. But the flowers were indeed for me. And can you believe they were sent by chewy.com?
To say I have been blown away by the compassion of this company in the death of my pet is an understatement. But I also realized what chewy.com did was even more than merely operate on the principles of the Golden Rule. Chewy went beyond that to the Platinum Rule. And the Platinum Rule is how churches can make mental health ministry happen and be successful.
Everybody in ministry leadership knows the Golden Rule, spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Treat others like you want to be treated. It’s not that hard, because you know what you like, you know what you don’t like; just apply those same ideas to others.
But instead of treating the Golden Rule like the highest rung on the ladder of agape love, reach instead a little higher, to the Platinum Rule, which is to treat others the way THEY want to be treated.
I wish this was my idea, but someone else beat me to it. The Platinum Rule implies three aspects that are important for the success of any ministry, but especially for mental health ministry. Those factors are relationships, empathy and value for the individual.
Years ago, my pastor said, “It is better to be righteous than to be right.” This simple statement recognizes that the normal give-and-take in relationships sometimes has to take a back seat. Sometimes my needs will not be met; my role will be to serve a person who is hurting, or offer that person a little extra patience. This statement does not mean that you should not take care of yourself. But making sacrifices for the sake of strengthening a relationship, with the ultimate goal that the other person will see Christ more clearly, is a mandate for spiritually mature believers. And I might add, parents do this kind of thing for their kids all the time.
Far superior to sympathy, empathy puts us all on the same level emotionally and spiritually. Empathy acknowledges that the person struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia could easily be me. Empathy allows me to see a difficult person with eyes of understanding. Instead of viewing a teen as a ‘problem kid,’ empathy allows me to respond to misbehavior as, “This teen has something preventing him or her from doing well. What could that something be?” Brene Brown has an excellent, well-known video explaining the importance of empathy.
Valuing the individual
Nobody wants to be your ‘project.’ So instead of viewing a person with a mental health condition as a problem to be solved, try viewing them instead as a person to be loved. Just like any other person. A little more patience may be needed, but that’s one of those spiritual qualities that no one has in full measure. Spiritual maturity is the goal, for the person with a mental health condition, and for you as well.
I’m not suggesting this is easy. Normal relationship boundaries certainly apply. My rights end where yours begin. Just don’t overthink this. If there is an isolated person in your church, reach out to learn what his or her interests are. Connect him to others with the same interests. Allow her to serve and share her gifts. Become his friend. Your life will be richer for the new connection.
Call to Action: The Church exists to worship and serve Jesus and teach others to be like Him. By engaging people with mental health or neurological conditions as friends, church leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate that people in relationship with Christ operate in a vastly different way than the rest of the world. Instead of the harsh or even polite rejections people with mental health conditions often experience, Christ-followers can live out the truth that every person is made in the image of God, and each has an important role in the body of Christ.
My next blog post will focus on the the damage that pastors and other spiritual leaders can do if people with mental health needs are not treated with compassion and love.
Ways churches and ministries can help with mental health needs: (1) Educate: leaders can learn the basic signs of mental illness. (2) Convey hope: communicate truthfully and positively about mental illness and available resources. (3) Make referrals: know available doctors, counselors and other mental health services in your community. (4) Connect and collaborate: get to know local mental health professionals, so both of you have a point of contact in each other’s professional world.
Catherine Boyle is the Director of Mental Health Ministry for Key Ministry.