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.


Psychology Today provides a few guidelines to help us communicate safely:

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.


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 building?

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 to begin creating an emergency plan.


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.

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Elizabeth Camps is the writer and public relations specialist for Adventist Risk Management, Inc.