7 Practical Ways Churches Can Help “Troubled Souls” Like Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a man who impacted many. I heard him referred to on a secular radio program this morning as “a creative and comedic genius with a troubled soul.” The news yesterday that he was dead at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide was surprising. His widespread influence was obvious as news networks rushed to remember him and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter exploded with posts referring to him from many people with surprisingly diverse backgrounds.

The death of Robin Williams is at the very least a reminder that people from all walks of life may struggle with a variety of different issues that could lead to despair and even suicide.

During times like these, Christians and the churches where they serve and worship should prayerfully consider how we are (or are not) relating and responding to struggling people. While our tendency is to conclude that we are not equipped to help people with serious issues, the fact that the secular radio show I mentioned above introduced the idea of having a “troubled soul” should give us pause. After all, the Bible is ultimately concerned with souls, and churches should focus on soul care. I encourage you to prayerfully consider the following thoughts on ministering to those who are struggling and work with the Lord to honor and help those with whom you have opportunity to minister.

RELATIONSHIP

In our society, with an ever-increasing dependence on and use of social media, it’s easy to be in surface relationships with many people. This may make us feel good and require little investment, but the chances are slim of us knowing when these friends are struggling. Even if we are aware, it is hard to know how to respond, as it is difficult to deal with serious issues in 140 characters or less. Our churches need to be places where Christians do the hard work of being in relationship with others.

When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, the second part of his answer was “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39) A major part of the Christian life is to be in loving relationships with others. In the context of teaching love for our neighbor, Jesus was asked to define “neighbor.” He did so through the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). Not only does this story challenge us to broaden our definition of neighbor, but it also presents the picture of selfless service as an indication of love. This example of intentional and personal service and love provides a challenge to us to be more involved with those who struggle than is typical in our culture.

REMEMBER GOD

Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. In people struggling with severe issues, there are many perspectives on how to help, and in the broader culture (and too frequently even in the churches) God is not part of the answer. Before Jesus mentioned the second commandment of loving our neighbor, He taught that the most important command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). God desires that first and foremost we love Him with our whole selves. If the person you are helping has not confessed Christ as his or her Lord and Savior, your primary task is to share the Gospel, live a life of witness—in short, to obey the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). If the person has confessed Christ as Lord, then make sure to focus on his or her relationship with the Lord and help make it the priority it should be.

REJECT ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL ANSWERS

The world seeks to provide a label to identify those who have significant struggles and then a single answer for all who have the label. The Bible allows for no such perspective and teaches that we should strive to discern and minister to each person based on many factors. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 provides direction for us as we attempt to help others. It says, “… admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” As we minister, we need to be well-rounded. Jesus did not treat everyone the same way and neither should we. In the context of the love of Christ we must prayerfully seek discernment and become adept at encouraging and helping. Consider God’s encouragement of Joshua in Joshua 1:1-9 as you seek to further develop these skills in your life.

PRACTICAL IDEAS

  1. Pray that God gives you insight to discern struggles in the lives of those you know and for opportunities to serve, love, minister Scripture, and support them.
  2. Be bold enough to be involved.
  3. Include others in the church. After all, the picture of the church as a body in 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 should be a reminder to all of us that we don’t have to minister alone.
  4. Work to make your church a “safe place” where people can share their concerns and struggles without fear of ridicule or rejection.
  5. Touch, spend time with, encourage, and pray with those who are struggling.
  6. Study the Bible with them and learn together how God’s Word applies to their situation.
  7. Rest in the fact that God brings good out of evil and the good that He promises is that we will become more like Christ (Ro. 8:28-29).

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John Babler serves as Associate Professor of Counseling and Director of the Walsh Counseling Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.