How common is Trauma? How do we define and measure its potential impact? How will our understanding of Trauma impact us and those in our care?
Whether you are a pastor of a church, a layperson in a leadership position, or a person who frequently interacts with hurting people, these are the questions you face regularly. For us to determine how common Trauma is, we must first define what it is.
How common is Trauma: Your Church needs to have a clear definition of what trauma is.
Google returns over 547,000,000 results when searching for the definition of trauma. The medical profession has numerous definitions and diagnoses that distinguish various forms of trauma and their treatment.
But most of us in ministry are not trained as medical professionals. We are not replacing the use of medicine or the role of a professional counselor. But we are often called alongside the hurting individual, so a simple and concise definition of trauma is needed.
For this article, we will go with the definition found in the Cambridge Dictionary. Trauma is a severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience.
There are a variety of issues that may cause trauma. Death, war, a natural disaster, witnessing an act of violence, sexual assault, imprisonment, divorce, domestic violence, job loss, sexual abuse, parental abandonment, infidelity, betrayal by a trusted person, moving to a new location, Covid19, and other health issues, are just a few that come to mind.
In care ministries, we typically deal with two types of trauma—the first we spell with a lowercase t and the second with an uppercase or capital T.
The difference between trauma and Trauma is how the hurting individual responds to the emotional shock and pain associated with their loss or experience.
70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some traumatic event at least once in their lives. That’s 223.4 million people.
Whether these issues remain a small trauma or escalate to a big Trauma is often related to our approach to trauma in the church.
How common is Trauma: Your Church needs to consider the potential number of trauma survivors present in every service.
Let’s revisit our brief list of some of the typical causes of trauma.
Do you have any people attending your services in person or online who have experienced the loss of a loved one by death, divorce, or abandonment this year?
Do you have anyone who has experienced bullying, sexual assault, sexual abuse, an act of domestic violence, or witnessed an act of violence?
Do you have anyone who experienced a sudden job loss or a betrayal from a trusted friend?
You probably know someone who has experienced one of these. That number doesn’t count the numbers of those indirectly impacted by trauma or the individuals who choose not to share their difficulties with others.
Every week our congregations are filled with people who are directly or indirectly addressing trauma.
Some of those impacted are visiting for the first time. Some are serving in positions of leadership. Some are haunted and hindered by their respective traumas’ harm and shame, while others are empowered, informed, and nurturing for the trauma survivor.
Our churches reflect society, and Pastors are not immune to the causes and impacts of trauma. Pastors may experience conflict with their staff, a betrayal of trust from a friend, or the loss of financial support from their critics.
Many pastors and staff have experienced the trauma of a sudden and unexpected church dismissal. Finding another source of income, moving the family, and losing close relationships at church can be difficult.
As we interact in the community, we understand that the subject of trauma is on the minds of those who are visiting our churches in person and on-line.
Here is a safe assumption. Every week, you will have some people experiencing some level of trauma in your services.
Your church needs to understand that trauma survivors are present in every gathering, and you need a plan to address their felt needs.
How common is Trauma: Your Church needs to have a ministry plan for those directly or indirectly affected by trauma.
Here are a few things to consider as you plan your ministry to trauma survivors. The following suggestions will benefit everyone in the congregation, not just trauma survivors.
Provide a place of safety. Don’t assume they feel safe. Be intentional and create a place that looks like safety is a priority. Trauma can become the filter and lens by which an individual interacts and experiences the world. Creating a safe environment to meet and share vulnerability is not just a priority but a necessity if you want them to come back.
Let them know that trauma is something that we as a congregation experience. Teach your congregation and ministry leaders to use the word we instead of me when discussing trauma. This is especially powerful when used by the individual who brings the message.
Grieve with those who are hurting. Don’t rush to judgment, explanation, or solution. Let people know that it is okay to grieve and lament the harm done by the trauma. That grief is not a sign of spiritual immaturity or a lack of faith. Remind yourself and ministry leaders that grief that is rushed or delayed will be revisited. Grief has its own timeline. Until harm is grieved, we rarely heal.
Promote grace without shame. Shame often accompanies trauma. The trauma survivor may blame themselves for what happened to them. Or their inability to move past the trauma. This shame can be accentuated by the constant celebration of good news, joy, and the avoidance of lament in worship. Point out the songs of lament in Psalm as an act of worship to your congregation.
Adjust expectations for when healing will occur. Healing may occur suddenly or be a long process with numerous ups and downs. It may involve professional help or medication. It may not happen in this life, but the next for the believer. We need to guard against our own impatience in the time it takes for them to heal.
I highly recommend this article to help understand a trauma survivor’s potential concerns as they visit your campus.
Call to Action
As the church, we must recognize the significant and ever-growing percentage of our congregation affected by a traumatic event and take steps to minister to them effectively.
Additional recommended reading – Here are some suggested guidelines for those ready to share their trauma experience with others.