As we move toward a post-pandemic normal, most counselors are still using technology to meet with their counselees. What does this mean for the future of biblical counseling? As we begin to see the lifting and removal of regulations, we ought to consider how technology should fit into the future of our continued care.
This Fall a little boy in my neighborhood started preschool. I can see his house from my front window, and I love to watch him skip to his car in the morning with his Daniel the Tiger backpack and matching lunchbox. He climbs into his car seat with evident excitement for what is in store for his day at school. He’s a typical preschooler yet his preschool experience is far from typical. Along with crayons and markers his school supplies include facemasks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.This little boy has never known a school-day without a mask. He doesn’t know that seeing his teacher and classmates in facemasks is not a typical preschool experience. And while wearing masks in school may be normal to him, there is still so much that is not. Though he is young, he is old enough to know that the presence of masks means there is an invisible sickness that everyone is hoping to escape.
From preschoolers to the elderly, the pandemic has affected everyone. In the last year we had to restructure how we did work, church, school, family and social life and none of it was easy for anyone. In addition to the stress of all the changes is the looming threat of sickness. It makes sense that even while children are adapting, they are also feeling anxious and confused. And parents, having never parented through a pandemic before, can feel uncertain about how to help children feel at ease while, at the same time helping them understand the need for significant caution. Parents want to point their children to the wisdom of protocols but don’t want them to miss the comfort that God provides in times like these.
I was recently given a copy of a book that I feel will be a big help for families with young children. God Cares for Me by Scott James could not be more right-on-time! I read it and knew this is a book parents will be grateful to have. It’s begins with a scenario that any child will find relatable. Lucas, a young boy wakes up not feeling well. As the story unfolds, the author empathetically captures the feelings children have when facing sickness. In an engaging way, the story highlights the comfort of God and the importance of loving others even while we are sick. My favorite part of this book is how it uses Scripture as the main teaching tool throughout the story. The pictures are charming. The bright and cheery colors sure help when you are talking about something as gloomy as being sick. On a side note, I was personally encouraged to see diversity in the characters and roles being represented to children as they read this book. Hats off to the illustrator and the publisher for their intentionality.
As a parent I appreciate stories that help children trust God in real-life situations. As a counselor I love resources that can help families turn the challenges kids face into gospel opportunities. God Cares for Me does both! This is a season of learning for all of us, and some of what we learn will remain important even after the threat of the pandemic subsides. The lessons of love in this book are enduring. You can find this book at New Growth Press and I recommend you go grab a copy for the child or grandchild in your life. While you wait for it to arrive you can check out this video clip where I share more tips on parenting through a pandemic.
I had the recent privilege to sit in on a hearing in the district court. It was a chance to witness the public proceedings to which this country gives open access, and I am grateful. But more so, it was an opportunity to hear the courageous testimony of a victim who gave voice to her story and for that I am deeply honored.
As I sat in that courtroom three words came to mind. They are familiar words to anyone living in the United States. School children, before they learn to read and write, memorize these words. Whether you are born here or immigrated, if the United States is your home, you will learn the words “justice for all,” the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting in the court filled me with passion for those words. We were there for justice.
The situation was complex, spanning many years of repetitive coercion, manipulation, threats, and violence leading to deep confusion and the crushing of a spirit. She was a college student volunteering in children’s ministry. He was her pastor. She was vulnerable. He was powerful. The grooming and lies started early and led to atrocious abuse of power and authority. Yet, as evidenced by the brief lines of introduction before the judge, this would be abridged to a single incident shared in the courtroom where she was not a person with a story but a case with a number.
As the case unfolded, it became clear that there was one thing everyone was looking for—evidence. If terrorizing drew blood, if manipulation left marks, if bullying left bruises—then, the evidence would be undeniable. But abusers know better. They know how to twist the truth, making even their victims believe their lies. The book of Ecclesiastes says it well when it states, “…I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter (Ecclesiastes 4:1).”
Pressed into the standard protocol of the court and in the hands of an overwhelmed and unprepared district attorney, she was simply a name on a form in a large stack of disheveled papers. A name filling a timeslot on a docket. A name mispronounced, a name repeatedly gotten wrong, a name mistakenly called. If they didn’t even know her name, how could they ever know her story? She was a case, a number, a file declared to have “lacked the evidence” to bring a conviction.
Justice for all? Though this court did not deliver, the words retained their power. Not because of a pledge, but because of a promise. The promise is not found in the words of a prosecutor or an advocate or even a supportive friend. Rather, the promise of “justice for all” is found in the God’s Word. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (Psalm 103: 6). The Bible is full of promises related to God’s just judgement. He has promised to defend the abused and punish the abuser.[i]
Justice for all? Where the pledge fails, the promise stands firm. She is not a case, a number, a file. She is a person with a voice. An important voice. A valued voice. A voice of truth heard by God and his promise of justice is sure.
I witnessed incredible courage from this woman in that courtroom. She was honest. She was clear. She was brave. Abuse is wrong and must be exposed. As she continues to wait for justice, her testimony was not in vain. She stood for truth and she stood for the many other victims whose voices are still unheard and I am so proud of her. She knows God heard her voice she can agree with the Psalmist in saying, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116: 1-2).”
[i] See Psalm 72:4, Psalm 146:7-9, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 22:22-23, Isaiah 10:1-3, Jeremiah 50:33-34, Micah 2:1-3 for just a sampling of how the Lord views abuse.
Here we are again. We have been here before and Lord willing we will be here again. A new year. Why do people make such a big deal about the turn of a calendar day?
There’s something exciting about things that are new. Various seasons of life are marked by the description of new. When people get married, they are called newlyweds depicting the reality of their new venture in life together. New parents are those who, for the first time in their life, are embarking on the journey of raising up another human being. There are other times when new is the best way to describe a change in life. For example, think about a new job, a new home, a new car, or even a new puppy. When something is new it carries with it an expectation of potential and an excitement for what lies ahead. This is also felt in simple pleasures like new restaurant or a new episode of a favorite show. The new year is similar, as people look ahead with expectation and excitement.
So as the hype of Christmas settles into the rearview and you begin to regain some routine after the holidays, I want to encourage you to consider why it can be good to reflect on the value of treating the new year with fresh expectation and intention.
The start of a new year is a great time to engage in personal reflection and consider modifications you might want to make in life. But it is not just an exercise in self-improvement. I want to offer four reasons why this can actually be a means of stewarding your life for the glory of God. At the risk of being misunderstood, I don’t want to communicate that setting “New Year’s resolutions” is a kind of spiritual mandate or act of piety. I will say that whether it is at the start of a new year or any other time of the year, making intentional adjustments or participating in thoughtful planning can be a helpful exercise in a Christian’s life. In light of this, I offer four considerations to encourage you in making the the most of this New Year.
1. Reflection allows for re-evaluation. In our first years of life, we visit the doctor regularly for what are called well-baby checks. The reason is not because anything is wrong, but it is to make sure things are right. Taking time to reflect at the start of a new year can be viewed as a wellness check. It is an opportunity to take a look at your life the way a doctor examines a young patient and evaluates how things are going. A careful examination of our life helps us to make any needed adjustments.
It is a sign of spiritual health to take time to examine ourselves. Lamentation 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.” Don’t wait for things to be wrong in your life. Let the New Year be a time of self-examination and prayerfully consider what changes may be needed.
2. A stagnant life is an unhealthy life. Continuing with the metaphor of the well-baby exams, the doctor is concerned if a child’s progress stops or slows. When a child fails to thrive or misses key benchmarks it raises alarm. When personal growth stops in our lives it is also a concerning sign. But change does not need to be a grand event. Slight improvements overtime bring significant change. Big goals or changes can be helpful but small changes eventually create major shifts in the long run. If change is daunting or discouraging, think small. This is often the way the Lord works on us.
Reflect on the year ahead. What small shifts do you need to make? Maybe it is in your spiritual life? Maybe it is with a relationship? Whatever it is, use this New Year as a time to commit to that change no matter how small. God brings change slowly — one degree at a time. Allow 2 Corinthians 3:18 to remind you that, “we all…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
3. Planning is a part of the Imago Dei. As created beings we bear the image of God (Imago Dei). Every single human being has the likenesses of the God who made them stamped on them. When we create we reflect our creator God. When we manage or lead we do so in part because the image of a sovereign God is on us. When we plan we imitate a strategic God who calculated where to put the stars and at what place the ocean should end. Before the foundations of the world, He was planning.
As we look ahead to a new year with more specific intention we must take all of our plans and lay them before the One who holds our future. We plan but the Lord establishes our path (Proverbs 16:9).
4. New is a gift from God. Some of the best things in Scripture are described as new. In Christ we have new life (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are given a new name that only God knows (Revelation 2:17). We will live in a new world where all things are as they should be. In fact, the final promise of the Bible related to the Lord’s returning is that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Celebrating new is a small picture of what we will one day know in full. New is a gift that should be stewarded well. It is a treasure not to be taken for granted.
As you enter a new year consider how you might engage it with intention and purpose. One helpful resource is Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. Use the questions to pause and reflect regarding the direction of your life.
In the last year, depression rates have climbed significantly, and women are not at all left out of the rising numbers. In order to best understand what might help women who experience depression, we should know a little bit about what might be causing it.
Depression can be triggered by the seasons. You have likely heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that impacts people most commonly in the fall and winter months when the hours of sunlight are fewer and people are less active. What you might not know is that in the United States, it is estimated SAD affects nearly ten million people, and it is four times more common in women than in men.
Genetics or physical health may also be a contributing factor. Medical issues such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, chronic health issues, and hormonal fluctuations can increase risk of depression. Hormonal changes are not uncommon throughout seasons of life. These changes may often be accompanied by an alteration in mood, leading to depression.
Spiritual hopelessness may be another cause of depression for believers. Living in a fallen world has dispiriting effects. The Scriptures, especially the psalms, give voice to the suffering and struggle of believers. The Bible shares firsthand stories of the depressed. Words such as downcast, discouraged, fainthearted, and troubled describe the darkness of depression that believers experience.
Circumstances also play a role. Depression is more common during difficult life circumstances, such as seasons of loss, unexpected change, or disappointing situations. In late June, as the number of COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket, psychiatrist-in-chief, Dr. Maurizio Fava, at Massachusetts General Hospital predicted, “… the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant stress and psychological distress for a large proportion of the population. And we know the rates are progressively increasing.”
As the number of coronavirus cases rise so do the number of people suffering with depression. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that the rate of people experiencing symptoms of depression is now three times higher than before the pandemic.3
Now we find ourselves in the midst of the dreary months of winter. Add to this the physical factors of women’s health, and is it any wonder why so many struggle with depression? But knowing the potential cause is only partially beneficial. What we really want to know is what will help. Visiting your doctor is always a wise first step. This can help to determine if there are physical factors that need to be addressed. If you are experiencing any disturbing changes in mood or symptoms of depression, make an appointment with your doctor.
In addition to seeking medical care, the tips below offer help for the downcast soul. Consider using one tip per day for the next five days. Engage with them intentionally, personally, and prayerfully. But also consider going through them with a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor.
Tip Number One: You aren’t always going to feel this way.
It is normal to have ups and downs, but depression has a way of clouding the good days. Despite how heavy the present moment seems, it doesn’t disqualify you from future hope. Remember that you have been here before, and God has brought you through. You may not feel it now, but take a moment to remind yourself of the goodness of God. Read Psalm 100:5 and 119:89-90 and write down a few ways you have seen God’s faithfulness in past struggles.
Tip Number Two: It is normal to need help and wise to pursue it.
We live in a culture that glorifies independence and self-sufficiency, but we were actually created for the opposite. It was intended for us to need others, and we were designed to live in dependence on God. Seasons of depression remind us that we need support. Seeking help is not a display of weakness but wisdom. Read Proverbs 11:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Who are the people in your life that give you helpful counsel or encouragement? Reach out and connect with them this week.
Tip Number Three: Set reasonable expectations.
You have never lived through a pandemic before. There is no playbook for how this should go or how it should look. Life has been disrupted, and adjusting has been hard. If the months of living in a pandemic have ushered you into depression, avoid getting caught up in how you should be feeling or thinking. God knows your frame. He is gentle with you in your weakness. Read Psalm 103:14 and Hebrews 4:15-16. How do these verses help you set more reasonable expectations for yourself during seasons of depression?
Tip Number Four: You are more than your feelings.
Feelings are a response to situations. When situations are hard and discouraging, it makes sense that you would be upset or troubled. Don’t criticize yourself for having bad feelings in the midst of bad circumstances. On the other hand, be careful that you don’t become absorbed in your feelings to the point that they define you. You may feel like all is lost, but you are not a lost cause. Take your changing feelings to an unchanging God. Read Lamentations 3:20-24. Notice the shift from feelings to truth in the passage. In the midst of your low feelings, what is one truth from this passage that you can call to mind? Write it out in a journal, on a note card, or in a note in your phone.
Tip Number Five: Prioritize time with the Lord.
This can be especially challenging in the midst of a season of depression, but it is a lifeline. Even if your efforts to connect with the Lord are abbreviated or modified, don’t give up. If you have gone through the above tips, you have already started to engage with the Lord! This week, think of other ways you can meet with God. Consider listening to worship music. Ask a friend to pray for you or with you. Take a walk outside and notice anything that reminds you of God’s creation or provision. Choose a verse that gives you hope. Write it out and try reading it out loud several times a day. Consider Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 42:5; and Jeremiah 31:3 as suggestions for this exercise.
After taking a closer look at some of the causes of depression as well as some helpful tips, I hope you have seen that it is nothing to tackle on your own. If you are struggling, take the courageous step to reach out to a trusted friend or counselor and share your feelings. If you know someone suffering from depression, your friendship can go a long way in the journey through the darkness.
Written by Eliza Huie for publication originally on LifeWay Women.
Counseling is an important decision. Once you begin, it is helpful if you are committed to several practices during the counseling process. Below are a few suggestions that I have found to be important in cultivating the most effective counseling experience.
This may seem obvious. Why would someone invest time and, in some cases, money to meet with a counselor and not be honest? It might surprise you to learn why this happens, but what may be even more surprising is discovering that you might relate to these reasons. Honesty is not just about what you reveal but also about what you conceal. You may feel you are being honest because what you shared in your session was the truth. However, what was not shared can be equally or even more integral to present an accurate picture of the situation. Candor is risky but necessary in counseling.
One reason people may withhold information is fear of man, a temptation common to all. It is not that you are afraid of your counselor; rather, you may be afraid of giving your counselor reason to dislike you or think poorly of you. Another common reason for withholding information is pride. Pride encourages the keeping up of appearances. Even in the midst of seeking help from a counselor, the desire to save face can sabotage your steps toward help and healing if you are tempted to be less than entirely honest.
Scripture tells us that keeping silent about our sins or transgressions before God will bring misery (Ps. 32:1-8). We must be honest before God, but we should also be honest with those who God provides to help us. In counseling, lean into honesty and participate in the accountability and wisdom that can come from trusting your counselor enough to be fully honest.
Those who are curious about the counseling process may ask how long it will take. They want to know how many counseling sessions will be necessary until they feel better or until their situation will change. This is not an unreasonable question, but it often reveals an incorrect view of counseling and the process of change. It is important to remember that you are not a problem to fix or solve. You, like me and everyone else, are a complex individual. Your situation is complex. You deserve the attention of careful exploration. Counseling deals with the deepest issues of the heart; it takes time to draw out what is there (Prov. 20:5).
God is not in a hurry. He knows what you need and knows the best timing to bring about what is required. You are going to counseling because you desire change, and change is a process in which you learn more about yourself and God. The process of slowly uncovering fears, desires, and beliefs is necessary. It is the process that is often the point. It is in the process that you begin to see what God is teaching you. Trust the process and avoid the rush to get through it.
The Bible says that prayer is powerful in its effect (James 5:16). Prayer changes things, and one of the most important things it changes is your own heart. Pray before, during, and after your session. Pray for your heart to be changed through the time with your counselor. Pray that you would be sensitive to God and His Word. Pray that God would encourage and strengthen you as you seek to work through the challenges you face.
Pray for your counselor, too. I feel so strongly about this that I considered making this the only point of this post. Counselors fight their own battles with fear of man in the counseling room. They, too, can be tempted to rush toward change and overlook moments where a long look at Jesus is once again needed.
Your counselor is human, just like you. They have good days and bad days. Your prayers for them are invaluable. Pray that they would be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit. Pray that they would counsel out of a life that is abiding with Jesus. As a counselor, I have been shown many kindnesses by those I counsel, but the thing I am most grateful for is prayer. Make it a priority to pray for your counselor (1 Thess. 5:25).
Certainly, there are more things you can do as a counselee to maximize the counseling process, but if you take these three things to heart and revisit them often, you will get far more out of your counseling sessions. So, if you are currently in counseling or if you are thinking about starting counseling, commit to these things and consider sharing them in a conversation with your counselor to talk about how you are doing in each of them.
Questions for Reflection
- As a counselee, are you committed to being honest, slowing down, and praying throughout the counseling process? What other practices help make your counseling experience most profitable?
- As a counselor, what other practices of counselees have you found helpful for them to cultivate the most effective counseling experience?
This blog post written by Eliza Huie was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Visit the BCC for helpful information and resources related to biblical counseling.
Since you have found your way to my website, chances are you have interest in biblical counseling. I am so glad you are here!! There are many ways to describe biblical counseling. Here is one that sums it up. Biblical counseling is “focused on the application of God’s Word and walking in God’s Spirit when dealing with matters of life as a whole.” But biblical counseling is still a work in progress. We have much to learn and many horizons to still explore as we hold tightly to the timeless Word of God.
I recently had the privilege to talk about my continued experience in the world of biblical counseling and share about some things I have learned and am still learning. On this podcast I discuss three areas of unique importance and interest. They are:
What should we do when someone has been hurt by biblical counseling. Let’s be honest, it happens. What we do with these situations has huge implications on the movement as a whole.
What does the church need to know about abusers and the abused. Pastors, leaders, helpers, and counselors take warning. We are not immune from being duped by an abuser which can lead us to give wrong counsel or take inappropriate action.
What is EMDR? These days, more and more people are suffering from the impact of trauma in their lives. The world is not a safe and peaceful place. Relationships cause deep harm. We are witnesses to constant horrifying news and events. Anxiety has turned to panic in our lives. EMDR therapy is proving to be a helpful resource for those suffering from distressing memories of events or situations.
The church can and should be a place where sufferers are provided with life-giving care that is humble, relevant, and rooted in God’s eternal promises.
Parents feel the pressure to parent well. But life, especially right now, makes that hard.
This is why I’m so excited to announce that I will be speaking at the online Perfectly Imperfect Christian Parenting Event on October 23-24th. This completely digital event was designed for parents like you as a time to set aside perfection and receive the practical and spiritual help we need, in an easy and accessible format.
The goal is to help you check perfection at the door, or couch, and become the perfectly imperfect parent God has called you to be! I’ll be speaking on the Talking to Your Kids about Sex from ages 2-20. In addition to my talk, there will be over 50 other short consumable talks giving you both practical and spiritual advice from other amazing speakers! Check out the line up and register today!
Early bird registration is available at a discounted rate of $29 for the full event. Register today for this digital Christian Parenting event by clicking HERE. You’ll also find a link on the EVENTS page. This is an ALL ACCESS registration. You can watch the teaching until December.
Again, register today at CHRISTIAN PARENTING and I look forward to seeing you there!!
Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart. Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.
As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess.
I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.
What to do.
As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.
As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.
Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?
What not to do.
It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.
As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).
You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.
We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
I am delighted to share with you a conversation I had with the Jeremey Lelek and Shauna VanDyke, president and executive director of the Association of Biblical Counselors. In this podcast I answer questions about EMDR therapy.
Preparing the church for the psychological impact of COVID-19 regulations.
By Eliza Huie, MAC, LCPC, Originally published by Outreach Magazine
“Is it almost over?” These were the words I heard every week from my little boy who refused to go into children’s ministry. Why he wanted to stay with mom and dad rather than eat snacks, hear stories, and color robed Bible characters, was beyond me. But each week he joined us in “big church” and about halfway through the service the inevitable question was whispered, “Is it almost over?”
Many can relate to this burning question right now. Though the COVID-19 isolation has brought some unique enjoyments; a freer schedule, working from your couch, or worshipping in your PJ’s. For most it has brought challenge, and we all are beginning to ask if it almost over.
It is actually a question we must take seriously. When the lifting of stay-at-home regulations will happen is not yet know and it will likely vary from state to state. However, there are many things that the church must to consider. Logistics on how to reopen are going to be almost as tricky as it was to move everything online. There will need to be a plan, maybe multiple plans. And while plans for transitioning back to church will require new strategies for gathering, part of your church’s plan needs to a mindful awareness of the psychological impact this season has had on your people.
Learning from history SARS and other illness related quarantines, it is clear areas of mental, emotional, and relational health will suffer under the period of social distancing. Many churches have begun addressing emotional health already. Conversations about faith and the realities of anxiety, fears, stress are happening online. Even less commonly addressed topics like depression, loneliness, and suicide are getting some airtime in churches. But there are some issues people are struggling with that will likely not be considered but are deeply impacting congregants.
Below are three areas of struggle that may be unexpected but are sure to show up in your congregation as you re-engage. I share them to prepare churches, and to offer suggestions on how the church can take an understanding approach to those who may be struggling with these and other phycological issues as when we join back together.
The purpose of this article is to be informative and practical. The hope is that it will help the church to take sensitive measures in light of the potential aftershocks of COVID-19 isolation. Some of the terms will be clinical but I hope to provide street-level understanding of these issues coupled with biblical direction for care.
Agoraphobia and OCD tendencies.
What does the church need to know?
Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your house and OCD is a hyper-focus anxiety or fear about something that drives a needed action (i.e., repetitive checking or ritualistic cleaning). Both of these are psychiatric diagnoses, but you don’t have to have a diagnosis for symptomatic inclinations to interrupt your life.
While we may complain about being stuck at home, surveys are revealing that people in the US don’t feel ready to return to normal activities even if regulations lift. People will be fearful of leaving their home. One poll suggests that just over 70% of Americans would prefer to “wait and see” once regulations begin to lift.  Churches need to factor this apprehension into what they can expect from their congregants. Not everyone will be excited to leave their house. In fact, it seems many are going to be very cautious about restarting activities they once regularly participated in.
People are getting comfortable with new habits that ensure personal safety. What was once viewed as an exaggerated response, wearing masks and rubber gloves when out, are now part of the normal routine. Not only are people comfortable with them they are starting to feel like they need them to be safe. Masks give them a little more peace of mind when they wear them and when other people wear them. 
Social distancing is also a practice people have embraced and will likely not be in any hurry to let go. It only takes a stroll along the walking path by my house to see people are concerned when out and about. I notice this almost every time I take a walk. When I approach a masked walker, I receive a gracious nod as they move to the furthest edge of the path so we can pass one another at the furthest distance the path will allow. Perhaps you have seen it in the supermarket when someone pauses or takes a step back to allow you a much larger gap as you pass them in the isle.
We cannot expect these new practices to go away just because regulations have been lifted. The concerns that drive them will still be there when the church reopens its doors.
What can the church do?
- Keep online services, activities, and connection going even after you can meet in person. You will likely need to operate both live and online platforms in order to connect with congregants who may be fearful to leave their homes.
- Communicate your cleaning strategies. Let your congregation know how you have sanitized and how you plan to continue to sanitize your building. Encourage and model safety measures. Let your congregation know what they can expect. Will you be encouraging masks? Gloves? What will you implement for space between people in the sanctuary or classrooms? What will greeting look like? Prepare your staff to lead the way in these measures.
- Encourage gradual ways people can re-engage. Offer smaller gatherings or encourage people to begin to meet with others for prayer, bible study, or to watch the service together at one another’s homes. When weather permits some gatherings can happen outside the church building with comfortable spacing.
- Speak into the fear of getting sick or being vulnerable. Acknowledging the fears people have will give them a level of confidence that you are taking things seriously.
Burnout and Trauma.
What does the church need to know?
Expect to see burnout and trauma from the many healthcare workers in your congregation who have served tirelessly during this crisis. They will bring their personal trauma as they begin to process all they endured. They watched firsthand as the young mother of three died only days after entering into the hospital with severe symptoms. They were there when parents were told their child had died. They held the phones of frightened patients as they sobbed and sought comfort from their loved ones on the screen. They were the only one in the room when the elderly passed away as the family was prohibited to enter the hospital rooms due to the virus. They carried the daily weight of concern for their own health and those they love because of their regular exposure. There will be trauma. 
Those in ministry are also at risk for burnout. Including your pastor. Gunner Gunderson, pastor at Bridgeway Bible Church shared a pertinent caution about times of crisis. He warns “It (crisis) will eat you up and wear you out, while your adrenaline and your noble desire to serve keep you blind to the burnout that is chasing you down.” 
Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, care teams, tech teams, etc. are working overtime to keep ministry going and the congregation connected. The effort to create and initiate ways to continue ministry in the midst of isolation has increased the workload for most in ministry. Endless hours online in video calls or in front of a screen recording sermons, lessons, workshops, and conferences will take a toll. Add to that all the care and counsel that continued via zoom or phone calls. Coronavirus didn’t stop personal and relational crises from happening. Care and counseling had to be juggled right alongside preparation for Sunday. Be prepared for your leaders to experience compassion fatigue. 
What can the church do?
- Pray for healthcare workers, your pastors, and your ministry leaders.
- Encourage or start online support groups or prayer groups for those in healthcare to join right now. Having a place where they can be encouraged and prayed for is a fantastic way to help carry their burdens.
- Identify those in your congregation who work in healthcare and personally reach out to them with a card, email, or phone call. Let them know you are praying for them. Remind them the church is there for them.
- Encourage or require your pastors, ministry leaders, etc. to take a sabbath. Talk about rest in your staff meetings or from your pulpit. Beyond the one day a week sabbath rest, encourage all staff to set aside one weekend a month and one week a year as a sabbath rest.
- Promote a mindset of selfcare. If you are the pastor or ministry lead, you’ll need to model it. Ask staff to share ways they are practicing selfcare on a regular basis, share it with your team.
- Check in on leaders and determine what help and support they need to fulfill their ministry tasks. Prioritize the hiring of assistance and administrative help whenever possible. Operating an online platform along with the already existing ministry has likely doubled work in some areas, now is a good time to add assistants to your team.
What does the church need to know?
Addiction flourishes in secret. The self-justifying lies deteriorate resolve and old habits gain great ground. There is no better environment for the revitalization of addictive habits or the beginning of new ones than in a time of isolation paired with increased stress. Those in your congregation who had fought long and hard for the ground of sobriety have faced incredible setbacks.
People who have faced addiction know how valuable support systems are. They are keenly aware of their need to have someone look them in the eye and hold them accountable. COVID-19 made that nearly impossible. Support groups went online or stopped all together. This reality along with the isolation created a perfect storm of relapse.
Porn addiction has significantly increased during COVID-19. It would be safe to call it a “porndemic” as some pornography distributers offered free streaming during quarantine. As I write this my heart breaks for the many who have gotten caught up in this evil during this time. Believers will deal with significant shame and ongoing battles due to the secret patterns of sin that sparked a destructive fire of porn use during isolation.
What can the church do?
Start groups now for those struggling with sexual sin and continue them when the church reopens. Below are some resources for both men and women that can be used as curriculum for these groups.
- Sexual Sanity for Men or Women– These books work great for groups. Each chapter has opportunity to engage the content at a personal level.
- Samson Society– How to start a group. They also provide daily devotionals on the subject of sexual purity.
- If your church had recovery programs in place, prioritize them as you reopen or begin one. For more severe addictions intensive recovery may be needed. Below are some considerations for faith-based resources.
This article is far from exhaustive. There are certainly other areas that need to be on the church’s radar. Relationship struggles for example. China saw a spike in divorce filings as they emerged from isolation. Domestic abuse is also an area that has increased due to isolation and churches will need to be equipped to recognize it. Grief is sure to be something everyone will be bringing in various degrees of experience. There is not one of us who has not known or felt loss in some capacity during this season. And don’t forget the marginalized. Those who suffer with chronic pain and illness and those who were previously shut in, can easily drift out of our sight as we focus on in-person gatherings. During this crisis, we entered into their world for a brief time. We learned what it was like to be unable to leave home. We experienced the loneliness that comes from isolation. Let’s not forget about them as we begin to phase back into meeting onsite.
To mention all of the issues and give words of direction on each would strain the length of this already lengthy article. My hope is that looking at just a few key issues stirs the church to think about how to prepare even now for how to walk with people as we look forward to days of reunion. Churches across the country have stepped up to the call to love their neighbor during this crisis. As we being to explore what it will look like on the other side of isolation; we carry the same call.
While many are asking “is it almost over,” in many ways, things have yet to begin. So, as you prepare for your first post-isolation gathering and you strategize parking, seating, classrooms, restrooms, etc., keep in mind the weight of emotional and mental strain this time has had on your congregants. May the words of Philippians 2:4 and Romans 15:1-3a guide the church as we continue to consider the needs and struggles of others and bring hope in relevant ways in the days ahead.
“Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:4 (CSB)
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)
Eliza Huie is the Director of Counseling at McLean Bible Church in the DC Metro area. She is a licensed mental health professional and biblical counselor. Visit www.elizahuie.com for more articles by Eliza.