Matthew 11:28 (NIV) says, “Come to me all, who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” As Christians, this command is something we live out daily, especially in this season of giving. Your local church ministries are probably moving into the season of giving right now. This may be through a food drive, a holiday meal at the church for the community, or clothing collection to give to those in need. As church leaders, we collectively make an effort to extend Christ’s rest to all that are weary and burdened—including those who are physically and mentally ill.
As a teenager, I attended a church in an urban area that
often held prayer services and holiday meals during the season
of giving. Church doors were regularly open to members,
visitors, and passersby alike.
During one particular service, a man entered the sanctuary
doors speaking loudly and calling for help. He was a passerby
and unfamiliar with what was going on in the church.
Deacons quickly approached him and addressed his
needs in the church lobby. They knew how to handle the situation
efficiently and with minimal disruption to the service.
They were trained in effective communication and security.
Later I learned that because of the church location, this
scenario happened often. Visitors would sometimes have a
variety of needs including spiritual, emotional, physical, and
mental. Church leadership had wisely trained their volunteers
in how to address these situations.
When we open the church doors for a food and clothing
drive, we always hope for a safe and empathetic event. But we
must also anticipate the possibility that sometimes it may not
go the way we expect. It’s important to create a plan for the
safety of both church members and for those served.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE AND SERVE SAFELY
Psychology Today provides a few guidelines to help us
• Be respectful: When someone feels respected and heard, they are more likely to return respect and consider what you have to say.
• Do not pretend: If a person is experiencing hallucinations, be aware that the hallucinations they experience are their reality. You will not be able to talk them out of their reality. Communicate that you understand they experience those events. Do not pretend you experience them.
• Be aware of personal space: Some people with paranoia may be frightened, so be aware that they may need more space.
• Avoid making assumptions: Do not assume they are not smart and will believe anything you tell them. Mental illness has nothing to do with intelligence level. Do not lie to them, as it will usually break any rapport you want to establish.
• Have a list of resources: Keep a current list of community resources, such as shelters and mental health services, that you can suggest to them. Some people will not accept the suggestion, but some will.
• Take care of yourself—and your safety: Call for help
(police, security, or colleagues) if you feel physically threatened
or need help de-escalating the person.
KEEPING MEMBERS AND VISITORS SAFE
In addition to training your church leaders in safe communication
techniques, consider implementing a few security
measures. If there’s an emergency inside the church, does
your leadership know what to do to keep passersby safe? If
an individual outside the church makes a security threat, is
there a procedure in place to keep members safely inside the
If your church leadership cannot answer these questions
with certainty, it’s time to make an emergency plan for your
church. Adventist Risk Management, Inc. offers a variety of
digital resources. Go to AdventistRisk.org/Prevention-Resources
to begin creating an emergency plan.
“COME TO ME, ALL WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED…”
Every human being is deserving of God’s love, and deserves
to have the opportunity to get to know HIM—regardless
of their situation. David F. Swink, chief creative officer of
Strategic Interactions, Inc., says, “Just because they may be
behaving in ways that don’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean
that we can’t provide them with service that is part of our jobs
to provide any constituent or customer.”
Adventist Risk Management, Inc. – http://www.adventistrisk.org
Psychology Today Tips - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/threat-management/201010/communicating-people-mentalillness-the-publics-guide
Psychology Today About - https://www.psychologytoday.com/about-psychology-today
MentalHealth.gov Tips - https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members/
MentalHealth.gov About - https://www.mentalhealth.gov/aboutus.html
Elizabeth Camps is the writer and public relations specialist for Adventist
Risk Management, Inc.