Mental Illness, Biblical Counseling, and the Role of the Church: A Conversation with Alasdair Groves

Alasdair Groves is the Director of Counseling and a member of the faculty at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) in New England. He has a passion to foster genuine relationships in the local church, especially through counseling and counseling training, and his hope is for a church-based movement toward providing robust, Biblical pastoral care.

Paraphrased, CCEF’s stated mission is to bring “Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Can you explain what this means and what it looks like in practice?

Good question. When we talk about bringing Christ to counseling, we mean that to counsel well is to take seriously that the Bible has the deepest, richest framework for all of life. Ultimately, whether we are dealing with schedule stresses or schizophrenia, Jesus is our only hope and the wisdom he gives must ground and direct all the help we give. This doesn’t mean that we never use Google calendars to help the disorganized or that we are against Prozac for someone who’s depressed. But it does mean we will counsel best when our goals and methods of helping people spring directly from Jesus’ goals and methods for helping people: relationship with, worship of and obedience to him.

In practice, bringing counseling to the church means equipping pastors to do rich, insightful, compassionate, and just pastoral care. It means training para-church counselors like me who work hand in hand with churches to care for congregants in the context of the community of Christ’s body rather than in an isolated corner of the congregant’s world. Finally, I think it means developing the best content we can on connecting problems in living to Christian faith. We want to influence the culture, both in the mental health world in general and in the church in particular, toward a higher view of how the Bible meets us in our times of greatest need with powerful, non-simplistic help.

With 1 in 4 Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, it only makes sense that the church would want to be on the forefront of providing mental health services to those in need. Why have so many churches been slow to provide these services, and what is CCEF doing to help those diagnosed with mental illness?

You can read the rest of the interview with Alasdair here.

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Seeing an Empathetic Space: The Challenge of a Christian Witness in America

Rev. Michael McBride, known simply as “Pastor Mike,” is the Director of Urban Strategies and Lifelines to Healing Campaign for the PICO National Network. The Lifelines to Healing Campaign is a national effort committed to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration of young people of color. Pastor Mike is deeply committed to empowering urban communities, families, and youth using the principles of a relevant and liberating Gospel message that transforms lives.

Lifelines’ ultimate goal is to achieve policy reform around guns and incarceration: fewer guns and less incarceration. Some would argue that more guns and more jail time is the answer to reducing violence. How is it that Christians—who share the same faith and the same Bible—can have such startling different views on guns and incarceration?

Well, let me say that our ultimate goal is to use Proclamation, Policies and Programs to create communities where people can live free from the fear of gun violence, mass incarceration and lack of opportunity. We believe the church has a unique role to play in this call, which makes your question so profound and challenging.

It should be no surprise that Christians who share the same faith and Bible have different perspectives on these matters. There has not been a monolithic expression of faith and belief in the history of the church on many matters of ultimate concern like doctrine, practices nor worship. Our Christian tradition seems to support the observation that experience and social location have just as much to do with our biblical interpretation and practice as the written text. Adding to this complexity is the recognition that we all drink from the same postmodern wells of radical individuality that deeply skew our ability to see one another rightly, as created in the image of God.

You can read the rest of today’s interview with Pastor Mike here.

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From New Vaccines to Capetown Townships, Discovering People Who Are of Value to Christ: An Interview with Arthur Ammann

Arthur Ammann, M.D., is a pediatric immunologist and advocate known for his research on HIV transmission in women and children and his role in the development of the first successful vaccine to prevent pneumococcal infection. Dr. Ammann is the founder of Global Strategies and is the author of three books. He’s here today to talk about his latest book, (in)Visible, which is about “how Jesus leads us to discover people who are of value to Him so that they might be transformed as better for having met us.”

In (in)Visible you write, “Christians, in particular, when confronted with issues of justice and equity, must ask themselves two questions: “For what purpose have I achieved my position of power?” and, “Could it be that the wealth I have achieved was not just for me but so others can have the same opportunities as I’ve had?”

Of course, most of us don’t perceive ourselves as “powerful” or “wealthy,” yet we are all confronted with issues of justice and equity. How might those of us who see ourselves as everyday folks use our lives to discover and transform those around us? 

How we perceive our own value depends on whether we accept a definition that is imposed on us or one that is defined by God and accepted by us. Influences that come from the outside—the media, the corporate world, education, and even religion—put before us images that would have us believe there are only a small set of individuals to address issues of justice and equity. They are the wealthy and use their wealth to invoke change or urge others to invoke them; they are the powerful and address issues of justice by means of political solutions; or they are famous and use their fame to call attention to issues of justice and equity. Individuals—“ordinary people”—are left out or made to feel that issues such as equity and justice are best left to the experts and the technocrats. The teachings of Jesus tell us otherwise. They are counterintuitive. The Beatitudes talk about weakness, mercy, peacemaking and compassion—these are the characteristics of those to whom “the earth belongs.”

The Gospels provide us with examples of individuals in the shadows, some of whom were deemed not valuable, yet they brought about change. Jesus focused on individuals because it is within an individual that the sense of justice must begin—even within ordinary individuals. There are issues of justice and equity in our everyday life, within our families and our communities, and we have the power to change them. Love, compassion, and forgiveness are not characteristic of governments or social organizations, but they are the characteristics that individuals can use to transform those who surround them. We encounter issues of justice and equity every day and see the pain and suffering that can result from the seeming indifference. We can bring about justice and equity whether it’s paying a higher wage to a day worker; going deeper into a conversation with someone who is neglected, overlooked, ignored, or trivialized; or helping someone who is facing the barriers of gender, race, education, or poverty.

You can read the rest of today’s interview here.