Churches serve the spiritual needs of their members, helping them view life’s many events and challenges through the lens of faith. So it comes as no surprise that members turn to pastoral staff and members of the lay leadership when they find themselves in difficult situations.

One area that’s particularly uncomfortable for some pastors and church leaders is mental health. Many don’t feel completely comfortable in their knowledge of mental health. Others may still believe the outdated stigmas about mental health. If a church member walks up and says he or she is having a problem with anxiety, they may not know how to respond.

That’s why it’s important for pastors and church leaders to become educated about the realities of mental health, and to learn how they can take an active and effective role in supporting their congregation. After all, it’s our responsibility as spiritual leaders to help those we serve, even when it isn’t easy.

Often, people whose faith is deep may believe the best advice they can offer is to pray more often or with more intensity. We know that prayer helps us many situations, but medical scientists are finding increase evidence of the roles our genes and body chemistry play in how we function. We know that anxiety doesn’t imply a lack of faith. Instead, it suggests that something in our bodies’ physical responses to situations isn’t quite right. Sometimes, that’s an underlying health issue, and sometimes, it might be fresh memories of a long-ago trauma.

That leads me to two requests for our friends who lead congregations. First, please be sure you and your team are not perpetuating incorrect stigmas about mental health. Take advantage of opportunities to develop a better understanding of mental health. Second, when a church member reaches out to you for help, take it just as seriously as you’d take any other health-related situation. Help that individual access the support they need. If a church member told you she was feeling chest pains, you wouldn’t hesitate to call 911. If another member told you he had a strange lump on his body, you’d tell him to see his doctor. So when someone tells you they’re facing overwhelming anxiety, help them find the mental health resources they need.

The Care to Change team would be happy to deepen your leadership team’s understanding of anxiety and other mental health issues. We can provide a helpful presentation in which we offer insight to common situations, along with practical advice about how to help. Just contact us to discuss your needs, and we’ll do our best to help.

Michael Spencer is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors. For over 20 years he has combined ministry with counseling for families, couples, and individuals of all ages.