Ministry Teaches Churches to Meet the Needs of the Mentally Ill

By Bill Sherman

*Note: This article appeared in the Tulsa World on October 27, 2017, and includes an interview with Bright Tomorrows President, Tim Reside, regarding his experience with bipolar disorder. This article is reprinted here with permission from the Tulsa World.

Many churches are not prepared to meet the needs of people with mental illness, says a Tulsa man who runs a ministry to those people and their families.

“They don’t know what to do with them. That’s the bottom line,” said Tim Reside, president of Bright Tomorrows, a nonprofit ministry that is sponsoring a free three-hour breakfast seminar on mental health Friday [November 3, 2017] at Asbury United Methodist Church [in Tulsa, Oklahoma].

The speaker will be Jared Pingleton, author of the just-released book “The Struggle is Real — How to Minister to Mental and Relational Needs in The Church.”

Pingleton, vice president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, is a clinical psychologist and a credentialed minister. He was formerly the director of counseling services at Focus on the Family.

Pingleton said in a phone interview this week that most pastors do not have the experience, the training, or the time to deal with mental health issues.

“But that is changing. … There is a groundswell of awareness about it. … Trends are positive,” he said.

First responders

Many churches, particularly larger churches, are developing support groups and workshops for addiction issues, grief-sharing, and divorce recovery, he said.

Reside said mental health problems are common in the United States.

“Twenty-seven percent of the folks in any church are dealing with mental health issues,” including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, he said

And pastors are often the first responders when a “shock and awe” mental health crisis happens in a family, he said.

Bright Tomorrows works to connect pastors and other church leaders with their counterparts in the clinical community to work together, not in competition, Reside said.

Tim Peterson, the co-founder of Bright Tomorrows, said research suggests that 20 percent to 25 percent of Americans have someone in their family with a diagnosable mental illness.

“It’s a big problem,” said Peterson, a licensed professional counselor and marital and family therapist at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital.

He said that according to the American Psychological Association, people struggling with mental illness are more likely to take their problem to a pastor than to a doctor.

The goal of Bright Tomorrows, he said, was to mobilize churches to better serve those with mental illness.

He said pastors are in a position to help people by offering them compassion, biblical truth, prayer, support, encouragement, and understanding as they face the crisis, just as they would support people dealing with any other medical challenge.

“They don’t have to be an expert in heart disease to help (heart patients), pray for them, visit them in the hospital.”

He said churches can inadvertently stigmatize people with mental illness, blaming it on weakness or moral failure, or a lack of faith.

“We tend to treat brain illness more judgmentally,” he said.

It does not help someone with clinical anxiety to be told that the Bible says “have no anxiety,” he said.

“People with clinical anxiety are not able to just do that. Something is going on in their brain that magnifies anxiety.”

“Scriptural platitudes can sometimes be hurtful, (suggesting) they are somehow to blame,” he said.

Firsthand experience

Reside and his wife, Nancy, bring firsthand experience to their positions as president and secretary/treasurer, respectively, of Bright Tomorrows.

Tim was raised a “preacher’s kid,” he said this week and knew from a young age that he wanted to go into the ministry.

They married after he attended Bible college, and they came to Tulsa in 1971 for him to attend Oral Roberts University. They were heavily involved in the ministry of Tulsa Christian Fellowship, which was a key Tulsa church involved in charismatic renewal in the 1970s.

In 1979 they moved to Springfield, Missouri, to get involved in a campus ministry.

There, facing a job loss and a variety of life pressures, Reside said, he experienced his first manic episode, a burst of nonstop creativity, energy, euphoria, and delusional grandiosity that lasted for weeks.

Convinced that he was receiving insights from God that then-President Jimmy Carter would want to know, he flew to Washington, D.C., and attempted to see the president.

His father persuaded him to return to Tulsa, where he was hospitalized with a manic psychosis for five weeks in a locked psychiatric unit at St. John Medical Center.

Unable to hold a regular job, Reside did manual labor for several years and attended Evangelistic Temple, now SpiritLife Church, where he slowly experienced healing and began to volunteer.

Eventually, the church offered him a full-time position as a children’s minister. Years later in that position, he had another major collapse that required hospitalization. The church stood by him through that crisis, and he was restored to his position.

For the past 16 years, the Resides have run Bright Tomorrows, helping others learn to live with mental illness and training church leaders in how to minister to their members with mental-emotional problems.

They organize and attend support groups, publish a website that gives families information about mental illness, help people navigate mental health agencies, speaks widely at churches and conferences, and meets individually with people. The support groups offer help and prayer, but they also are curriculum-oriented, Reside said, offering practical teaching and help.

They also organize conferences and seminars for ministers and other professionals.

“We’re not psychiatrists or therapists,” Reside said, “but we are people who have life experiences, … people who care.”

Reside said his condition, diagnosed as bipolar, is thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain.

“In all likelihood, it’s genetic,” he said, “and there are usually environmental factors that trigger it.”

He controls it by carefully monitoring his medication and by self-care: avoiding stress, getting enough sleep, living a balanced life.

Both he and Nancy have learned to spot symptoms early and deal with them.

“It’s chronic,” he said. “Resiliency is important to me.”

But in the midst of it, he said, he finds joy in the simple things of life.

*Staff Writer Bill Sherman
Bill has been the World’s award-winning faith and values writer for 17 years, writing some 4,000 articles on all aspects of religion. A University of Wisconsin alum, he is in the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.
Phone: 918-581-8398