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Mental health advisory team gives final report

NASHVILLE (BP) — Noting that we are in “a new day of awareness” about mental health issues, Frank S. Page expressed appreciation to the Mental Health Advisory Group at its culminating meeting and received the group’s final report.

In response to a motion on mental health ministry and a resolution on mental health concerns introduced at the 2013 SBC annual meeting, Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, appointed the Mental Health Advisory Group to “report and advise [him] on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources.” Numerous individuals both within and outside the SBC have been encouraged by the elevation of mental health ministry needs and the work of the advisory group, Page said.

Following the group’s first meeting in spring, 2014, chairman Tony Rose, pastor of LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Ky., divided the group into teams to investigate various facets of mental health ministry in SBC life. The full advisory group met again on Nov. 21, 2014 in Nashville to discuss each team’s findings and begin the process of collating their findings into its report.

Professional and Church Counseling Services

The Professional and Church Counseling Services team, comprising Ray Cleek, Chuck Hannaford, Brad Hambrick, Pepper Pratt and Lennox Zamore, sought to define professional and pastoral counseling roles, describe mental health ministry models, give examples of best practices, and offer recommendations for churches to navigate the legal and liability issues that may arise.

The team identified various formal and informal components that may be present in a church’s mental health ministry, depending on the size and resources of the church. They discussed a “full-orbed” model including formal professional counseling, informal “one-another ministry” between laypersons, informal pastoral counseling, and community-based small groups, all seamlessly integrated.

“Whatever model we have, it’s necessary to reduce the stigma [of mental illness] and bring in a caring concern for those families and people with mental health issues,” said Hannaford, a clinical psychologist and president of HeartLife Professional Soul Care in Germantown, Tenn. “And whatever ministry takes place in the acute phases,” whether or not someone is referred to an outside professional for care, “we get those people back into the body of the church.”

Denominational Services

The Denominational Services team, which included Kelly Campbell, Belva Weathersby, Doug Carver and Ken Sartain, studied mental health and counseling services currently offered by local Southern Baptist churches, associations, state conventions and SBC entities. They surveyed each state convention and sought guidance from LifeWay, the North American Mission Board, Baptist Child Care Executives (leaders of 23 Baptist Children’s Homes affiliated with state Baptist conventions), and other SBC organizations.

Carver, executive director of chaplaincy for NAMB and a retired major general in the U.S. Army, emphasized the importance of restoring community in churches. “One of the loneliest places is a church pew,” he said. “There’s a lot of isolation within the context of our churches, so how do we break that code on restoring community?”

He also said mental health ministry needs to continue to be a priority for the SBC even after the current attention wears off. “We can’t let this momentum cease,” he said.

Academics and Training Resources

Ian Jones, Eric Johnson, Sam Williams and Matthew Stanford, the Academics and Training Resources team, researched the offerings of the six SBC seminaries in the areas of pastoral and professional counseling, gave suggestions for best practices, and researched other training options.

The Southern Baptist seminaries are diverse in their offerings, with different counseling programs available, course requirements for ministry degrees, and general philosophies of the nature and treatment of mental illness, the team found.

Williams, professor of counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said a balanced view of mental illness needs to have respect for God’s common grace in scientific and medical research without diminishing the importance of the Gospel. Warning against attributing mental illness to a single cause, he said, “We want to make sure that we avoid some of the crass reductionism of how we understand people and their problems. … We need to recover a more nuanced, careful understanding of all the variety of factors that go into something as complex as a mental illness.”

Curricula and Resources

Debby Akerman, Kay Arnold, Will Bacon and Shannon Royce served as the Curricula and Resources team, compiling an extensive list of resources designed to offer accurate and helpful information to individuals with mental illness, as well as to pastors, counselors and those with loved ones who are suffering.

Some of the resources the team identified, particularly those relating to major mental illness, came from secular sources. “We are just beginning to engage as the church,” so Christian organizations don’t always have sufficient resources about severe illnesses such as schizophrenia, said Royce, president and CEO of ChosenFamilies.org. The group advocated using good information available in secular resources while realizing such resources are not developed from a biblical worldview.


The Communication team of Daniel Darling, John Jones and Kent Choate explored the possibility of a mental health online resource for Southern Baptists, acknowledging that the Mental Health Advisory Group itself will not launch or execute any official SBC ministries. They identified possible sources of materials from within the Southern Baptist family and partnerships with like-minded existing ministries. They suggested a three-track system composed of resources for families dealing with mental illness, for pastors who want to better serve their congregations, and for pastors who suffer from mental illness themselves.

Many pastors are struggling in isolation, and there needs to be resources available to help them, said Choate, community groups pastor at theChurch.at in Broken Arrow, Okla. “If we don’t have healthy pastors, we’re just not going to have healthy churches,” he said.

“I discovered when I was working for [the Oklahoma Baptist Convention] that our pastors struggle, really struggle, and are feeling like they’re on islands, especially in their mental health issues. And they have no one to talk to,” he said. The group referenced NAMB’s pastoral care line, 1-844-PASTOR1, as a source of confidential counseling.

The group’s report totaled 42 pages. Page will use it in continuing conversations with the SBC’s Great Commission Council, comprised of the chief executives of the SBC Executive Committee, SBC entities and WMU, the SBC auxiliary.

    About the Author

  • Rebecca Wolford/SBCLIFE

    Rebecca Wolford is communications specialist with the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of [URL=http://www.sbclife.org]SBCLIFE[/URL], published five times yearly by the Executive Committee.

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