Is Mental Health a Consideration in the Recruitment and Sending of Church Planters?
By Marcelo Gomes
As access to information grows, we have become aware of many aspects of life that we might not consider in other times. Mental health is one of those considerations. As a bivocational pastor—ordained elder and licensed psychoanalyst in Vermont— I understand the mental health challenges pastors and church planters face. With the advances in neuroscience, we have a better understanding of how our brains work and how we process trauma, emotional challenges, and behavioral patterns. Church leaders have begun to bring this awareness to the ordination process and ministry. However, the way we do it is to use a conservative psychological approach with psychometrics and psychological evaluations. This is not enough. The model we currently use offers only a general perspective of what underlies who people really are.
We need to consider various aspects of local church ministry or extension ministry when it comes to mental health related to church planting. Church planters must deal with institutional pressure to conclude a church planting process within three years; navigate in unstable ministry settings due to different contexts, conferences, languages and culture; integrate gifts, talents, and effectiveness into institutional expectations; face frustration related to church planting failures and institutional conflicts during the process. I could continue the list, but I believe this is enough for us to understand that mental health is a core component when recruiting and sending church planters to the field.
Attachment patterns and emotional language are two reasons we should have specific mental health evaluations and support for church planters. Attachment patterns concern how we developed our relational models in adulthood. Human beings are born with a need to relate to others, build relationships, and create connections. If these relationships are not “good enough” (a psychoanalytical term) during our childhood, we can develop unhealthy relational patterns.
According to John Bowlby, author of A Secure Base, there are four attachment styles:
- disorganized/fearful-avoidant, and
- secure. 
Church planters must deal with relational practices and social connections within a new community, so understating how they connect with others is essential for healthy connections and effective growth. Concerning emotional language, theology is fluid in terms of different expressions, understandings, and perspectives. One component that connects emotional language and theology is culture. Culture is the ground for theological revelation and ministry innovation, but also for emotional development. Through culture, we invent and re-invent daily how to speak (emotionally) about issues, dreams, expectations, and frustrations. Sometimes a church planter and the institution are speaking different languages to address the same issue.
If you want to have a follow-up conversation on this topic or share initiatives you may know that are related to this content, feel free to contact me.
 Bowlby, John. A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. (New York: Basic Books, 1998).
Dr. Marcelo Gomes is the Director of Training & Church Planting Systems with Path 1 at Discipleship Ministries.