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April 30, 2015Leadership

2 Ingredients for Leading Ministry Leaders with Mental Illness

How can people with mental illness serve in ministry leadership in their local churches? Heather Palacios shares.
2 Ingredients for Leading Ministry Leaders with Mental Illness

Recently, I was being interviewed about my bipolarity and the interview took a turn in the conversation that it never had before. When the interviewer asked, "How are you able to be in ministry with mental illness?" I had to really think about it. Before I let words unpreparedly and awkwardly stumble out of my mouth, I paused and did one of my quick “arrow-prayer,” “God, please give me the words to say, amen.” And with that, I proceeded to answer. I thought I would take a minute to share with what I learned to say that day during that interview.

It almost sounds like a contradiction of terms “ministry leadership” and “mental illness.” And I suppose in some circles, it is. But for me, where I lead and who I lead for, two ingredients have organically combined to create a mixology that supports these terms. At Church by the Glades, the way I am able to lead with a bipolar diagnosis consists of two ingredients: I have leaders who believe in me yet don't baby me. My lead pastors, Pastor David and Lisa and Raul, our executive pastor (also my sexy Cuban spouse of sixteen years) have been amazing at doing both. Allow me to elaborate on these ingredients.

Ingredient #1: Loving Support

Pastor David, Lisa, and Raul believe in me. If bipolarity is an illness in the brain, and the brain is an organ in the body, then it shouldn’t be distinguished from having a ministry leader who has any other kind of illness in the body: asthma, diabetes, paralysis, etc. My leaders have never shoved me in some church corner, lest it be too risky to let me out. They have identified my area of gifting (communication) and have placed me in places in the church where I can use it.

My leaders take a chance and they give me a chance. However, (and this disclaimer goes out to all my mentally-ill brothers and sisters) I have earned these chances. As a professionally and medically diagnosed bipolar person, I have a responsibility with my illness. Just like I would have a responsibility with my illness if I had diabetes and needed insulin. Hear me, I’m always asking God to “take this cup from me,” but until He does, I have to accept its reality and be a good steward with it.

My leaders know I am in regular counseling and take medication daily. At Church by the Glades, things would be different if I was disobeying doctor’s order, self-medicating or in self-denial. But that is not the case. So they believe in me, and continue to use me as part of the Body despite the weakness in my body, and together, we are taking turf for the Kingdom!

Ingredient #2: No Babying

The second ingredient in our mixology is my leaders don’t baby me. They don't give exception, such that, I am given special treatment that God would not allow. They don't withhold constructive criticism, when it is biblical, healthy and warranted! In my earlier years of ministry, I am embarrassed to say I wanted extra concession for my mental illness.

Shame on me! How dare I take a weakness God has allowed and abuse it for personal gain or attention. When I had this sharp-convicting epiphany a several years ago, I confessed it, and asked God to help me be a leader of integrity with the bipolarity. There have been wonderful honest conversations with Pastor David, Lisa and Raul on how I (and anyone else who may join our team) need to be held accountable for our contribution to the vision. My leaders know that I have limits, but now they can trust me when I need to impose them. And I know my leaders need to be able to course-correct me and hold me accountable, but I receive that because I know they believe in me.

This is just my personal experience, and by no means to I mean to generalize mental illness and ministry leadership for the masses. But I do hope that what I have shared here encourages someone else with where they’re at.

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2 Ingredients for Leading Ministry Leaders with Mental Illness