Trauma-informed churches?


Yesterday I wrote a bit about trauma-informed organizations that seek to ensure that the ministries they provide neither harm recipients or staff members. That post focused on para-church organizations serving highly-traumatized populations and encouraged them to do some self-evaluation. But, today I’d like to add just a few additional thoughts on how churches might improve care for traumatized people in their pews.

Types of Trauma in the Church

Churches, by definition, are filled with broken people. That is just as God intended. And also as God intended, most find the church a safe place to heal and be restored–to God and to neighbor. But some find it a bit harder to feel safe in a church setting. In particular, those,

  • who have been harmed (spiritually, physically, emotionally) by church leaders
  • who have deep and hidden shame from interpersonal betrayals (sexual abuse, domestic abuse, forced perpetration, etc.)
  • who have experiences difficult to be understood by many (e.g., veterans)
  • who have secondary trauma (more invisible than most traumas) and who think they should be over it already

How can churches evaluate current policies and practices to ensure that both congregants and staff are cared well for and not unintentionally compounding trauma experiences? Consider the following list as a starting point for conversations among pastors, elders, staff, and lay leaders.

  1. Do we have a basic understanding of the nature, causes, and symptoms of trauma?
    • Search this site for many resources on this topic
    • Watch free videos here about making the church a safe place for victims
  2. Do we understand key features of systemic abuse that might infect our church
    • Use the link just above to explore the symptoms of narcissistic systems and leaders
    • Search this site for more resources as well
  3. Do we have a child abuse prevention plan? Preventing future abuse also provides some level of healing from past victims.
  4. Does our child abuse prevention plan also include ongoing training, care for staff, and a robust response plan when abuse allegations surface?
  5. Are we aware of subtle forms of spiritual abuse? How do we protect vulnerable populations?
    • Explore the dangers of “sin-leveling” (making victim responses on par with offender actions)
  6. Victims often develop poor coping mechanisms (e.g., addictions, resistance to authority, reactive moods, withdrawal, etc. Do we respond to all sins the same or is there recognition that traumatized victims need a different form a response?
  7. Do we have regular spaces for pastors and leaders to address secondary trauma (the result of being deeply involved in the ongoing traumas of congregants)?
    • Explore local resources outside the church so leadership does not need to be expert on every form of trauma and trauma response.

These are just a few questions to start with and will likely elicit many more as you go. By asking the questions you are taking serious the call by God to watch after the flock (including the sheep leading other sheep).

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized

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