Pastor Rick Warren has challenged millions of individuals over the past two decades to live a “Purpose Driven Life,” but now he’s posing a new challenge to churches: Get educated and work together to confront mental health issues.
Warren, who pledged to take mental illness up as a new ministry focus following his son Matthew’s suicide last year, hosted “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Friday.
The one-day conference lasted more than 12 hours and was aimed at pinpointing faith-based strategies to take up mental health while also offering an educational opportunity for church leaders.
“I’m not an authority on mental illness, but I am an authority on living with mental illness,” Warren said. “We wanted to pull back the curtain and say, ‘It’s OK. I’m not OK, you’re not OK, but that’s OK because God’s OK.'”
Warren was also joined by his wife, Kay Warren; Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange; and by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in co-hosting the initiative.
According to a press release describing the event, 25 health, psychology and religious leaders and professionals came together to discuss the need to collaborate to help those suffering from mental illness, to educate their family members — and to help churches meet the needs of all parties involved.
From bipolar disorder to suicide-risk reduction to eating disorders, a diverse array of issues were on the table. Those struggling with mental illness also shared their plight, offering a firsthand lens into what these struggles actually look like.
Rather than remaning in the dark regarding how to tackle mental illness, “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” offered information and motivation for churches to take action. Speakers noted the importance of houses of worship as hubs for individuals who suffer from mental illness.
“Studies show that one out of every four adults in America will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives,” the event’s website states. “The first place many go for help is to their priest or to their pastor because the heart of Jesus and the Church has always been for those who suffer.”
More than 3,300 people attended the event, with an additional 6,000 tuning in for a live Internet broadcast.
Warren’s commitment to mental health issues has grown over the past year. Just weeks after his son’s death last April, Warren announced on Twitter that he would be putting a major focus on mental illness.
The Warrens have since been very open about Matthew’s battle with mental illness, hoping to translate their son’s life-long battle into a ministry that can help others fight against the forces that come along with mental illness.
“Our hilariously funny, immensely creative, intensely compassionate son struggled to make sense of his life and the mental pain he was experiencing. His anguish was our anguish,” Rick and Kay Warren wrote in a recent Time op-ed. “On April 5, 2013, impulse met opportunity in a tragic way. Our beautiful son ran into the unforgiving wall of mental illness for the last time.”
In that same article, the couple affirmed their belief that the church should play an essential role in helping the mentally ill, writing that Christians have been serving the physical and mental needs of people “2,000 years longer than any government or agency.”