Empathy for All: A Mental Health Sermon Series

The Mental Health Initiative Task Team of the National Benevolent Association (NBA) along with former manager of the Mental Health and Wellness Initiative, Rev. Angela Whitenhill-Shields have created a very special project focused on providing resources to support churches as they work with mental health.

NBA believes that mental health is health. Health can improve, and health can deteriorate. The year 2020 was tough; after such a challenging year, mental health should be a topic high on the priority list of every church.

There are so many topics that can be broached about mental health such as self-care, how to respond to mental health needs of church community members, skills for stress management, how to recognize depression and anxiety, how to support people experiencing complicated grief, and so much more. The question is: Where to start? The NBA Mental Health Task Team was faced with that question and after much dialogue, they agreed on this word: Empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings that another person may be having. It’s perspective-taking and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Many will recognize this word, and the Mental Health Task Team recognized it as an important first step at having congregations trained and prepared to invest in and promote good mental health.

Why is empathy a good starting point that will lead us to manage topics of mental health with efficacy? Empathy is an essential skill for each Christian to have for the following reasons:

  1. Connection: Empathy opens up opportunities to join the life journey of our neighbors. Romans 12:15 (NLT) says: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”
  2. Action: Empathy moves us from the sidelines, from spectators to players who are contributing to improving the quality of life of others. “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” 1 John 3:17-18.
  3. Identity: Feeling empathy reminds us of who we are and where we are going. Jesus is our model to follow, the foundation of our identity. Jesus is the best and purest example of how to practice empathy, and beyond that, He took the practice to another level, making himself as one of us. Today He exhorts us to have His same mind. We see this explained in Philippians 2:6-7. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

In the Gospels, we can find countless examples of how Jesus demonstrated empathy. The key to all of this is love. God’s love is the accelerant that takes us from inaction to action, from apathy to empathy, from the sidelines into the field.  For some, empathy comes naturally, for others it’s harder, but all who love God can develop and show empathy.

We present these resources to you in an a la carte form. Below, you can find diverse resources of liturgical, theological, and clinical nature. These resources can be implemented in worship services, during bible classes and small groups, at workshops, or as an aid in your day-to-day work of ministry. There are prayers, songs, videos, and sermon outlines geared towards empathy. There is educational information about how to develop empathy skills in both adults and children. There are images that help us to understand what empathy looks like, and information about how empathy can be expressed in our continuously evolving cyber world, such as social media, tech communications, and meetings on platforms such as Zoom.

We hope congregations continue to explore, through prayer and dialogue, the topic of how to be communities of faith that promote good mental health and openly face the challenges of poor mental health that our world faces.

These resources were made possible by NBA’s Mental Health Initiative Task Team

Rev. Dr. Mark Poindexter
Rev. Chuck Jones
Rev. Dale Suggs
Rev. Lizzy Diop
Rev. Hector Hernandez, MAMFT
Sarah Serrano, LCSW
Denisse Centeno-Lamas, LCSW
Nancy Jiménez, LMHC
Dr. Dinelsa Morales
Rev. Amie Vanderford
Rev. Angela Whitenhill Shields

Empathy Resources

A Sermon on Empathy, Rev. Amie Vanderford, The LabOratory Church
Scripture:  Job 2:11-13
Sermon Video

Seeing with Someone Else’s Eyes, Rev. Derek Penwell
Scripture: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Mental Health Sunday, Rev. Dr. Mark Poindexter
Scripture: Psalm 31:9-12

Mental Health Prayers, by Rev. Lizzy Diop

On Empathy, a thought piece by Jonah Koetke