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‘one of the hardest sermon series I’ve ever preached, but one of the most rewarding.’

By Rev. Shane Moore, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Yakima, Washington

Many times I have ideas for a sermon series but do not have the courage to preach the series.  For a whole host of reasons I talk myself out of the idea.  It could be due to not feeling knowledgeable enough on the topic to not wanting to offend anyone in the congregation.  But in the fall of 2016, I knew that all of those reasons weren’t enough to prevent me from preaching on mental health.

The idea started with my own struggles around mental health.  The previous year I had two crippling panic attacks.  Many changes were happening in life.  My wife and I were trying to buy our first home, at the time we were parents to two young girls and I was trying to juggle two part time ministry positions.  I talked with friends about their struggles and what they did for help.  I began seeing a mental health professional and openly admitted to church members that I was working with a mental health professional.

It was during one of those open and honest moments that I knew that I had to speak about mental health from the pulpit.  I was sharing with a church member an experience of catastrophic thinking that I recently had and the church member looked at me and said, “Wow, even my pastor struggles with mental health!  I’m not the only person.”  With this statement, I was convinced that I needed to preach a on mental health.

In the fall of 2016, I preached a four-week series on mental health entitled “Unboxing the Burden.”  Each week we looked at issues surrounding the ideas around mental health as well as ways to care for our own health.  After the sermon we had a “Mental Health Moment” that provided a practical look at mental health and included ways to care for our own mental health.

The first week introduced mental health and the Christian responsibility to care for mental health of our community.  Our scripture was Mark 2:1-5 focusing on the actions of a group bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus.  The scripture tells us that Jesus heals the paralyzed man because of the faith of his friends.  Each and every one of us has a responsibility to care for the mental health of those in our community.  We invited a local mental health counselor to talk about the mental health services available in our community and ways we can engage in the mental health care of others.

The second week explored the idea of our own mental health and how it is important to care for whole body health.  We looked at Deuteronomy 6:5-7 and the fact that we are called to love and follow God with all of our being.  We can’t do that if we have not cared for our mental health.  We had a congregation member lead us in a full body meditation scan.

Using Exodus 18, the third week we explored the role of burnout.  If burnout can happen to Moses, it can happen to any of us.  We passed out a burnout survey and invited people to take the survey to evaluate their own burnout level.

The last week we spoke about the importance of self-care.  I intentionally put this sermon the week before Thanksgiving.  The holidays are a season in which we as people need to be intentional to care for ourselves.  We used Jesus as our example of someone who knew how to take time for self-care.  Each person was handed a card and invited to write down three ways they would care for themselves during the holiday season.

This was one of the hardest sermon series I’ve ever preached but one of the most rewarding.  It provided a chance for people to hear from the pulpit that mental health is important and it is okay to seek help.  Since then, I have changed churches, but the need to speak on mental health from the pulpit hasn’t changed.  In the fall of 2021, I again preached this series and again the response from people was overwhelming.  Some shared that this was the first time they felt okay to share their own struggles.  I can only imagine how the church could change the conversation around mental health if more pastors and churches were willing to engage in this important work.

A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.