During this Advent season filled with wars, famines, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other unnatural and natural disasters, we can be grateful for the presence and efforts of the worldwide Christian Church in word and deed—the light of Christ (Matt. 5:12-17).
We can give thanks for Presbyterians in Syria, Copts in Egypt, Lutherans in Finland, Methodists in England, Anglicans in South Africa, Roman Catholics in the U.S., Eastern Orthodox in Russia, Baptists in the Czech Republic, Anabaptists in the Netherlands, Pentecostals in Canada—and the list goes on. The Christian Church ultimately forms a single presence in many countries of the world. We can thank the Lord that his ministries are multiplied.
Yes, each part of the Church is more conscious of what it is doing and less aware of the work done by other parts of the Church. However, the Church worldwide has evangelism, relief, development, and justice activities in needy places by word and deed. For the wider Church and its work, we can give thanks.
Consider, for instance, Pastor Ibrahim Nseir and the Presbyterian congregation he serves in war-torn Aleppo, Syria; they provide hope amid the rubble, as Emily Loewen of MCC at times reminds us.
The light of Christ shines in many places and the darkness will not overcome it (Matt. 5:14-16; John 1:5; 1 John 1:8).
Charitable giving patterns have changed, we’re sometimes told. People now want to give to specific projects they support or to Christian workers whom they know. To want to be involved is positive.
We have every right to know where our money is going, how it is used, and by whom. To know the people, their work, and the differences made are all important. It makes good sense.
But then, for some people, a strange act occurs: they shy away from giving to EMC Missions. They think that giving to EMC Missions is similar to tossing coins into a deep, dark well; the money goes in, but it seems a bit murky and uncertain.
Is this image fair to EMC Missions, its national staff, missionaries from our churches, and our commitment to work together? EMC Missions regularly informs donors, churches, and individuals of its workers, ministries, and finances. You likely know of its many ways:
Missions Alerts placed into church bulletins
The EMC Day of Prayer
EMC Missionary Prayer Calendars
Missionary Prayer Corps letters
Missions displays and reports at convention and council meetings
Reporting in churches by national staff and missionaries
Prayer Teams visit missionaries on the field
A missions Prayer Ministry led by Beth Koehler
Missions reports and staff columns in The Messenger
Financial reports in The Messenger, at conference council, at board meetings, in our convention insert, and sent upon request
The EMC has 98 cross-cultural workers in 24 countries serving 115 people groups, according to info provided to Diana Peters. This workforce, serving on our behalf, takes most of our $1.9 million EMC budget. It’s worth it.
Giving to 98 missionaries in 24 countries isn’t tossing coins into a dark well—not when their faces and ministries are shared in EMC circles. Pastors, delegates, and church secretaries are key local sources of information, and even more information is available.
Also, the idea of a well isn’t fair to donors. Some people might glance into a well and see only their image reflected on the water’s surface. No, we want to look deeper.
We want what’s good for others. That’s why we give. And, yes, at times we need help to decide which is a sound ministry and which people are worth supporting.
Isn’t this why 65 years ago EMC churches together formed a mission board with representatives from various regions? It works to discern and decide about people, places, and ministries. Our fields, workers, and impact have multiplied, and your giving has permitted this. Thank you.
Let’s look again at the EM Conference line in our local church’s budget and at the EMC’s annual budget. Do we see 98 faces of missionaries looking back at us, all of whom serve on our behalf and depend on our support?
In my years of helping youth and families with mental health issues, some of the most challenging issues I have seen those families face are those involving substance use and addiction. With physical illnesses we as a church are supportive; with mental illnesses we tend to be understanding. With harmful substance use and addiction, though, some people tend to experience more judgment and shame in Christian circles.
There are a number of reasons for this, and I believe it is important to understand these reasons if we are to give the best quality of help and support to individuals dealing with substance use issues. One reason is that Christians, and the various forms of the Mennonite church especially, have historically discouraged substance use.
Passages from the Bible discouraging drunkenness are cited in support of a life lived without substances, or, at least, with only moderate substance use (usually alcohol only). From this perspective, individuals who develop issues with alcohol or other drugs may be looked down on as merely suffering the consequences of personal sin.
However, the reality of addiction is much more complex. With harmful substance use, individuals can act in ways that are damaging to themselves and their loved ones. These actions often seem out of character; individuals who are normally loving and upstanding members of society seem to become complexly different people when they are in the grips of an addiction.
They may even say that they want to change, but seem unable to despite the negative consequences they experience. Are these dangerous behaviours all really the result of poor choices? Or is there something more going on?
Substance Use and Addiction in Canada
In order to unpack these complex issues, let us first define what we are talking about for the purpose of this article.
A drug is any substance not food that can cause changes to how our body and/or mind are working.
Harmful substance use is using one or more drugs in a way that causes problems for us in our lives.
Addiction means continuing with harmful substance use in spite of the consequences one experiences, often with significant distress and failed attempts to quit or reduce use.
It might also be helpful to take a look at some recent Canadian statistics on the subject:
According to research conducted in 2012, approximately 1.4 million people or 4.4% of Canadians met the criteria for a substance use disorder.
Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience or substance use disorders than any other age group.
At least 20% of people with a mental illness also have a substance use problem.
Men have higher rates of addiction than women.
The total societal cost of substance use has been estimated to be $39.8 billion or $1,267 for every Canadian. Legal substances, tobacco and alcohol, account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance use. (All statistics are taken from CAMH and CCSA.)
The costs of substance use and addiction are not just economic. There are many personal costs as well—consequences to physical and mental health, job loss, family breakdown, even death. The fact that many people continue to use substances in a harmful way despite those costs suggests that there is more to the issue than someone simply making bad choices—addiction is real.
It is a real experience for many people in Canada and around the world, and the effects can be anywhere from debilitating to deadly. But as real as it is, it is still a mystery to many people. What exactly is an addiction, and how does it develop?
Throughout history, there have been many different models used to understand addiction and addictive behaviours. One such model is the Temperance Model, popular in the 19th century, which is a view that places the blame for addiction on the substance directly. Alcohol and other drugs are evil, or sinful, and exposure to them causes people to succumb to temptation and ruin their lives.
The problem with this view is that the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do so responsibly and with no harm done to their lives. It is a minority of drinkers who use alcohol harmfully.
A later model of addiction was the Disease Model, which was popular during the rise of Alcoholics Anonymous. This view states that certain individuals have a “brain disease” of addiction or alcoholism that causes them to develop issues with substances. One issue with this view, though, is that it ignores the complicated personal, family, and environmental issues that can contribute to someone developing a problem with substance use.
The current theory on addiction is one called the Bio-Psycho-Social Model. This model acknowledges that substance use and addiction issues are complex and may have multiple causes, including biological (genetic or brain issues), psychological (disordered thinking or mental illness), or social (family or environmental issues).
This model is supported by research into substance use issues and has become the most commonly used model in addiction treatment today. One of the most important things this model can teach us is that addiction and harmful substance use are not merely the results of poor personal choices or giving in to temptation. They develop because of a wide variety of factors, many of which are outside of the individual’s control.
What Can the Church Do to Help?
People living with substance use issues and their loved ones are often at risk of falling through gaps in our communities, suffering silently and alone. There are several things that members of the church can do to help prevent this from happening. Mennonite groups have even worked with individuals dealing with the effects of substance use issues, including programs through the Mennonite Central Committee such as El’Dad Ranch.
As far as community agencies go, the church is perfectly poised to step in and “fill the gaps,” and I would like to share a few ideas about what this could look like.
Start with compassion. Remember, individuals dealing with harmful substance use or addiction may be suffering greatly and struggling with changing their circumstances. The church has a ready-made response for situations such as this. It’s called grace.
Provide support. As the church, we are typically good at supporting people in our midst who are suffering. We make food. We help with bills. We show up. How amazing would it be if we did that not only for the people in our lives who have physical illnesses, but for those who deal with mental illnesses and addiction as well?
Encourage access to services. Harmful substance use and addiction are issues that can’t be tackled alone. Encourage your loved ones to seek help, to find a counsellor, or to access addiction services in your area.
Finally, don’t lose hope. Having someone in your life dealing with harmful substance use and addiction can be both disheartening and frustrating. Don’t lose hope. Many people have overcome these issues in the past. It does, however, take time and help. If you are feeling overwhelmed while you are supporting your loved one, don’t be afraid to reach out for help for yourself.
Daniel Dacombe has worked with youth for nearly fifteen years, including at Youth for Christ. He has attended Providence College and Seminary for social sciences and counselling education. He attends Heartland Community Church and lives with his wife, two daughters, and a very large dog.
For information on addictions services in your area, please visit the following websites:
Sometimes punctuation matters. “Family first?” is a question worth considering. “Family first” as a statement is a problem. Other than a phrase meaning that healthy families of various sorts are immensely important for human well-being, or that Christian worship should be welcoming to all ages, “family first” can be idolatry.
This does not mean that the family is not a good thing and a great blessing. Most idols represent things that are good in themselves but have been put in the place of God and are then frozen into lifelessness as graven images.
Idolatry is more than adoring a statue, however. It means putting something other than God first in our lives. It is getting our relationships out of proportion so that something other than the love of God comes first. It that is so, the most common form of idolatry in our churches and wider society may be precisely the one that puts “family first.”
Lots of people say it quite bluntly: “I come to the church for the family.” Attending church is like a ballet or minor sports (though not usually as important). We think we should take or send the children so that they can grow up morally straight and strong.
Lots of Canadians, including folks who profess to be Christians, are at minor sports rather than church on Sunday morning, however, because they do put “family first.” And if family really is first, how can we argue with them?
A Rewritten Catechism?
It is as if we have rewritten the catechism: “What is our chief end? Our chief end is to produce a healthy well-adjusted family and enjoy it forever.” If we think God helps achieve that end, we will send or even bring the family to church.
God is merciful and can draw people through less than theologically spotless means. If we insisted that people should come to church only for the right reason, attendance would be even lower than it is now! But in the end, God does not tolerate being a means to an end. Our spiritual ancestors got it right: our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.
As the church, we hope to provide good programs for families and draw people in, but not dishonestly. We can appear to enable idolatry or to practice a bait and switch: “You think it is about family, but really it is about God.”
Listen to My Mother
Once, as a small boy, I asked my mother, “Do you love me best?” Mom replied firmly, “No, I love God first, then your father, then I love you and your brother and sister equally.” I thank God that I was raised by a mother who didn’t put me or the family first. Listen to my mother, if you won’t listen to me.
Saying “God first” does not mean “Church first” or “Church business first.” Active church people are sometimes tempted to put church first. Church may then become an ugly and destructive idol.
Early in my ministry I allowed myself to get too occupied with church business. My sons were three and one-year-old, respectively. One morning I was sitting on the sofa while the boys played at my feet. Three-year-old Allan picked up a book, showed it to me, and said, “I’m Daddy. This is my Bible.”
“How cute,” I thought. “He’s imitating me.”
“I’m going to a meeting!” Allan announced.
Accurate maybe, but not nearly so cute.
Allan put down his book, looked me in the eye, and said, “But maybe tomorrow I’ll stay home with my boys.”
I felt as it I had been stabbed through the heart. I got up from the sofa, found my appointment book, and drew lines through many of the events. The church did fine without my presence at every single meeting. And the family did much better.
As with all areas of life, if we put God first and, by God’s grace, got that relationship right, all the other relationships have a good chance of falling into place. It’s not a guarantee. We all know that faithfulness to Jesus Christ can produce anger and discord in a family, especially from those who do want to be put first. There was, after all, troubled in Jesus’ own family. See Mark 3:31-35.
Shaped for Good or Ill
Family is, however, “first” in one respect. It is in our families that we are shaped for good or ill. Veteran pastors and psychiatrists all know that what we are, for good or for ill, comes through the family. We talk about “stranger danger”; but, too often it isn’t the strangers you have to worry about. It’s your family! Trouble of every kind will work its way through the family.
But so can good. We begin to learn “all we really need to know” well before kindergarten. We learn it in the family. By all means we should create family friendly programs and worship to draw people into church. But that is only the first half of the job, at best.
If people want to hand the Christian education of their children to the church, don’t let them! Hand it right back. No, that’s not quite right. Enable and motivate families to teach the faith within the home.
Church as Family
Family can be a way of understanding the church. It is not “first” in this respect. Understanding the church as the Body of Christ remains primary. But family is up there among the key ways of understanding and living out the idea of church.
The church is like an extended family where young and old, families of many sorts, and those who otherwise would have no earthly family can come together. Strangely, that kind of extended family, that “village,” may then become, as a side benefit, the best place to raise a child.
God who came to us in Christ, as part of a very human and very fallible family, whose love is imprinted on us by the Holy Spirit, that Triune God can redeem the worst of us and the worst of families—if we put Him first.
Dr. Stephen Farris is a long-serving minister and professor (Knox College and Vancouver School of Theology) who served recently as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He currently lives in Ontario. This article first appeared in the Presbyterian Record (March 2016). It is used with his permission.
After working with youth for 15 years in ministry and then in social services, you get used to hearing a lot of the same questions. The first questions I hear usually go like this. From parents: “Why won’t my child listen to me?” From youth: “Why won’t my parents listen to me?” Even from other youth workers: “How do I get parents and kids to listen to each other?”
One of the next questions I frequently encounter after working with someone for a time is, “What is a mental illness?” My answer is this: mental illnesses are real, complex disorders of the mind that affect an increasing number of Canadians each year. They are not the result of bad decisions, a weak mind, or personal sin. In many cases a person who is experiencing a mental illness can get help. However, there can be severe consequences if youth don’t get the help that they need. These consequences could include difficulty living a normal life, relationship problems, or even suicide.
I eventually hear interested persons ask me another important question. And it isn’t just parents or youth who ask it. It comes up at my workplace, at my church, at the grocery store, and anywhere else that my fellow believers can manage to corner me. And I love answering it! “Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness?”
Youth and Mental Illness in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? Perhaps because adolescence is the most likely time for the development of mental illness. If someone is going to get depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, chances are they will begin to have symptoms in their teen years.
Between 10 to 20 per cent of teens in Canada are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. The number of adolescents in Canada who are at risk of developing depression is over three million. About 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth will or have experienced a major depressive episode. Youth mental illness issues are the second highest hospital care expenditure in the country—and we aren’t even treating half of the people who need help.
Suicide in Canada
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? We need to talk because suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents in Canada. Canada is a great country, and we have many freedoms and benefits of which to be proud. Despite this, our suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.
When I worked in professional ministry, many teenagers told me their thoughts or plans of suicide. It was terrifying, but the fear I was experiencing at hearing their words was nothing compared to the fear they lived in every day. It was the fear that no one could understand how they felt, or could help them to get better. Chances are someone you care about in your church or family has felt this way.
Mental Illness and the Church
As a church, we have a responsibility to work toward the healing of our beautiful, but broken world. And healing is definitely needed in a timely manner when it comes to youth. Research shows only one in five youth who experience a mental illness will actually receive any help.
However, while adolescence is the “prime time” for the development of mental illnesses, it is also the time when interventions for these disorders are most likely to produce successful results and alleviate or eliminate the distressing symptoms.
Returning to a Normal Life
With proper help, about 80% of youth who are experiencing depression can return to a normal life. This help could be seeing a counsellor, a therapist, or a community mental health worker. It might mean talking to a doctor about taking special medication that can help correct some of the problems in the young person’s mind.
The church can also be a big part of this help. While the counsellors and social services in our country do a great job, statistics show most young people will not receive help for the mental illnesses they deal with. I’ve spent seven and a half years in the social services field, and I can tell you there is more than enough work to go around.
A Message to Volunteers
I have a message for youth pastors, youth workers, and volunteers: All of you have an opportunity to help contribute to the solution. You spend more time with the adolescents in our churches than I think anyone realizes. This means when symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses begin to appear, you are poised to be a significant help to the young people of your congregation.
How great would it be if youth pastors and youth workers in our churches had the necessary training to recognize symptoms of mental illness in adolescents? How useful would it be if they knew of appropriate resources to connect with these young people in order for them to get timely, qualified care? And how amazing would it be if these professionals and volunteers could walk with the youth as they received care, being a community of support to them as the Body of Christ?
We Open the Door!
Why do we need to talk about youth and mental illness? For me, the most important reason is this: Because by talking about it, we open the door to talking about mental health and the best ways in which we—youth workers, parents, members of the church—can support our young people though the challenges they are facing in an already challenging world.
I am excited to be a part of the conversation in the E M Conference. Please keep reading The Messenger for further articles this year about understanding different mental illnesses and promoting positive mental health in our churches.
Daniel Dacombe has worked with youth for nearly fifteen years, including at Youth for Christ. He has attended Providence College and Seminary for Social Sciences and Counselling education. He attends Heartland Community Church and lives with his wife, two daughters, and a very large dog.
Count me among EMC ministers who seek to protect sheep from wolves. This affects how some of us link local church membership and denominational distinctives.
Each branch of the Church in Canada has its tradition, history, and distinctives. For instance, Nazarenes have entire sanctification, Pentecostals have the baptism in the Spirit, Baptists have immersion, and Mennonites have pacifism.
Each denomination is protective of its distinctives: “We need to stay with the Word. Our leaders suffered for these truths. We have Scripture and history on our side.”
Ministers make choices within traditions, histories, and distinctives. I do.
Distinctives, as long as they’re biblical, are to be taught. It is wise, though, not to make a hard link between some distinctives and membership for non-leaders. (This isn’t an article about teaching standards for selecting pastors, deacons, teaching elders, and Sunday School teachers.)
The Christian Church is committed to Christ and to each other. We properly require a common, wonderful confession of faith in our Triune God (1 Cor. 15:1-8, 1 Tim. 3:9, Eph. 4:5). We are to be accountable in our faith and lifestyle (1 Tim. 4:19-20).
Still, let’s not multiply difficulties. Pastors know it is insensitive and impractical to limit membership to those who agree with all of our distinctives. Was anyone ever denied local EMC membership because they didn’t affirm footwashing as an ordinance? Probably not.
Local churches need to, and often do, take a broader view of their role. In a particular location, urban or rural, there might be a single evangelical choice—perhaps Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, or Baptist. Its responsibility to believers and the Lord extends far beyond its distinctive views.
Why? Sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many (Matt. 10:16). Jesus spoke of wolves (Matt. 7:15); the apostle Paul did too (Acts 20:28-29). Paul and other apostles warned of false leaders and false teachings (Gal. 1:6-7, 2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4).
We are to protect the flock (Acts 20:28). Sheep, by nature, are to be together, and they are more vulnerable when alone. The Shepherd still cares about the single sheep (Luke 15:3-7).
As well, ponder a wonderful reality: Christians are members of Christ’s mystical body that spans continents, centuries, and denominations (1 Cor. 12:13; Heb.11, Eph. 4:4-5). How do we reflect this awareness when deciding requirements for local church membership?
Suppose a Christian, because of a distinctive, doesn’t become a local member. What if, through limited options and understanding, they join a group that has wandered from central truths? It’s precisely because of central truths (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8) that we are to be sensitive as pastors (Jude 22-23).
Pastors observe the movement of God’s Spirit within a person’s life; we sense their gifts and capacities. Recognizing this, local churches do well to allow “pastoral exceptions”: for a Mennonite church to accept a non-pacifist; a Baptist church, an undipped member; a Pentecostal church, someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues; a Nazarene church, a member only partly sanctified.
Does your local church do this already? Perhaps. Probably. For sheep are vulnerable and wolves are many.
Of course, if a person doesn’t recognize our Statement of Faith as the teaching standard within the local church and becomes divisive (Titus 3:9-11), that’s another matter. The sheep need protection then too.
The Author of life writes scandalous stories. Human expectation of God—zeal for God’s name even!—is often turned it on its head, frequently to the deep consternation of His most fervent followers. It seems to me that, when God is leading, even 180-degree turns and paradigm shifts (perhaps more accurately, paradigm shatters!) are not only not abnormal, they should be expected!
Think of a virgin bearing the Christ child (Matt. 1:23). A devout Jew eating unclean foods (Acts 10:1-23). A zealous-for-God Pharisee (Acts 22:3) switching from “breathing murderous threats about the followers of Jesus” (Acts 9:1) to becoming their most fervent leader. The King of the Universe dying a criminal’s death. These are stories of God doing things in a way that went against His own followers’ expectations.
What is the implication for me within this realization? It’s the bothersome revelation that perhaps a comfortable life doing the good things is not what God has planned for me. I’m convicted that I might be following the expected and acceptable methods of doing His will and not actually following Him.
Because, Church, what if Jesus asks me to do things I perceive are unwise, or not in keeping with being a good steward? What if Jesus leads me down a path that I feel is scandalous? Will I be willing to follow?
I must look for Christ and trust that where He leads me, through new and uncomfortable reading of Scripture, being in tune with the Spirit within me, trusting He will bring me to revolutionary new places of His glory. Unless, of course, I prefer my comfortable “this is the way we’ve always done it” theology.
One thing I’ve learned in my term abroad is that the risks of following Jesus down scandalous paths are worth it because it’s these risks we take for His name that display to us His greatest glory.
In our search for a new church here in Winnipeg we seem to have been led to one which does things in ways, I confess, I would previously have disdained. Yet we sense the Spirit saying to us, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Do I listen to what I believe is the Spirit, or to my old understanding of the way church “should” be done? I’ve been convicted to step out into new and disquieting territory and expect God to reveal Himself there in new and disquieting ways. Thrilling ways!
We made our move from Madagascar with great petition for the Lord to reveal the place He wanted to plant us. I believe He has done this. It is at once unfathomably lovely and disturbingly different than what I expected! So, what exactly were my expectations built on?
Lord, let me not be afraid to follow You rather than the methods and expectations I’ve become comfortable with. Give us the courage to listen to the Spirit of Truth within us, to steep in Your Word, and walk the path You call us to despite the perception of scandal.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference