Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist.” Do you remember creating when you were a kid?
Maybe you were into drawing and coloring; maybe your creativity shone through with Legos and PlayMobile sets or blocks. Or maybe you spent hours building tree forts or sand castles.
For some, the kitchen was a place of boundless opportunity. For others, banging on pots and pans sequed seamlessly into passions for rhythm and music.
Not many adults would call themselves artists, but that spark of creativity is still there. It’s part of the Imago Dei, the image of God imprinted on every person. You just have to look for it a little differently than you did as a kid, looking for crayons or just the right Lego piece.
Letting creativity come forth can be a meaningful aspect of mental health ministry. Creativity is often an important link to mental wellness, not just illness. Allowing your church to influence the neighborhoods and region nearby through creativity can begin to shift views about taking care of mental health in a positive direction. And along the way, people outside of church life may begin to think differently about faith and church.
Here are three steps to getting creative with the way your church can do ministry for and with people with mental health needs.
1 - Mental illness can be a catalyst for creative action.* Churches that offer thriving special need ministries all started with a person or group of people who needed ministry, and the churches got creative in how to provide the ministry. The same is true for individuals living with mental illness. Rather than focus on the difficulties of mental health ministry, brainstorm on the possibilities. Recognize mental illness is something to be used for God’s purposes, and that every person, regardless of health or illness, has a gift to offer the body of Christ.
2 - Use existing planning tools, then focus on unique ministry elements based on the known needs. Dr. Grcevich developed a mental health ministry planning template as part of his book, Mental Health and the Church. In addition to Key Ministry, there are many ministries that help churches develop special needs ministry. Templates for development special needs ministry can be helpful with mental health ministry development as well.
There’s no need to reinvent basic approaches and ministry support plans. Once your church has determined its own mental health ministry structure and plan, let the specific needs in your church or local community be met with the creativity of your faith family. Many churches are doing creative work in their communities that can become a touch point for connecting with individuals who have mental health needs.
3 - Focus on creativity as an outreach within your own faith community. Relationship building within your faith community involves getting to know the people and their interests, outside of work and Sunday morning worship. Part of relationship building can be tapping into the gifts and abilities these same people offer that don’t traditionally come into use in church settings. For example, many churches provide food pantries and preschools. But what if your church established an art gallery for your members? My daughter is an exceptional artist; my husband is a skilled woodworker. Both gifts can be used not only for construction and utility, but also as expressions of the wonder of God, as reflected in artistic visions of His created beauty.
Many anecdotal stories as well as emerging research suggests that people who engage in creative pursuits have better mental health or are aided in mental health recovery, in part, by creative outlets. Some options your church might consider: your worship team invites those with musical gifts to form an additional church-based band, and volunteer to play a mix of spiritual and family-friendly secular music at local farmer’s markets or festivals. For those who love to read and write, your church might publish a devotional book, or invite local Christian writers to host a book reading. Needle-arts groups, painting nights, quilting clubs, car repair groups, woodworking projects to meet children’s church or local school needs, the opportunities are endless.
When your church formalizes an artistic community that’s already part of your church in an informal way, you will attract extended family, friends and those who may be far from faith. These efforts create opportunities for those with ministry gifts that are not routinely used in the church environment to be highlighted and celebrated. Such recognition also encourages people to use creativity as part of mental illness recovery and support.
As your church offers these opportunities, make sure to let people know that creative expression is a gift that God has given the body of Christ, to bring glory to God and serve others. Drawing attention to gifts that may be hidden underneath mental illness shifts the focus from a person with a struggle to a person who has incredible gifts to share. Reframing the perceptions of your church members towards persons with mental illness in this way will quietly point to the God who distributed gifts among us all, and create opportunities for every God-given gift to be used as He intended for the body of Christ.
(*A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, page 86).
Catherine Boyle is the Director of Mental Health Ministry for Key Ministry.