John Ortberg is a popular preacher and author. What many don't know is that along with holding a M.Div., Ortberg also earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary—and has penned two books on depression. Who better to ask, then, how the local church can best respond to this debilitating dis-ease than the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California?

How can churches help their people better understand depression?

We live in a day when people tend to use psychological language for spiritual issues. But there are no clear boundary lines between what is physiological, what is psychological, and what is spiritual. Those are language domains that make sense and have integrity but overlap significantly.

It's important for churches to acknowledge this complexity. What influences our behavior, and what our level of responsibility is, are very complex issues. And anytime we try to make this simplistic, we don't serve people well.

How does Menlo Park minister to depressed persons in the congregation?

One of the most appreciated ministries in our church is our HELP ["Hope, Encouragement, Love, Prayer"] ministry for people who are suffering from mental or emotional health issues. It has evolved into a support group for them and their families. These people will say that the single most important thing for them is to be a part of a community where other people share the same struggles, speak the same language, and are able to bear each other's burdens. Awareness of this ministry has spread mostly by word of mouth, although periodically someone who is part of HELP tells their story for our church.

Why do you have folks tell these stories publicly?

Anytime you name the human condition, the human experience, ...

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March 2009

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