What then should be our response? Over these three months I have been and am offering a three-part blog series. In the first month we explored “What I Feel.” In the second month we explored “What I Know.”
This month we look at “WHAT I DO (OR WHAT I SHOULD DO): Thoughts and reflections of a youth pastor who must effectively and lovingly respond to youth experiencing trauma locally and globally.”
A few days ago I sat in a meeting with the ushers of our church. We have three morning worship services and a small campus on a heavily traveled road. We brought in one of our local police officers to talk through our response to unsafe people, potential kidnappers – we have a childcare center and active Sunday children’s program - or even active weapon-bearing individuals stepping on to our campus. We read about these events happening in other places but how would we respond if our time comes?
Almost every morning I wake to articles and news events related to ISIS or other terrorist groups who have committed acts against innocent people, with the latest being the shooting in Tunisia of tourists. I just returned from Israel as a tourist knowing a gunman could have come on my bus. Of course we know it’s not just out there. It could be in our own country, state, city or neighborhood.
I don’t know the future in detail but I can safely and sadly predict there will be another traumatic event or events in my life and the lives of the youth I shepherd in the church context. Whether you have a smaller or larger youth ministry makes little difference. We are all connected quickly to the trauma in our local and global worlds.
The question is not “if” I will respond to the events of their lives – and my life too – but how I am going to respond effectively and lovingly to the events shaping their lives both locally and globally. Our police officer challenged us to be thinking how we would individually respond to an active shooter in our presence. While none of us know for sure how it all may play out his point was well taken. To have thought about our reaction will ultimately help us in the moment we may need to step up and take “leadership.” The post traumatic situations we face will all be different experientially but creating a general road-map for our self-care and the care of others will allow us to be a healthy, compassionate and comforting guide.
The following are a few practical ideas I’m working with and I’m guessing you may have more to add. Consider my list. I am adding a few thoughts to each line, though much more could be said. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.
1) Listen – A quick fix is our default. We jump to conclusions about what is needed failing to truly observe the impact. In the book of Job his three friends sat with him in silence for the first week. When they started trying to fix the problem with their words . . . well . . . they should have just kept listening!
2) Read – Research what others say about specific situations. Check out the book Congregational Trauma: Caring, Coping and Learning by Jill M Hudson.
3) Process individually – Depending on the situation it may be important to spend time with one person or a smaller group in debriefing.
4) Process with the group – Whether everybody in your group was directly affected by a tragedy or destructive event it is helpful to take the time in providing a safe environment to talk about feelings and experiences.
5) Pray – Praying privately and corporately for the impacted people helps all to put their trust in God who sees the big picture.
6) Be there and keep being there – The most difficult days in post-trauma experiences are often later rather than sooner. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence over the long haul.
7) Reach out for resources – Do not try to be the “savior.” Let God be God and know when to refer your youth and families when they need more specialized help.
8) Be a “wounded healer” in the lives of other leaders – Admit your own humanity. You may have experienced the same trauma. Out of that wound may come your most authentic care.
Questions for consideration
· What are some other ideas you could add to the list?
· What is the biggest challenge for you in effectively and lovingly reaching out to your youth and families post-trauma
Feel free to comment below!