Trauma and the Church (Part 2)

Trauma can have devastating effects on individuals and churches. But, in some ways, the Church is already equipped to heal the problem.

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Psychological trauma is a leading cause of death.

Seven out of 10 of the leading causes of death have been linked to having high Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES scores. In other words, those who have experienced trauma as children are more likely to die from lifestyle-related chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack, even diabetes.

Given that most boys these days have been exposed to porn by the age of 11 (up to 90 per cent)—this exposure to explicit sexual material being a form of sexual abuse—trauma is happening all around us and before we know it we may have a generation of traumatised young people seeking fulfilment and purpose in the wrong places. Couple this with family breakdown, death, bullying, abuse in all forms, and we are in the middle of a trauma epidemic.

As Christians we should not be surprised. “The enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He seeks to kill, steal and destroy. He uses trauma as a tool to accomplish this.

The seed of trauma, once planted in a life, can grow into a choking vine, stifling spiritual growth and destroying relationships—with others and with God. It is a ticking time bomb.

It’s important to note, it is not a sin to suffer trauma, but trauma can lead to addiction, self-sabotage and bad habits. Unfortunately as a Church, we often look at bad behaviour as a sickness, instead of as a symptom. Many people, especially young people in our churches, act out from a place of trauma while we label them rebellious.

So what can the Church do? The good news is the Church already possesses some of the necessary tools to become a place where trauma survivors can feel at home.

Jesus healed people’s physical ailments before addressing spiritual needs. Many people have had experiences that cause them to struggle to connect with the church, with God and their own spirituality. We should be helping them to belong, not questioning their behaviour. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict on behaviour, not ours.

Christian trauma expert Dr Dan Allender says we must “know something of the core reality of human trauma and not merely know but be engaged . . . If we don’t understand trauma we will be caught under the wheels of it.” The whole church needs to be aware and equipped—not just pastors. He goes on to say pastors can often suffer from “compassion fatigue”—they are traumatised vicariously by trying to help everyone else journey through marriage breakdowns, loss and grief. 

"Unfortunately as a Church, we often look at bad behaviour as a sickness, instead of as a symptom."

It’s important to realise that, unless we have special training in the area, we may not be able to help someone fully. It’s best to encourage professional help. But people often don’t tell their trauma stories to professionals for the first time—instead it’s trusted friends and family members, a pastor or a teacher. That’s why it’s important to know how to receive those stories with care and compassion.

For my recent Masters in Creative Writing thesis, I examined how stories can heal—looking at trauma narratives and how they can heal the author and also the reader.

Bibliotherapy is the use of books to assist with a person’s treatment—there are many writing groups that equip those who have had traumatic experiences to write them down. Many have found this activity to be liberating. A church could easily run reading/writing groups.

We must create spaces for stories to be heard and told, given and received. More space for testimonies can help a church feel like home for someone with a difficult story.

Gender-specific small groups, and to a lesser extent close-knit Sabbath School classes, are spaces to create an atmosphere of trust and authenticity. Investigate starting a writing group, encourage members to journal, using Forgive to Live and Depression Recovery resources—all these can be initiated in and by local churches.

As Christians we already know about the healing power found in engaging with the “living Word” of God. God’s Word doesn’t shy away from difficult experiences and yet offers hope and healing. As a Church we should model ourselves after it.

Read “Trauma and the Church (Part 1)”

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