Heartbreak to Hope


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Kay Warren talks about how the church can better minister to families living with mental illness.

As I prepare to interview Kay Warren, co-founder of California’s Saddleback Church in southern California, international speaker, best-selling author, wife of megachurch pastor Rick Warren, and Bible teacher, her assistant lets me know she’s running a few minutes late.

Moments later, Kay is ready to go—and very apologetic. “I’m sorry about that,” she says. “Rick and I were just talking with parents who lost their 12-year-old to suicide about two months ago.” Her words are heavy and laden with pain. “It [child suicide]is a reality,” she says.

And she would know. The Warrens’ son Matthew fought a lifelong battle with mental illness. In April of 2013, Matthew took his own life at age 27, an act that sent shock waves throughout the faith community.

Now, more than two years later, Kay and Rick Warren have started a new, raw discussion in the church—one based on the premise that we must minister to, embrace, and support families struggling with mental illness. Read on for Kay’s wisdom.

cm: You and Rick have been working to educate and equip church and community members about mental illness.

KAY: Yes. We had a three-day Mental Health and the Church conference in October with about 3,000 people attending and about 13,000 watching live or viewing the conference on our YouTube channel (Mental Health and the Church). There’s great interest. Our goals were to encourage, love on, and embrace people so they can feel they’re in a safe place to be vulnerable about living with mental illness.

We wanted to equip pastors and church leaders to start or expand mental-health ministries and to educate mental-health professionals, particularly about suicide prevention. It’s amazing how many mental-health professionals don’t receive suicide-prevention training. There’s really a gap.

We feel like we accomplished all that and also encouraged people. We’ll be doing some one-day trainings and are hoping to do regional conferences in 2016. Our new website,, also just launched with lots of great resources and training opportunities. We have some big plans and big dreams for it all.

cm: Why do you think the faith community tends to shy away from openly discussing mental-health issues when we’re willing to talk about other special needs?

KAY: There’s a misunderstanding about the nature of mental illness. For a long time, people have been confused and thought that depression, anxiety, and other issues were character defects—signs of weakness or signs of not trusting God. Not true: Those are signs of the physical nature of mental illness.

And people just don’t know what to do with it. There’s a lack of training or information for how to help someone with mental illness. And for many of those who do accept it as an actual illness, they often conclude it’s something for the medical community. They think, The church doesn’t do medical illness. We can help with faith-related things, but we don’t deal with medical issues. So we push anyone who might have mental illness away and over to that medical side. We don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. Or we just don’t know what to do or where to start.

[end of article preview]

Thanks for checking out this special sneak peek of a featured article in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine.

Subscribe today and get more great articles like this one—delivered to your mailbox and tablet—all year long!


Heartbreak to Hope
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