13 Reasons Why Depression Needs Discipleship

Part II • Blog Series
In Part I of 13 Reasons Why Depression Needs Discipleship, I laid out four points regarding the importance of restoring biblical one-another care to the believer’s experience of depression. My goal in offering these points is to highlight intentional discipleship as a God-given means of encouraging the fainthearted among us, and to demonstrate why the body of Christ is specifically designed for such a task.

By way of reminder, the first four reasons why I believe depression needs discipleship are:

1.) Sufferers need truth from outside themselves.
2.) Our hearts are deceitful.
3.) Lone sheep are more easily devoured.
4.) There are important mutual fellowship benefits between the sufferer and the mentor/counselor.

As I mentioned in the previous article, while some church leaders are supporters of the biblical counseling movement and see the value of equipping the saints for the purpose of this kind of ministry, the progress is slow and the intentional use of the body of Christ in counseling contexts is often completely overlooked for other ministry agendas.

However, neglecting the fainthearted has produced a progressive siloing of soul care to sources outside of the local church. As a result, the normal human condition of deep and painful sorrow has been hyper-medicalized, leaving many Christians confused about how to respond to their crushed spirits in a way that offers meaningful hope (Proverbs 18:14). The devolution of soul care at the local church level has left sufferers desperate for help, often chained to unprofitable medications, and on long waiting lists for subjective psychiatric care. 
The devolution of soul care at the local church level has left sufferers desperate for help, often chained to unprofitable medications, and on long waiting lists for subjective psychiatric care.
Dale Johnson, the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, rightly observes:

"The church has an extreme responsibility, because what we've done is we've abdicated and said, 'You need to go to a different institution in order to get care in the darkness of life.' We've abdicated our responsibility—but listen, if Jesus is our head, and we are called to mimic Christ in the way in which we live, we're called to care for people the way Christ cared for people."

When Galatians 6:2 speaks of carrying one another’s burdens, depression is not excluded. Not only is the church designed to walk alongside sufferers to help them achieve God’s goals for their lives, but Christians are told not to grow weary in performing the task (Galatians 6:9). In fact, the exhortation is especially directed at doing good to those in the household of faith—meaning fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). This is because there are specific encouragements, helps, and remedies expressly given to God’s people that only a fellow Christian, who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, can dispense. Treatments devoid of these divine spiritual prescriptions are sorely incomplete at best, and bitterly destructive at worst.

Jesus invites, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28). Yet, we direct, “Go, all you who are weary and depressed, and the professionals will know what to do.” In Isaiah 43:22, the Lord confronts his people’s unfaithfulness by saying, “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!” This rebuke is for us today as well, because despite the exhortations in Galatians 6, we have grown weary of the weary and of our service to God by reflexively referring wounded ones outside of the city walls for care. Instead of escorting the depressed to God’s Word for wisdom, comfort, and healing, we’ve hewn cisterns that hold no life-giving water (Jeremiah 2:13), and then wonder why suicide rates are skyrocketing and waiting lists for psychiatric visits run months deep. 
Jesus invites, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Yet, we direct, “Go, all you who are weary and depressed, and the professionals will know what to do.”
Again, while the treatment of depression may require more than intentional discipleship, it certainly does not require less. Today’s post offers the next four points from my list of 13 reasons why depression needs discipleship:

5.) It validates experiences of deep sorrow.
With so much biblical material on the topic of sorrow, it’s quite puzzling why we’ve pulled away from viewing grief, depression, and sadness as a normal part of life in a broken world. We’ve allowed an unbiblical narrative to seep into our church culture by embracing an emotional prosperity gospel—“fake good news” which proclaims that only “happy” emotions are God-honoring, and every “negative” emotion is a red flag signaling spiritual leprosy. Real Christians don't experience depression, or so the fallacy goes. Yet, while the Christian walk is one of great joy in Christ, it is also one of great sorrow—both experiences run together as parallel tracks onward and upward to heaven’s gate (John 16:22, 33). When we make efforts to grow in our ability to care for the depressed, we acknowledge that the experience of depression is not abnormal; we become careful to not steal people's tears away by impatiently handling their despair. By assuming an invitational posture which images the Savior and soothes the sufferer (Matthew 11:28), our brothers and sisters are shielded from being ostracized for their experience of melancholy. In this way, discipleship is a normalizer of despondency, not treating it as a failure or deficiency, but as a common experience of mortal life under the sun.

6.) There is distinct, life-giving wisdom which can only be offered by biblical counselors.
While God can work through common grace means to help his children when they are suffering, only fellow Christians can speak reminders of gospel hope and help into another Christian’s life (Ephesians 4:15-16). Counsel from sources outside of Christ’s church is counsel outside the authority of the Scriptures, and therefore inevitably prone to err in its view of man’s dichotomy (body and soul composition) and the truth of God as our sovereign Creator and Redeemer. Skewed views in one or both of these areas significantly alters the course of how depression is handled, often to the detriment of the suffering Christian. As a result, counsel given from outside sources cannot help but offer incomplete solutions, and sets the sufferer on a frustrating trajectory of therapeutic goals dependent entirely upon self-will, self-esteem, self-strength, self-control, and self-improvement.

By aligning with believers who have been trained in one-another care, or by walking with godly, bible-believing mentors, we open ourselves up to Spirit-filled resources which promote heart change and renewed thinking processes (2 Peter 1:2-4, 1 Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:2). This aligns sufferers with God’s redemptive purposes and plans for their lives, and reorients recovery goals to something much more substantive and fruitful than mere symptom relief. Discipleship helps the sufferer learn to submit their darkness to the resurrection power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the purposes of growing in righteousness and learning what it means to fully rely upon grace and faith, especially in times of despair (Psalm 119:71, James 1:2-4).
God designed his comforts to pass through his children like a conduit of consolation, so when we refuse to heed the call to care for the depressed, we sever a much-needed pipeline of refreshment in the midst of desperate spiritual thirst.
7.) Discipleship dispenses of the comforts of God.
Paul Tripp once wrote, "our suffering does not belong to us." The comforts we have received from God are not meant to be stored and locked away in a dungeon of experiences we’d rather forget. 2 Corinthians 1:4 specifically uses the bridge “so that,” meaning there is a continued, on-going, intentional purpose for the comforts God bestows upon us in our afflictions. Those comforts are first meant for our benefit, and then they are meant to spill over onto someone else who is suffering. Ultimately, we must recognize and accept that our afflictions do not belong to us, and that we benefit no one by hoarding God’s comfort. In fact, by withholding one-another care to believers experiencing depression, we shut off the tap to one of the most significant sources of spiritual sustenance the sorrowing have access to. God designed his comforts to pass through his children like a conduit of consolation, so when we refuse to heed the call to care for the depressed, we sever a much-needed pipeline of refreshment in the midst of desperate spiritual thirst.

8.) One-another care mimics the attention of the Father to the Son.
After Christ retreated to the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan, angels were permitted to minister to his physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 4:11). In the midst of Jesus’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ asked for the cup of God's wrath to pass from him—if it were possible. Just before his anxious sweat turned into drops of blood, an angel came to strengthen him yet again (Luke 22:43). At these two points in Jesus’s life, where temptation and sorrow were most ferociously mixed, Christ received intimate care from heaven. This particular ministry had to have come by way of divine order for the Son of Man to be sufficiently spiritually strengthened for Calvary (Psalm 91:11, Psalm 103:20). When we intentionally minister to despondent people through one-another care, we mimic the careful attention the Father gave to the Son during his most trying times upon the earth. Through discipleship, we encourage sufferers to trust that the strengthening God supplies is not only sufficient to endure seasons of depression by faith, but is also necessary for the sufferer’s long-term spiritual perseverance, healing, and maturity (Romans 5:3-5).

I want to reiterate that depression can be a complicated, multi-faceted issue which sometimes involves physical components. My intent with this series is not to make a sweeping argument against all secular interventions, but rather to make the case that intentional discipleship during seasons of depression should be considered as an unexpendable resource—and prayerfully, a first resort alongside a routine physical examination—for those learning to navigate seasons of intense sadness and melancholy. It’s imperative to remember that there are specific wellsprings of consolation and healing that God has set in place for his people which cannot be received apart from discipleship. If we continue to promote the segregation of care for despondent persons in the church, we restrict access to the promised sustaining and transforming graces God specifically supplies in the midst of their pain and suffering (1 Peter 5:10, Psalm 119:50). 

(This blog is part two of a three-part series on 13 Reasons Why Depression Needs Discipleship. If you are interested in learning more about biblical counseling training for yourself or for members in your church, I would highly commend to you the IBCD's Care & Discipleship material as an option for both individuals as well as groups.)
Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart and is the host of The Hope + Help Project podcast. She writes frequently about depression, sorrow, grief, and motherhood at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Christine's writing has been featured at Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Risen Motherhood, Servants of Grace, Thrive Moms, Devotable, and For Every Mom.
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