The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Paid to Love?

Hello Dr. Beck,

It seems that the mentally ill need an abundance of Christ’s love and understanding in order to heal. As a Christian I wonder how you view the standard hourly wage of mental health professionals in view of Christ and His disciples ministering freely to others? I wonder how God views this “exchange” of money for professional counseling in the context of the nature of how Love flows without expecting anything back in return. I wonder if people with healing gifts be a better intrument of Christ’s healing and compassion if they laboured outside of the professional system and perhaps had a day job building tents? I guess what I am really seeking is God’s will in this matter, knowing that He can work through any intrument as He chooses. I am thinking that some intruments of grace, mercy, and healing may be more “fine tuned” under non professional conditions.


Hi Michelle,
Great question. I’m an experimental psychologist–a researcher–so I’m not a mental health professional. That makes it somewhat easier and harder for me to make judgments in this regard. Easy because I’m unaffected by my opinions in this matter. Hard because, well, I’m unaffected by my opinions in this matter.

But to get to your question. Ideally the community of faith should be a place where mental health issues are dealt with. That might be hard for people to grasp, but psychotherapy as we know it today has been around since, what, the 1960s? Though of course people have been institutionalized for psychiatric issues for hundreds of years, what I’m talking about is outpatient therapy for what we would call “problems with living.”

All that to say, the “mental health industry” hasn’t been around all that long.

Of course that might just mean that care for mental health has been improving. I’d agree. I’m just pointing out that communities and families have a long history of caring for the mentally ill so it’s not all that strange to imagine a shift back in that direction as long as that care was good.

But here’s the rub, most American churches just aren’t equipped to do this work. And I don’t mean in regards to specialized training, though that is a part of it. I’m speaking to how churches are generally not comprised of individuals willing to invest in and be interrupted by the daily work of caring for very, very needy people. Such communities do exist–the L’Arche model comes to mind–but few local church communities are set up that way. Nor, sadly, do I think many Christians would sign up to be a part of such a church. My point being, yes, there is a vision out there where the community can help their emotional suffering friends and loved ones, but few of these communities actually exist.

And so a market-based alternative steps in, the mental health profession, where you pay for these services. It’s not unlike how hospitality used to be given by individuals in their own homes–and Christians were once widely recognized for their services in this regard–but now a hospitality industry (hotels and restaurants) has taken over. Same goes for the funeral industry.

Can a Christian participate in the mental health industry? I’d say sure they could. Does it represent the Christian ideal of love and care for others? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to offer those services if that industry exists. You’d just not describe what you do for a living as the ideal expression of Christian agape. And neither would a cook in a restaurant in the hospitality industry. Or a nurse in a hospital. Or in any other service or health industry.

What a lot of Christian mental health professionals do, though, is work with their churches to provide care for those within their churches for free or very reduced rates. They also function as resource people within the church. That is, they don’t restrict their skills to the marketplace. They try to share those skills freely. Regardless, that work is spotty. So it all goes back to if the community, as a whole, is willing to radically reconfigure and invest in how they care for each other–materially, physically, socially and psychologically. And until a community is formed with that in view the marketplace option will step in to fill the void, for better or worse.

Thank-you Dr. Beck for weighing in on the matter. You make some interesting points by mentioning the deterioration of Christian hospitality as well. It is a complex issue and thankfully God’s grace abounds as we all learn how to walk in this world in agape Love.

my feeling is that a workman is worth her/his wages.
that kind of work can take up your whole life, and all your energy. i don’t believe a person with such a gifting should have to also make tents. Paul, who i assume that analogy is drawn from, was a travelling speaker…he didn’t invest loads of time with incredibly needy people on a specific basis…he did it on a general basis: ministering to needy communities. but even there, he split his time up.

my point (eventually gotten around to) is that we all have different talents and abilities. some are great at working with very needy people. i don’t think they should have to seek other work and “give” freely. in a sense, what they are doing is free for the people they are helping (provided there is health care in place to pay for it)…it is actually the community that is paying their wages. the community, who rightly or wrongly has delegated this role. money is a fact of life, and carers need it too, and shouldn’t have to work every hour God sends just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. they need rest and recharging time as well, just as everyone does.

love should be free, but specialist skills are specialist skills, and the worker is worth his/her wages.

To me it is similar to being a Christian doctor or a Christian mechanic, etc. Just because one is a Christian does not mean that one should not be paid for services rendered. Because we a Christians, we might be more motivated to give, to donate our time and talents to those less fortunate, but that doesn’t mean we must take and sell all we have and give to the poor or work for nothing.

Thank you Sherman and CL. Those points are solid and valid. I was just wondering if somehow professionalism quenches the Holy Spirit… Especially if you are in an environment that expects a secular and non-faith based approach. Regarding selling everything and following Jesus, I do know people who did exactly that. I am sure the Lord does not call on everyone to radically change their lives after their conversion but sometimes He does. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.