Mindset issue: editorial
It is a rare privilege when people working in emotional health get to guest edit a main stream magazine.
The fact that Martin Saunders has invited the Premier Mind and Soul collective to fill this month’s pages is a testimony to his courage and passion for youth work. We hope it doesn’t seem like a take-over but rather a great opportunity to think about thinking!
It’s an odd thought, isn’t it? If feels okay to think about your toes, but a bit more difficult to think about your brain. At the same time it is our brain and not our toes that has the greatest influence on our bodies. I meet lots of health conscious Christians who eat well and exercise their muscles at the gym every week, but very few who would have a mental heath check or review how their emotional world was bearing up.
Life is increasing tough - if not for our bodies, certainly for our minds. Our world is 24/7 information dissemination. We are bombed by thousands of images every day. Expectations, outlooks, views and ideas infiltrate every waking hour and young people particularly, have sensitive and formational minds. It is no surprise to us that the prevalence of diagnosable mental health conditions such as self-harm, depression, anorexia and anxiety is on the rise.
At the same time, this edition of Youthwork isn’t all about recovery from disorder. It is about saying, ‘the mind is precious, let’s take care of it!’ For youth leaders this issue about being equipped with the knowledge and
tools to put emotional health on the agenda in ministry. We know that you will already have come across countless instances of emotional distress if not diagnosable disorders and you will have been responding with love and compassion.
The Mindset Conference in April 2011 showed us that youth leaders are hungry for training in this area. Many of the speakers enjoyed there have made contributions to the pages that follow including some session plans for your own youth work (starting on p33).
We want you to know that this is for you too and not only for the young people you work with. Youth work is a high-stress job that can lead to burn out, depression and disillusionment. It may well be that you are putting in 70hr weeks with little support and the suggestion that youth workers can handle it. Every individual has different stressors and will encounter distress for different reasons.
When it comes to emotional and mental health everyone is an individual. There are challenging aspects in youth work that can be detrimental to your emotional well-being. These include working alone, having over-flexible boundaries, having no clear markers for success, encountering distressing issues and facing emotional transference. Treat what you read here as chance to begin ‘loving your self so you can love your neighbour well!’ Investing in your emotional well-being will enable you to minister better, be happier, last longer and receive more from God.
Do we really need this when we have Jesus? Well… that might be what you were thinking! Jesus came to ‘bind up the broken hearted and proclaim freedom for the captives’ but ask yourself: are there broken and imprisoned young people in your churches? There are in mine. We need this, because we have Jesus: this is His ministry.
For centuries the Church had been at the forefront of psychiatric services and the ministry of Jesus tapped into the core emotional and mental needs of the people. Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ before He said, ‘Get up and walk’. He had the perfect emotional spectrum, expressing joy and grief, love and tears, peace and anger. Yet somewhere in the last century large swathes of the church abandoned Jesus’ ministry to the mind. They simplified mental health into categories of faith or distrust, demonic influence or spiritual purity. As a result Christians have gone underground; they avoid talking about their emotions in case they are perceived to lack faith. Rarely do they disclose the anguish and despair caused by thoroughly treatable emotional disorders and as a result many suffer unnecessarily.
‘Jesus wept,’ (John 11:35). He created our emotions and he formed our minds. Being an emotion filled person is being a reflection of Jesus. There is no great ‘British reserve’ in the Scriptures and no ‘stiff upper lip’. As leaders who are working in an increasingly fraught and turbulent emotional marketplace let’s make a commitment together to know ourselves: how we feel, how we think, why we act, where we can get out of shape. Let’s get to know Jesus as the emotional man He was; His feelings, His needs, His grief, His joy. That way we can offer hope to those who are looking to us and asking, ‘Why do I feel like this?’
Will Van Der Hart is one of the founding directors of Premier Mind and Soul, and the vicar of St. Peter’s Harrow.