The local church leadership pipeline should provide the vast majority of the training needed for overseas development. But we have found that there are two areas American churches tend not to address well or as in depth as needed for overseas work. Those two areas are emotional health (addressed in this article) and discipling in a multiplicative way (addressed in next week’s article).
Emotional Health for All Christians
Our God is a God who feels. He feels love, sorrow, joy, anger, jealousy, etc. Jesus as a man on earth experienced the range of emotions that we all feel as well. Therefore as image bearers of our God we feel too. This is one of the great gifts that makes us truly human. We have a heart, we feel, we emote.
The problem is that because of the fall, the feelings we experience need to be redeemed. Becoming a Christian and receiving the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to overcome sin and experience feelings righteously. However, in our mortal bodies the experiences of our lives, the seeds we’ve sown, and the way others have shaped us also need to be redeemed. This is very possible as a Christian, but takes work.
As people become Christians most are taught to read the Bible, memorize scripture, pray, have fellowship with others, evangelize, and much more. Most of developing spiritual health is centered around creating new disciplines and acts that change the mind. This renewing of the mind does so much. Our behavior changes, what we think changes, but yet old sin patterns and passions cling to us. Hurtful or traumatic memories from our past and sin patterns of our own have sown in us feelings of distrust, insecurity, depression, anxiety, and so much more.
“Becoming a Christian and receiving the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to overcome sin and experience feelings righteously.”
These feelings keep us from trusting people, make us defensive, make us avoid conflict, cause us to give in to anger and rage, lead us to sinful comforts like over-eating, control, binge-watching, pornography, and co-dependent relationships. They make us ineffective relationally. They make us one person in public and another person at home. They give us the inability to handle change and stress.
The spiritual disciplines will go a long way towards changing our behavior and our minds. But it is the category of emotional health that connects the renewing of our minds to the renewing of our hearts. It examines the reasons behind our actions—righteous or unrighteous—and brings about heart change that makes us persevere in the midst of stress, motivated by the glory of God and the joy of all peoples instead of control. It frees us to forgive and keep on forgiving; helps us to be who God has made us to be rather than being what everyone else wants us to be; helps us to do ministry with confidence and humility, void of pride and self-seeking.
Emotional Health for Sent Ones
This becomes incredibly important for those who are going overseas. In America, life can get pretty routine and pretty simple. Most of us can avoid large amounts of suffering. We can have relationships with mostly people that we enjoy. We can often find a career that’s fulfilling and pays well. We go to the grocery store, pay our bills, send our kids to school, jump in our cars and drive familiar routes, eat at our favorite restaurants, etc. Life can be fairly predictable.
When going overseas, every foundation and routine is stripped from you. You don’t know where to go and you likely have to use public transportation to get there. Paying for your electric bill takes four hours instead of automatically coming out of your account. You can’t have normal, friendly relationships with anyone because you don’t speak their language. And even when you do, there are cultural differences you will spend a lifetime learning. I won’t get started on buying food at the grocery store or finding restaurants. Everything is harder.
“In short, we believe emotionally healthy spirituality is key to missionary flourishing and longevity.”
The emotional baggage that we’ve managed to hide and stuff down, in times of stress, will come rushing out. We can’t put up the facade overseas. And unless we have healed from our past and created a solid foundation of emotional health, our foundation will crumble like a house built on sand. Our ability to do ministry, our ability to have healthy relationships with teammates and our families, our ability to find our identity in Christ in the midst of failure, our right actions that were motivated by the idols of people pleasing, control, and security will all crumble without the foundation of emotionally healthy spirituality. I have seen all too often teams that are disrupted, ministry to the lost that is stalled, and people returning to the States because the stress of overseas revealed the house that is built on sand that is their Christianity.
We want to create sent ones that are mentally tough, persevering, relationally warm, and motivated by the right things. We want people to flourish in stress rather than crumble. We want teams to be a joy and attractive to the dying world around them. We want people to stay after two years and even a lifetime.
In short, we believe emotionally healthy spirituality is key to missionary flourishing and longevity.
Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for 2 years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as chairman of the board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church planting movements amongst college students worldwide.