MENTAL HEALTH AND SMALL GROUPS
If you lead a small group long enough, you will find yourself in over your head. Don't worry; you're not alone.
We too often forget about the mental or emotional needs of people. We just don't know what is going on inside their hearts and minds. People suffer. We all know this, and you may be struggling with your anxieties and fears.
What can you do?
Accept the fact that you can and will trigger someone.
One day you will say or do something, and someone will twitch. This often happens when talking about complex subject material or polarizing opinions. Before you talk about something difficult, announce that you will talk about this and ask if anyone has any issues with it? If someone speaks up, let them express their heart and then ask permission to continue. If they cannot handle it right now, it's ok to move on to something else. Don't be a slave to your schedule, and don't hurt them.
Be patient with them.
Healing conversations happen in small groups. Let them. Listen to what people have to say. Don't let others interpret. Don't try to "fix" their problem, and don't allow anyone else to do so either. Find clarity in what they are saying for understanding. Religious answers don't ring true in these environments. Show them love and ask what you can do to help. They will let you know if they won't help and if their answer is no, keep the door open. If you do that, they will ask for help later.
Ask for help
If you are dealing with a difficult situation, ask someone with experience for assistance. Do not be surprised if they tell you that you are doing it right and just stay the course. Often our trouble as small group leaders are that we want people to be healed right now. We fail to respect the process of the Holy Spirit. Don't rush things, but if in doubt - ask.
Never assume that they are ready for counseling.
I've seen too many well-meaning followers of Jesus lead others to a favorite counselor. That's good, but did you consider the following. Did they want to go, and are they ready to go? If the answer is no to either one of these questions, don't offer. Let them come to you when they are ready, and then they will have a successful experience of healing.
Understand that shame is a powerful destroyer in people's lives.
Shame is used by hell to mess a lot of hearts and minds up. There is too much to go into here but let me say this. If someone feels shame for making a mistake, that's ok. It's normal. But if someone lives in a world of shame, they cannot experience healthy relationships, accept genuine praise, or feel worthy. Help will be needed.
What they are going through is real, even if it isn't real.
If we imagine something has happened, our brain responds as if it happened. Therefore, some fears can be imagined, phobias can be baseless, and disorders can be manufactured. Never assume that because fear is imagined, it is foolish. What that person is feeling is real; treat it that way.
Love, Accept and Forgive.
Jerry Cook coined the above phrase from the book of the same name. But much of my reading into small group ministry and faith-based emotional health these days talks so much about it. If someone cannot love themselves, as God created them to be loved, accept who they are, and forgive themselves, they will have issues. Be the first to love, accept and forgive. Lead your group to do the same.
Do some reading.
There are some outstanding books based on the Word of God that will help. But whatever you do, don't become an amateur therapist. The human mind and heart can be complicated, and we can be guilty of simplifying complex problems.
Interested? Get some training.
There are degree and non-degree programs available to become a Christian Counselor / Therapist that can strengthen your skillset as a small group leader. Warning though. If you do that, the world will beat a path to your door. Make sure you're gifted to do this first. It is a great calling and an excellent ministry when it is done correctly.