PTSD and church revitalisation

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 A little while back I wrote about how churches can experience a form of PTSD or complex PTSD.  You see, a church can experience trauma leading to experiences and responses that affect the life of the church. 

Trauma for a church might include:

  • A split where members of the church fall out, argue publicly and then divide.
  • Bereavement where a much loved, key member of the church dies unexpectedly or when members of the church suffer shocking loss.
  • When a pastor’s ministry comes to an end after a long period of service, especially if this happens in a sudden or unhappy manner. There is again a form of loss and bereavement here.
  • When serious sin or abuse is discovered within the church family
  • When the church and its members are subject to persecution
  • When the church has been through a season of testing and suffering.

It is possible for a church to experience more than one of these over a period of time and each trauma is added to a growing memory of pain. The result will be that individual members will experience PTSD and that collectively the church will display some or all of the characteristics we associate with it.

Take a look at this diagram for example.

Do you see some of those symptoms in your own life experience? Perhaps you also see them in the way that the church functions.

Consider

  1. What words would you associate with the overall culture of the church?  In particular do words like “guilt” and “anger” dominate?
  2. How would you rate the church in terms of healthy intimacy first with God.  Think about what comes through in songs, sermons, prayers and conversations. How is God described and approached?
  3. How would you describe intimacy in terms of relationships within the church family? Is there true trust and unity or are there divisions, evidence of mistrust and things left unsaid?
  4. What is your relationship as a church like towards others including other churches, individuals who have moved on and organisations including church networks?
  5. How often are you as a church “reliving” past-experiences. 

I’m coming back to this today because I wanted to think specifically about church revitalisation.  Regular readers of faithroot.com will know that I have a particular concern to see churches planted into areas where there is no or minimal Gospel witness. However, planting completely new churches is not the only way to encourage Gospel witness. Sometimes a church already exists in an area but has become ineffective or much less effective than it should be at sharing the good news and making disciples.  In those cases, we would say that there is a need for revitalisation, for the work of the Gospel to be rekindled into flame and for a church to be restored.

Now, revitalisation may involve a small church that is on the verge of closing with only a handful of members left. We tend to refer to that as a re-plant. However, revitalisation may also involve churches of any numerical size but where things are not as they should be. 

I would argue that a church which is showing signs of corporate PTSD or complex PTSD is a good example of where a revitalisation approach would be helpful.

What this means in practice is that, particularly if you are at the stage of looking to call a new pastor or appoint other leaders that the existing leaders and church members should together take time to consider the questions I’ve suggested above. I would also encourage anyone considering a calling to a church to discuss those questions with the leaders and members before accepting a calling. Some pastors will be better equipped/gifted/experienced in revitalisation contexts, others less so. For example, my advice would be that at this stage you don’t want a new pastor whose primary focus will be in trying to knock you all into shape to get up and get out evangelising or whose own focus will be on that. You need someone who can give time to helping the church work through things and find healing and hope in the Gospel again.

Additionally, it may mean that even if you are a reasonably large church that you may need others to come into the church as new members to be part of the core of the church and to help with ministries or even join the leadership team.  This is important because existing leaders may struggle to continue in leadership and the church may also struggle to find new leaders to replace them. The new pastor may suddenly find that they are the only functioning elder.

Finally, you may want to think through some other things that might be helpful for the church family. You may want to approach an outside body to provide counsellors to come and spend time with you. A weekend away/retreat for the whole church family and/or for the leaders may be helpful where the focus is on rest and healing, again for such an event I’d bring in a few outside people to help.

Just as when we think in terms of individual health, we are aware of practical steps to take but it is ultimately to the Lord that we look for healing, in the same way as a body together we look to Christ who is the Lord of the church to bring healing, restoration and revitalisation for a local church.

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