When Mental Health Took Center Stage for Me

Steve Cullum
April 18th, 2019

Like many youth workers, I fell in love with the thought of ministry when I was in high school. I really enjoyed hanging out with my peers and the adult leaders, discussing the Bible and having fun together. By my senior year, I knew God was asking me to pursue an education and career in youth ministry. Not only did my Bible College education help me learn so much about ministry and the Bible, it also presented me with some solid opportunities to participate and lead in youth ministry. Throughout all of this, my calling became clearer and clearer. My final year in college, though, was a turning point.

I was sitting in my Intro to Counseling class, where my professor, a seasoned therapist and teacher, was explaining a few of his previous clients. As I sat there, listening to these stories of brokenness, my mind began to race. This was the first time I had consciously thought about mental health. Up until this point, I knew it was a thing, but I had never realized how much of an issue it was and was becoming.

My professor then said something that has stuck with me to this day. Even though all these people have serious issues and problems in their lives, we have the answer. We know that Jesus is the solution to all of life’s problems. Yes, it’s often not as simple as that. Or maybe it is, and we make it too complicated? Either way, at that point, I wrote down in my notes that I wanted to become a counselor. I didn’t mean that I wanted to abandon my calling as a youth worker, but I knew God was stretching me at that point to realize it’s more than just teaching the Bible and having fun.

After wrapping up my youth ministry degree, I pursued a youth and family counseling-focused degree in Seminary, and I began my full-time ministry. Not too long after arriving, I met a student who was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation. Now, I realized, it was time to begin living out what I felt God was calling me to do back in college and Seminary.

As I walked through life with him and his family, I didn’t always know what to do. Often, I was just there, sharing in the struggles as he went to the hospital. I had late night phone calls with his parents, took him out for coffee or to run errands just to distract him from his thoughts, and had many informal pastoral counseling sessions. He was one of the reasons why I studied mental health and counseling, and he has not been the last.

My wife also worked in mental health for a number of years, and I heard many stories of her clients’ brokenness. God continues to bring more and more students our way who struggle with mental health issues. He has moved us to a part of the country that has a high rate of suicide among teenagers. He continues to put us in situations where our calling has been renewed and confirmed, a calling that goes back to one day when I was sitting a counseling class in college, and a calling that took center stage when a middle school boy let me know he was struggling with thoughts of killing himself.

Steve Cullum

Steve Cullum is the student pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO, where he oversees their ministry to sixth through twelfth grade students and their families. He also hosts The Student Ministry Podcast and volunteers for the National Network of Youth Ministries. You can follow him on Twitter @stevecullum.

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