Fortress Press

Hiding in the Pews: Shining Light on Mental Illness in the Church

Hiding in the Pews

Shining Light on Mental Illness in the Church

Steve Austin (Author), Robert W. Lee (Foreword by)


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In 2012, Steve Austin, then a pastor, nearly died by suicide. His experience launched him on a journey that opened his eyes to the widespread problem of mental illness and how those who live with it are often treated in congregations. He began to wonder: if church folks had talked openly about mental health, therapy, suicide prevention, recovery from abuse, and other difficult issues, would that have changed his story?

In Hiding in the Pews, people with mental illness--some of whom might be pastors themselves--will find comfort as they learn they are not alone. Those who know someone with mental illness will gain wisdom about how to be a safe presence. Those who hold the most power in church communities--pastors, board members, and lay leaders--will be challenged and equipped to transform their congregations into places of healing, where it is safe for people to be vulnerable about their suffering.

Austin draws on his own experience, as well as on interviews with eighty current and former church leaders and members. Each chapter covers a topic or theme about mental illness and the church and includes practical applications to guide leaders on a journey toward transforming church culture.

When a church champions vulnerability and establishes safety within its walls, especially for those who are suffering, the loving power of God heals. Austin offers hope that faith communities will be the first places people think of when they need a sense of safety and belonging.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506470481
  • eBook ISBN 9781506470498
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 230
  • Publication Date September 21, 2021


"With courage, candor, and grace, Austin has given us a needed perspective on how church leaders can deeply care for the hurting and vulnerable in their pews."

Aundi Kolber, licensed therapist, author of Try Softer

"Austin's strong arguments from scripture and from his personal experience compel us to look deeper and more empathetically at ourselves and others who suffer in the context of the church experience. An important read."

Paul Baloche, songwriter, worship pastor,

"By showing us his scars, Austin kindly and accessibly invites us into a better story, one where our weakness is welcome and our hurt is held."

K. J. Ramsey, therapist, author of This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers

"Thank you, Steve, for speaking on behalf of this ragamuffin and for your desire to see the Christian community become a sanctuary for sinners once again."

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor, The Sanctuary, Jupiter, FL; author of Jesus + Nothing = Everything

"With stories, scripture, and a compassionate pastor's heart, Austin challenges the church and its leaders to tell the whole truth. If we want people to meet Jesus in our churches, then our churches need to be places where each person's whole painful truth is welcomed."

Marc Alan Schelske, pastor, Bridge City Community Church, Portland, OR; author of The Wisdom of Your Heart: Discovering the God-Given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions

"As a mental health therapist, I have found this book eye-opening in so many ways. There has been a gap between mental health caregivers and the church, and this book has the potential to close it. This book is powerful for those suffering and those seeking to help the suffering. It has the power to change the church."

Alicia Lambert, mental health counselor

"Steve writes with the tenderness of someone who's been there and the passion of someone who wants to see churches grow in their responses to mental health. Church leaders of all kinds will find Hiding in the Pews both challenging and inspiring, a resource they can come back to often."

Robert Vore, therapist and suicide prevention instructor, host of CXMH podcast

"In his book Hiding in the Pews, Steve Austin provides a word of hope and encouragement to those who've experienced pain and suffering at the intersection of mental illness and the church. All I need--all any of us need, really--is a compassionate heart and a willingness to listen without judgment or the need to try to fix the situation. Steve's book is a reminder for all of us that the ministry of presence is one of the most helpful things we can offer to anyone in need of healing."

Eric N. Mancil, rector, The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Alabaster, AL

"This book has the potential to transform by bringing healing into our lives as leaders and into the lives of those we serve. Read beyond the trigger warning and do the necessary work. I am ready to share this book with the leaders of the church I serve and to help our faith community become a place of healing for the hurting. Steve challenges us as leaders. May we rise to the challenge."

Debra Dickerson, pastor, St. Elmo United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

"Want to make your church a refuge? Read this."

Arthur Harrison, senior pastor, Alabaster First United Methodist Church, Alabaster, AL; US Army Reserve chaplain

"My Jesus brother Steve Austin's work is aimed at bringing those of us in the church back to Jesus' ways--embracing the uncertain believer and the certain nonbeliever, accepting the marginalized, and simply loving them long enough for the Holy Spirit to show them who he is. Hiding in the Pews shows us why God calls us to seek more Jesus and less judgment and how to begin the transformation, one congregation at a time and one soul at a time, beginning with each of us."

Tracy Winchell, training coach, West-Ark Church of Christ Celebrate Recovery, Fort Smith, AR; host of Reboots podcast

Table of Contents



Introduction Vulnerability Can Heal Us

Chapter 1 The Power of Vulnerable Leadership

Chapter 2 Becoming Trauma Informed

Chapter 3 The Wonderful Gift of Presence

Chapter 4 The Terrible Gift of Sight

Chapter 5 Interlude: God's Boundless Love

Chapter 6 Embracing the Fullness of Your Story

Chapter 7 Hiding Behind the Pulpit

Chapter 8 Cultivating Vulnerable Conversations

Chapter 9 Neutralizing Shame

Chapter 10 Self-Care Basics

Chapter 11 When the Church Gets It Right

Appendix A Six Simple Steps for Suicide Prevention

Appendix B Quick Reference Guide

Appendix C The Role of Faith in Suicide Prevention Notes