There is often confusion between developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder, and mental health disorders, such as depression or bipolar. As Christian leaders, it’s vital for us to understand the differences as well as consider how we love and lead those who may be dealing with one or more of these conditions.

Understanding Autism & Proactive Mental Health for Christian Leaders

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In our final episode in our mental health series, Holly and I chat with our guest Dr. Stephanie Holmes about autism (a developmental disorder) and mental health for ministry leaders. We dive into the differences between developmental disabilities and mental health disorders and also discuss how both often have stigmas attached to them.

In addition, we dive into another area of expertise that Dr. Holmes has, which is around the issue of mental health for ministry leaders. We discuss the need for personal and organizational boundaries as well as the importance of developing lay leadership in churches.

Whether or not the issues of autism, marriage, or mental health directly impact you as a leader, this is an important conversation to expand your awareness of these topics. Dr. Holmes provides practical insights and recommendations for us as leaders as we interact with neurological differences as well as our own (and others’) mental health needs.

Key Points Discussed:

  • Dr. Stephanie’s Life & Leadership [3:53]
  • All About Autism [7:00]
    • The difference between a developmental disorder and a mental health condition [9:10]
    • How Dr. Stephanie ended up becoming an expert in autism [11:22]
    • Importance of understanding autism [16:18]
    • Adults with autism [19:45]
    • Communication with individuals who have autism [23:01]
    • Examples of black and white thinking [26:20]
    • Marriage issues [30:16]
  • Proactive Mental Health & Ministry [35:00]
    • The health of the leader impacts the health of the body [37:10]
    • Practical ways that ministry leaders can recognize when they need to reach out for help [38:28]
    • Why we don’t set boundaries as leaders [41:52]
      • Organizational issues
      • Boundary issues
      • Personality issues 
    • Cultivating culture of lay leadership [45:40]
  • Dealing with autism and mental health combined [51:44]
    • Look for a clinical with an expertise in autism
    • Misdiagnosis can happen
  • Leaders are Learners [55:36]

Key Quotes from the Episode:

Quotes are by Dr. Stephanie Holmes unless otherwise noted.

  • “I never saw myself as a leader; I just saw myself as, ‘There’s an opportunity to get that done.’”
  • “Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3; Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function.” – From National Autism Association
  • “We’re finding more people getting diagnosed later as adults, because sometimes some of those symptoms don’t become evident until their compensatory strategies are maxed out.”  
  • “While there should be no stigma for mental health anyway, there’s even sometimes a greater stigma for autism, because of the differences that person has.”
  • “God brought it to me, and I lived it 24/7, and then that became the ministry and leadership and opportunities He wanted me to pursue.”
  • “Spend time in the community and let people on the autism spectrum help educate you.”
  • “Autistic people are people first.”
  • “We’re all made in God’s image… Have a person point of view vs. a disordered diagnosis point of view.”
  • “How do I still serve this person in a way that they feel included in the church?”
  • “There’s a difference between character issues and diagnosis issues.”
  • “Serving God and your personal relationship with God are not the same thing.”
  • “I can’t give what I don’t have.”
  • “We need to approach our mental and spiritual health the way we should approach our physical health, which is to be more proactive and preventative and developing good habits.”
  • “It’s more Biblical when there are people in their giftings and people in lay leadership.” 
  • “We are physical, relational, spiritual, mental, emotional beings–we’re a whole person, so we need to take care of the health of all of these areas.”

Links and Resources Mentioned:


Connect with Dr. Stephanie Holmes:

  • Website
  • Special offer: Mention that you heard Dr. Stephanie on the podcast and get 25% off any of products/services: [email protected]

In 2004 Stephanie Holmes’ eldest daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Stephanie’s focus as a counselor turned toward the world of IEPs, 504s, and understanding how to help special needs students in the classroom. Today, Stephanie helps individuals on the spectrum learn to accept and celebrate their autism journey as well as coach them on how to reach their potential while working on skill deficits and challenge areas. She helps families deal with the frustrations and challenges that may come with navigating the world with a special needs’ child. She practices counseling at her home church, The Church or Chapel Hill and is the owner and founder of her online coaching and consulting practice called Autism Spectrum Resources for Marriage & Family.


Stephanie C. Holmes is an ordained minister, credentialed counselor, certified autism specialist, special education advocate, mediator, and recently completed her doctorate in education from Abilene Christian University.


She has written about her faith journey in Confessions of a Christian Counselor: How Infertility and Autism Grew my Faith available on Amazon and has some YouTube on her channels, Dr. Stephanie C. Holmes.


Stephanie’s mission is to help marriage and families on the spectrum move beyond surviving to thriving!


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In this bonus episode, hear from Dr. Stephanie Holmes about:

  • How Dr. Stephanie defines leadership
  • Dr. Stephanie’s favorite tool or resource for embracing her gifts
  • A habit or routine that helps Dr. Stephanie stay healthy
  • Advice she would give to another woman who wants to grow as a leader

Stay Connected:

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Understanding Autism & Proactive Mental Health for Christian Leaders with Dr. Stephanie Holmes [Mental Health Series]