To discuss this month’s issue, I interviewed Fred Jacoby, Executive Director of Foundations Christian Counseling, with main office in Brodheadsville, PA. Fred is also a new author. His first book The Black-and-White Thinking Christian, was released earlier this month. Fred received a B.A. in Family Studies from Messiah College and an M.A. in Counseling from Biblical Theological Seminary (now Missio Seminary). In addition, he is Counseling Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Kresgeville, PA. Fred is married to Andrea and they have twin sons who recently graduated from high school.Q. Tell us about Foundations Christian Counseling—its history, locations, mission, and your involvement with it.
Foundations began in September 2002 after I graduated from seminary. I spoke with pastors in the Pocono area and determined a need to start a Christian counseling center. We are a 501c3 non-profit ministry led by a board of directors who oversee the ministry. Since 2002, we have expanded to 14 offices as far south as Allentown / Macungie and as far north as Binghamton, NY. We are currently exploring other out-of-state branches in Utah and Maryland. Our mission is to serve the church and community through biblically-based counsel, instruction, and resources for Christ-like growth and change.
“ If we take a church of 200 people, 25% or 50 people may struggle with a mental illness. ”
Q. One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. How do these statistics relate to the number of evangelical church members who may be experiencing various kinds of mental illness?
While I am not aware of any studies on mental illness within the church as compared to the world, I believe the stats are similar. Mental illnesses can be seen across the spectrum of people in the world, including the church. If we take a church of 200 people, 25% or 50 people may struggle with a mental illness. We recently heard of another pastor who committed suicide. His struggle with depression was so intense that he felt he could no longer deal with it. This is obviously a difficult time for his family and friends who are in need of our prayers. As Christians, we are not immune to depression, anxiety, bi-polar, or other mental illnesses or diagnoses.
“ As Christians, we are not immune to depression, anxiety, bi-polar, or other mental illnesses or diagnoses. ”
Q. How effectively would you say Church leadership is addressing the mental health needs of its members—especially in comparison to spiritual or physical needs?
While there are many pastors who speak about anxiousness, and finding peace and rest in Him, the actual subject of “mental illness” is not frequently brought up on Sunday mornings. I remember giving a talk on “Mental Illness and the Church” and shared some interesting statistics:
- 75% of pastors know someone (family, friend, congregant) with Bi-Polar Disorder
- 74% of pastors knew someone with Clinical Depression
- 60% of pastors counseled one or more people with a mental illness
- 23% of pastors battle a mental illness
- 49% of pastors don’t preach on mental health
- 75% of congregants want their church to do more
- 60% of congregants want their church to preach on mental health, have support groups, or help them find resources (Christian Counseling Today, Vol. 21, Issue 2)
“ 60% of congregants want their church to preach on mental health, have support groups, or help them find resources.
I was encouraged when one of the pastors who attended the seminar presented the information on depression to his congregation and received some very positive feedback. We are all sufferers and participants. We need to both address people’s suffering, and help people participate in the gospel application of their suffering. The Gospel is what gives people hope.
“ We need to both address people’s suffering, and help people participate in the gospel application of their suffering. ”
Q. I’m approaching 70 years of age and I’ve been in the church my whole life. I don’t recall hearing much about the importance of mental health or even that it was a “thing” until the past 20-30 years. Is that because it wasn’t as much of an issue then or just not talked about?
That’s a great question. I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons. Having mental health issues used to be more of a stigma than it is today, though it still carries a stigma. I believe people are more open to talking about it now than they used to be. I think the culture is more open to discuss our suffering. Certainly in the church, we Christians should experience joy, right? Yet depression feels like the opposite of joy. For many people, to talk about being depressed is to admit that they’re not a good Christian because they’re not joyful. I think people are starting to realize that this is a fallacy. The application of grace helps to lead the way towards acceptance of our sufferings, yet empowers us to move forward in faith.
“ The most prominent mental health struggles I’ve seen among church members include both depression and anxiety. ”
Q. What would you say are the most prevalent mental health issues among church members?
The most prominent mental health struggles I’ve seen among church members include both depression and anxiety. And while I would not classify addiction as a mental illness, it is certainly present within the church, especially pornography and socially acceptable addictions such as food, caffeine, and screen addictions.Q. What are some preventative measures that you believe should be taken by church leadership to support positive mental health in the church?
I believe the church ought to do four things: First, minister to those suffering from a mental illness. Listen to them, pray, encourage, offer hope, and speak the truth of God’s love to them. Second, educate yourself by reading books on mental health from a biblical view or by attending a training. Perhaps ask a Christ-Centered counselor to come to your church to teach or train the church. Third, preach on depression or anxiety using the Scriptures. Help to remove the stigma of mental health issues by talking about them from the pulpit. Also, teach the congregation how to respond in love to others who have mental illnesses. One pastor I know pays for and sends a large group in the congregation to trainings so they are equipped to help people struggling with mental illnesses – even if the trainings are hundreds of miles away! Lastly, have a referral list on hand for crisis lines, counseling referrals, in-patient programs, and people within the church who are willing to mentor someone going through mental health struggles.
“ ...the church’s role should be to 1) relieve suffering, 2) reveal Christ, and 3) restore lives. ”
Dr. Matthew Stanford, a Christian Professor at Baylor University states that the church’s role should be to 1) relieve suffering, 2) reveal Christ, and 3) restore lives. We need to “treat individuals with mental illness the same way [we treat] anybody with an illness. Offer a supportive care structure, help them spiritually, help them understand where God is in the situation, and help them connect more fully to God in their suffering.”
“ ...counseling belongs in the church. If it’s possible to have or develop a lay counseling program in the church, the church ought to do this. ”
Q. What is the role of counseling in the church? What should that look like?
I believe that counseling belongs in the church. Pastors are often sought after for counseling, yet many readily admit that they have not been trained in counseling. If it’s possible to have or develop a lay counseling program in the church, the church ought to do this. This should be led by someone who is trained in biblical counseling, and who can train others and oversee the ministry. If there are Biblically-trained counselors in the church, they ought to consider counseling for the church and in the church.
Most churches do not have the funds or the personnel in their church to run such a ministry. If this is the case, I would recommend referring to an outside organization or counselor who is trained in Biblical counseling. At Foundations, our biblically and professionally trained counselors meet at churches to provide counseling for both the churches and the community. We have partnerships with churches so their members and attendees will receive quality, biblical, and professional counsel at a reduced rate.
“ Often, pastors feel as though they are to be everything for everyone. ”
Q. Lifeway Research recently found that 23% of pastors say they’ve had personal struggles with mental health. Fifty-eight percent of evangelical and Reformed pastors told the Schaeffer Institute in 2015 and 2016 that they do not have close friendships, and 52% said they can’t meet their congregation’s unrealistic expectations. In your experience, would you say these are growing concerns?
Often, pastors feel as though they are to be everything for everyone. Counselor. Teacher. Preacher. Prayer Leader. Friend. Missionary. Evangelizer. In smaller churches, they are expected to be secretary, janitor, maintenance person, and other roles as deemed necessary. In addition to these expectations, they have to do visitations, return calls or texts promptly, and be available 24/7. Some of these expectations are placed on them from members of the church. Some of these expectations are placed on them by themselves. At times, pastors need to be clear about setting realistic and healthy boundaries for themselves and their personal time.
“ [P]astors need to be clear about setting realistic and healthy boundaries for themselves and their personal time. ”
For example, giving congregants your cell number means they can access you anytime and anywhere, which does not help you get away, unplug from pastoring, or connect with a spouse or family. The rise of on-demand technology means there is a greater need to disconnect from such technology. Some pastors have a “fear of man” inside them. There is an internal need to say “yes” to the congregation’s requests or demands to please them and make them happy. This of course, is something that needs to be addressed in the heart of a pastor.
It’s difficult for many pastors to have a close friend in the congregation they are serving. Between congregants moving, leaving the church, or betraying the pastor, the desire to become close to people is often overshadowed by the fear of loss or rejection. Pastors live in a state of perpetual grief. This makes the position of pastor ripe for loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
“ It’s difficult for many pastors to have a close friend in the congregation they are serving. ”
Q. How would you counsel pastors who find themselves in these situations? And what can we as church members do to show Christ’s love to our leadership more effectively?
Ultimately, the goal of the counselor is to determine what is in the heart of the client. What motivates them to act? Fear? Love? Or something else? I would ask clarifying questions about their situation and seek to determine what is driving their actions and responses to these situations. Is there a need to please people? Why? What are your expectations of yourself? What do you believe are the church’s expectations? What has worked in the past? What isn’t working? What do you believe God is leading you to do? How has He been working in your life? The goal is not simply to discover what is in the heart, but to look for any area where God is leading and moving, and to get on board with His plan.
“ October is pastor appreciation month, so it is a good time to send your pastor an encouraging note or gift to let them know how God is using them in your life. ”
October is pastor appreciation month, so it is a good time to send your pastor an encouraging note or gift to let them know how God is using them in your life. When we have expectations for the pastor, we are often operating in the area of law, because laws are expectations and standards. While there are certainly moral standards that must be adhered to, most other standards are only ones we have set up in our minds based on past experiences or understandings of what a pastor should do. We ought to challenge such standards gracefully and accept the strengths and weaknesses of our pastors. Understand the pastor has a limited amount of time and needs time for himself, time with God, and time with the family, in addition to time spent in the church. Pray for your pastor regularly.
“ Pray for your pastor regularly. ”
Q. You recently published your first book, The Black and White Thinking Christian: Moving Beyond the “All or Nothing” to Become Like Christ. Tell us why you felt this was a topic you wanted to explore and just what this book offers.
I first became interested in black-and-white thinking a few years ago when I noticed I had difficulty getting through to a certain population of people I was counseling. It’s not that my counseling was bad, but that I spoke in abstract terms and they understood in concrete ways. When I considered the similar characteristics of these clients, I realized they were all black-and-white thinkers. I also have a son who is a black-and-white thinker, and I wanted to communicate better with him as well. So, I began a series of blogs on black-and-white thinking, which became my most-read blog series I had written to date.
When I conducted research on black-and-white thinking, most of the articles and blogs seem to liken black-and-white thinking to mental health diagnoses. Yet many of us know people who are black-and-white thinkers, but do not have mental health diagnoses. While it is present in some mental health struggles, black-and-white thinking itself is not a mental illness. As I processed this further through a Biblical lens, I began to understand black-and-white thinkers as those who reflect the black-and-white aspects of God. Themes such as right and wrong, justice and judgment, rewards and consequences, etc. are all emphasized in the Old Testament, and reflect God’s character. And all of these themes are based on concrete actions, which of course lead to the heart.
Many marriages have one person who is more black-and-white while the other tends to be more relational, showing higher levels of compassion and empathy towards others. These differences can cause misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships as well.In The Black-and-White Thinking Christian, I aim to provide a biblical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of being a black-and-white thinker, help them in relationships with others, and apply grace and humility to become more like Christ. This book is an introduction to a personality model I have been developing that is based on being created in the image of God.
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