On the rooted staff, we’re fortunate enough to have Danny Kwon, a practicing youth minister for over 29 years. We’re also fortunate that Danny is married to Monica Kim, a Christian counselor and psychologist. Below, you’ll find a conversation between them about youth pastors, teenagers, and mental health. If you enjoy hearing from Monica and Danny, we hope you’ll join us for their workshop, “What Pastors Need to Know About Mental Health” at our 2023 Rooted Conference in Nashville, TN.
My husband is a gifted youth pastor. He loves teenagers, loves the church, and loves ministry. He is a good teacher and preacher, spends hours outside of church with students, leads multiple mission trips each summer, and organizes and leads a team of volunteers well. Moreover, he has navigated youth ministry in our church for 29 years. Despite the rough and difficult times that all youth pastors face, he has survived and thrived in youth ministry. Amidst all these wonderful things about him, one of his greatest gifts is that he understands and knows what he does not know, and he is willing and humble to learn about things he doesn’t understand.
One of those areas is mental health as it intersects with ministry matters. This became evident to him in the many years of dealing with the growing critical mental health issues of teenagers in our church. We saw this in own family as well, as we had to thoughtfully engage and walk alongside our teenage son who struggled deeply with anxiety and depression.
My wife is a gifted youth worker. She is a volunteer at our church youth ministry, and she serves wholeheartedly and loves our teenagers. She hosts teenagers at our home, cooks for them, and offers an open ear to them. While she is a gifted youth volunteer, she is also a seminary-trained Christian counselor and a licensed Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology.
I understand that not all youth pastors are married to mental health professionals, and each spouse of a pastor has their unique gifts and callings for God’s kingdom work. But I can say that being married to a trained Christian counselor and psychologist has shown me how I need to grow in understanding how to navigate the mental health challenges of teenagers. This became even more apparent and deeply profound to me as we dealt with mental health issues with one of our own teenagers.
Monica and Danny:
Even before the pandemic, teenage mental health was becoming an epidemic in our country. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in the lives of teenagers have increased over the last 10 years or so. Now, with the fall-out of the pandemic, teenagers’ mental health is declining even more.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that there has been a significant increase in teenagers experiencing mental health challenges, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors between the year 2011 and 2021. Furthermore, the report noted that in 2021, 57% of teen girls reported experiencing persistent sadness or hopelessness.
Gospel Hope for Mental Illness
The gospel, of course, is the great hope for teenagers struggling with a wide array of mental health challenges. The words of Paul to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” invites each teenager to find peace and hope in the gospel (Phil. 4:6-7).
Yet, while the powerful hope of the gospel is an important truth and foundational hope for anyone struggling with mental health, the nuances and application of the gospel are not always black and white, nor does it provide simple solutions.
Rather, we have both learned over the years as youth pastors, parents, and mental health professionals, that helping those struggling with mental health can be complex. This is one of the first things we communicate to parents and those wrestling with mental health as we seek to join them by extending the deep compassion and care that Christ showed.
An important aspect of understanding and addressing mental health issues, especially for youth pastors or parents, is that we may never fully understand the specific struggle of an individual. Depression is more complex than someone being sad; bulimia is more than a person vomiting or purging food; social anxiety is more than someone just being timid around people. Thus, as we seek to help those who struggle with mental health, it is most helpful when we approach them with genuine humility, since we can never fully comprehend their struggle.
But this does not mean it is hopeless. Rather, this can help us embrace the understanding that because the Kingdom of God is already here through Christ while we also await Christ’s return, there is truth, hope, and godly wisdom for addressing mental health with teenagers. One example of such godly wisdom might include finding a professional who has the training to deal with more complicated mental health issues.
Finally, even as gospel-centered Christians who believe in the power and hope of the gospel, seeing the fruits of the gospel in light of mental health challenges can take time.
Ultimately, for both of us, as Christians who trust in the gospel, who have experienced the brokenness amidst mental health from the perspective of youth pastors, parents, and mental health professionals, we hope our workshop at the Rooted 2023 Conference expounds the nuances and subtleties of working with teenagers who struggle with mental health. Most importably, we hope to address how to apply gospel hope in these situations.
If you enjoyed this conversation between Danny and Monica, be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming Rooted Podcast Series “A Youth Pastor, Psychologist, and Parent Walk Into a Church” which will debut in January 2024.