Bringing the Trouble to Church: The Call to Christ-Centered Mental Health Support

Date Published

July 8, 2024

Home / Blog / Bringing the Trouble to Church: The Call to Christ-Centered Mental Health Support

Published by Danjuma Gibson

Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling

Turn on the news, open social media, or talk to a friend long enough, and mental health is likely to come up. In 2024, we are experiencing a greater awareness of how mental health impacts us individually and collectively.

It is not that psychological ailments have not existed before, but we as a society have ignored them—to our detriment. While I wish I could say that the church has not disregarded the mental health needs around us, the truth is that congregations have long protected their Sunday morning rituals from the troubles within and without.

When I look back on my time as a pastor, it’s clear to me that Christians often like sermons to be sanitized. As a minister, I was told, sometimes explicitly and often implicitly, don’t bring too much trouble.

What that really meant was that congregants did not want pastors to interrupt the illusion that if we live right, everything will somehow fall into place. The truth is, even as we know and are formed by God, many of us are still incredibly ill, hurt, and experiencing brokenness. Christ uniquely equips the church to be the hope of the world; therefore, the church is precisely the place where trouble needs to come for healing—surrounded by sisters and brothers at the foot of the cross.

When we first began the Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MCMHC) at Calvin Theological Seminary, we did it knowing that students would be called to places we don’t like to talk about. The field of clinical mental health counseling, by its very nature, must reckon with the things we try to deny, for example, depression, trauma, grief and loss, domestic violence and abuse, suicide, or the haunted past of our honored veterans.

At Calvin Theological Seminary, we prepare students to go boldly into these dark places as a function of their Christian identity and vocational calling. As a Reformed school, we do not shy away from the dark places of human experience. On the contrary, engaging the dark places of life is what we see in the biblical witness. We find ourselves at the starting point of clinical counseling when we see the story of Scripture through the arc of creation, fall, and redemption.

A Reformed hermeneutic is refreshing to many students because it confronts us with the reality of our fallibility. Mental health counseling affirms the goodness of God’s creation, confronts humanity’s fallenness—exemplified both within ourselves and through what others have done to us—and offers a redemptive outlook.

I am grateful that this program has launched at a Reformed seminary, where our tradition’s accents, like common grace, our call to all people of the world, and Abraham Kuyper’s understanding of God’s sovereignty compel us to go into these dark places with the Christian hope of healing and redemption.

Carrying the hope of the gospel into the darkest places must be done with excellence. I am confident that our MCMHC students are being educated at the highest levels of excellence for clinical mental health counseling, preparing for the intersection of the field with the Christian faith.

Although the MCMHC program, launched in 2021, is relatively new, it stands on the shoulders of a long tradition of Calvin Theological Seminary’s reputation for vigorous, quality education and whole-person preparation. We live into that tradition by designing courses that satisfy CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) learning outcomes, and courses that reflect the integration of Christian praxis with the evidence-based psychological sciences that will prepare our students for a vibrant career in clinical mental health counseling. I believe that as people of faith, we should lead the charge in being competent and informed.

Many people lean on their faith and spirituality in the dark seasons of life. A person’s religious experience and mental and emotional health are inseparable and indelibly impact their capacity for resilience and their healing or recovery. Research has found that people who use their faith and spirituality to cope in times of duress tend to have a better recovery rate for their physical or psychological healing than those who do not. Therefore, what better place is there to prepare for nurturing the soul than at seminary?

As individuals and communities become increasingly aware of the need for mental health support—specifically clinical mental health counseling—I remain incredibly grateful for our MCMHC students who are answering that call with faith, science, and a Christ-centered approach to whole-person care.


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