Today, I will be making two presentations here in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Look Up Conference on Faith and Mental Health hosted by the Lutheran Foundation. For those interested in the slides, here they are:
Tag Archives: church
in 2019, American Bible Society sponsored a study comparing chronic trauma in both churched and unchurched populations. It is out now and you can learn about it on a free webinar on August 6 at 2 pm EDT. I will be one of the guests talking about the implications of the research findings and how pastors and church leaders can be part of the healing path.
Sign up here. If you attend, Barna will give you a discount code if you want to purchase a print or digital copy of the monograph.
Today I will be presenting a one hour breakout at the 2017 AACC World Conference in Nashville, TN. If you are interested in seeing the slides, down them here.
There is a serious problem within protestant evangelical Christianity. We love right preaching and teaching more than we love right living. We love power and authority more than sacrifice and submission. We love honor over humility. We love being led by popular leaders who make us feel good more than following the despised and rejected One—who has no “beauty or majesty to attract us to him.” (Isa 53)
We want King Saul over young David.
Of course I do not accuse all protestant Christians nor all leaders with this charge. And yet, we must all own this problem together. It is not merely the Catholic Church that has covered up abuse or used power to protect itself. While the system of the Catholic Church enables a wider and deeper cover-up, we have all of the same issues on a (slightly) smaller scale.
A picture of a true leader of God’s church…and the opposite
Leaders of the church are to be representatives of Jesus, individuals set apart to be under-shepherds. They are to care for the flock. And what do we need? We need teaching, encouragement, comfort, and rebuke in their proper times and measures. But most of all we need our leaders to be images/examples of our true Shepherd.
Quite simply, the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and who feeds, carries, and gently leads (Isa 40:11). Of course this is a picture of a powerful leader. Only one with power who knows right and wrong can choose to sacrifice rights and become smaller for the purpose of care of the most vulnerable.
But we have a pattern of enabling self-promoting leaders of the flock. These want to be listened to, respected and followed for their own sake. Sure, they may speak of the Gospel of grace, but how do they live it? How do they treat the ones who have the least power? How do they handle criticism? Do they even have a Paul (wise older leader with a track record of being willing to encourage and also say hard things) to speak to them as he did to Timothy? Or would they tolerate one who spoke to them as Paul did to Peter when he acted out of accord with the Gospel (Gal 2:11f)?
It seems that when we do see brokenness in our leaders we tend to excuse it, especially when their gifts are attractive and the ones revealing these flaws are expendable.
Consider this warning
What makes Jesus angry? The New Testament records a few instances of expressed anger: Money changers, self-righteous religious leaders, hindering children, and the pain of death (Lazarus). We see it most clearly in his language toward the religious leaders when he calls them “brood of vipers…white washed tombs…hypocrites.”
What are these leaders doing that evoke Jesus’ just anger? Matthew 23 provides some answers.
- Everything they do is for show to receive the praise and honor of followers
- They seek power and control. They (try to) decide who can be in the kingdom; they seek converts who will work for their interests
- They develop special rules that support their apparent position of authority
- They makes a show of sacrifice yet forget the most important values: justice, mercy, and faith/submission to God
- Their public and private selves do not match—the outside looks great but inside is abominable
It does not matter if they deliver well-crafted and biblically sound sermons. It does not matter if many flock to their ministries. If their motive, efforts, and tactics (public and private) do not match God’s character of a good shepherd, their good human gifts of are no value. Even worse, they deserve rebuke (Ezekiel 34; Jeremiah 23) and even removal from speaking for God anymore (Ezekiel 44).
The true problem?
There have always been false shepherds. There always will be false shepherds. But, what enables them to stay in positions of power is that we allow it. G. Campbell Morgan minces no words when he highlights the problem of false shepherds.
Now the false in religion stands revealed in Christ’s contemplation of these men [described in Matthew 23], not only in the case of the men themselves, but in the case of the people who are under the influence of such men. The false in religion in the case of the people is due to failure to discriminate between the human and the divine; and consists of submission to unauthorized authority.
Morgan, Gospel According to Matthew, p. 273†
Why do we fail to discriminate between human and divine? We overlook “foibles” because we know our own hidden sins. We fear being ostracized and losing our position in the inner-ring of power. We ignore the words of victims in order to maintain the appearance of health in the system. We love the image of redemption (the happily ever after restoration) more than the long slog of obedience. In short, false shepherds cannot maintain or increase power unless we protect and enable them.
The beginning of a solution
Let us repent of these our sins. Let us study anew what we and our leaders are to be like. Let us listen to the ones we call expendable when they speak about abuse of power. In the words of my former pastor, let us pray to God for better leaders than we deserve and to be the kinds of undershepherds we are called to be in God’s wide kingdom.
Consider these previous posts on related topics:
† My thanks to Dr. Diane Langberg for pointing me to this quote in Morgan’s commentary.
Tomorrow, at noon EDT time, I and two of my colleagues, Rev Desiree Guyton (an LPC) and Rev Dan Williams (Director of Urban programs here at BTS) will be discussing the ongoing problems of police shootings, trauma, race matters and how the church can be a positive response to a difficult situation. Here is the abstract we posted elsewhere:
In the wake of the multiple police shootings, our nation is again awakened to ongoing racial tension. Biblical Seminary recognizes the debate around these events within the Christian community and desire to address them. Biblical Seminary’s Urban and Counseling Department directors are coming together in live video stream forum to create an open Christian dialogue about the impact of police shootings on race relations, systemic racism and trauma, and discuss practical ways to respond. This live video will be delivered on Wednesday, September 28 at 12:00pm through Periscope App and Facebook. Participants will be able to post comments and questions during the discussion.
If you would like to watch live, download the Periscope app (a Twitter product) and search for my name, @philipgmonroe. Should last one hour. If you can’t find us live, I will post links to the video that will be available soon after we complete the session.
[Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]
As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.
With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?
So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]
Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response
While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.
Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.
The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.
While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.
But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce
There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.
To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.
Experiential learning trumps lectures every time
In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.
Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.
The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.
Good training hinges on contextualization
If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.
The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.
Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.
For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.
Do you know if your church has a policy about weapons on church property? Do you know who has a concealed weapon (legally permitted to do so) with them on Sunday morning?
Last Sunday a local church experienced a tragedy of a shooting during morning worship. One person dead and many others likely traumatized. I do not know the circumstances and so this post does not comment any further on what took place there nor make any assessment on what transpired there. We, the public, simply do not know what led up to the shooting nor can we evaluate any justifications one way or the other. So, we allow the authorities to investigate without further comment and we pray for those involved.
And yet, the tragedy can encourage us to have conversations about weapons in our church services. As far as I can see there are two main arguments used in this discussion:
- Individuals with conceal/carry permits provide additional security and can thwart attacks and potentially minimize harm by those intending to engage in mass violence
- Individuals with conceal/carry permits but without extensive training may unnecessarily escalate violence by using weapons too early in a conflict; thus all security should be handled by official “officers.”
I would imagine that many of the arguments used turn on personal experience or knowledge of specific cases. It is easy to imagine a situation where many are killed in a church (consider the shooting in South Carolina in the last year) and where a person with a weapon might have been able to stop or prevent mass killing. It is also easy to imagine where unnecessary harm results from someone with a weapon without proper crisis training. So, our capacity to tell stories of each situation do not help us come to a wise decision on whether to allow weapons in worship services.
So, what questions should we be asking?
I will suggest a few, but I would love to hear your suggestion questions that need asking/answering in order to answer how a church will handle the issue of guns on site.
- What is the statistical probability of violence in church? It does happen, no one can fully predict violence, but probability statistics are still important.
- What levels of risk are acceptable for a church community (no option will remove all risk)?
- What are the options for security? (No weapons, paid security with and without weapons, volunteer specially trained members, no policy at all)?
- What minimal training would we require to allow members to carry weapons?
- What notifications and communications should be made to the congregation about policies and procedures?
- What biblical and theological arguments will we prize in determining our choices?
As we consider the best way forward, do remember to pray for those whose lives have been upended by violence this past weekend. It is easy to backseat drive bad situations. But rarely do we have the facts to do so. Better to pray and ask for God to bring his healing power to all involved.
This Saturday I will be attending and presenting Cairn University’s Faith in Practice conference hosted by their counseling center and department (free but you need to register). I will be speaking about how we can make the church a safer place for adult victims of abuse and trauma. If you want to peak at the slides, click here: 2016 Cairn U Presentation.
The presentation that I will do will only be one hour so that limits what I can do. What I wish I could do is also talk much more about the systemic factors that make churches less safe places for vulnerable people. While we can all grow in better understanding the nature of trauma and how to walk alongside victims, our institutions can be systematically harmful, even when the individuals within the system have no intention to hurt others. Thus we need to keep examining the ways our systems operate that can be toxic to some. While this presentation doesn’t cover these questions, it can be good to ask,
- How do we handle recent or older allegations of mis-handling difficult cases?
- How do we handle allegations of child abuse (the victims, the family, the alleged perpetrator and family, and congregation)?
- Are we a safe place for people who are broken and not all tidied up?
- Does our system allow for ongoing lament? (Corporate and individual)?
The latest issue of Christianity Today has an article on pastors and the struggle with pornography. Here’s a couple of pieces of data from the 770 pastors surveyed
- Current struggle? 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors say yes
- How frequent a struggle? 35% of both categories say “a few times per month”
- Past struggle? 43% of both categories say yes
So, it is a problem. But here’s the data that stood out to me most of all.
- 70% of adult Christians say that if a pastor is having this struggle, the pastor should either be fired or put on leave until the problem is resolved? While
- Only 8% of pastors think they should leave their position if having this problem
While not surprising, it is telling. We think we should manage our own problems (or get a counselor or accountability group–that is still managing on our own) and that these problems don’t hinder our work.
What do you think?
How serious is the problem of porn use amongst pastors? Should it be cause to lose the position? Sinlessness is not a reasonable goal for pastors. But what would disqualify one from the position?
And if porn is a significant problem amongst congregants (and this study among many say so), does having a pastor with a current (even if infrequent) use of porn help or hinder care of congregants?
Last February, BTS held a public dialogue on Temple’s campus entitled: From Protest to Process: Law Enforcement, Race, and Trauma, How Can the Church Become a Healing Community (the title tells you academics were involved in the process–but the topic was anything but just academic). During the Q and A time, there were several questions about what the church can do to help.
Any answer has to acknowledge that getting our heads and hearts wrapped around the problem and our wills engaged to be part of the solution is a monumental task–because it calls us to a place of discomfort. Take a minute and consider Dr. Shannon Mason’s initial two minute response: Can the church become an open wound community? Or will She prefer to close the wound and pretend that what is underneath is healed? While Dr. Mason’s illustration can be difficult to stomach, it is nevertheless apt!
Soon after the dialogue, I wrote the following just published piece for the BTS faculty blog. I list two small steps that suburban, predominantly white, congregations can take towards making a difference in our even more racially charged world. Surely we can do more that what I suggest, but if we don’t start with ownership of the problems, how will we ever engage?
Finally, you might think that race in America is a hopeless case. It sure seems so. But one-by-one, if we can have an impact on one person’s life, and that person has a positive impact on one other…then everything is possible. It may not be in our life-time and that is okay. We are not called to win the battle but to run the race set out before us.