I have written before about a growing trend in education, mental health, social services, and health care that has now extended to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. Trauma results when we experience something as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening. A traumatic event, circumstance or series of events leaves a lasting effect on our ability to experience “life to the full” as Jesus intended (John 10:10). Adversity, and particularly traumatic stress in childhood, leaves us scarred—affecting our mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Trauma, adversity and toxic stress are profoundly individualized phenomena, as each individual internalizes difficult circumstances, including abuse and neglect, differently.
As a Christian, everything I encounter that purports to impact ministry must run through a fairly simply lens: is it scriptural, and can I see it as something Jesus would endorse? These are important considerations if my ministry is to remain focused on its fundamental purpose and calling: to expand the Kingdom of God as embodied in Jesus’ ministry. I imagine my personal concern is shared with many other leaders in the Church when considering the trauma-informed movement: was Jesus and his ministry “trauma-informed?”
That question entails more than it might seem at first blush, and since a large part of my work is advocacy and empowerment of local churches to meet the needs of hurting children and families in their communities, I want to properly answer the question. Therefore, I plan on take a series of posts to work through the framework provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and examine it point by point in light of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in Scripture. In this first post in the series, I will focus only on the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery.
So you, the reader, can see the full context of this point, I will reiterate the definition provided in my earlier post. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:
- Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
- Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
- Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
- Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”
A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma. Certainly, if a church or ministry is not aware or is in denial of the problem posed by adversity in childhood, toxic stress, and the effects of trauma on whose they minister too, it cannot properly address potential paths for recovery and healing.
I believe it can be shown that Jesus was trauma-informed through any and all of these points, but especially this first one. Jesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. This idea comes forth in the first words we hear spoken by Jesus, and an important teaching which announced the beginning of his formal ministry.
Those first words of Jesus? “The time has come… The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15, NIV).
That announcement of Jesus to inaugurate and frame his ministry? Jesus had gone returned to Galilee after his baptism and testing in the wilderness. He entered into the synagogue he grew up in, in his hometown of Nazareth. He stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah on the Sabbath, finding the place where it is written:
“’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:17-21, NIV).
These two instances of Jesus’ announcement of his role in bringing in the Kingdom of God show that he was, indeed, “trauma-informed” in the sense that he recognized the widespread impact of trauma and understood the paths to recovery! I also love the balance that these two teachings contain. One shows the need for personal volition in the healing process, as the need to repent—to turn from—one way of living and relating to the world is emphasized. The second shows that the “good news” of the Kingdom of God was centered in a redeeming work that goes beyond just personal salvation—it’s a work that addresses the wrongs done to the poor, those who are imprisoned, and proclaims freedom to those under oppression. This was a work that would be done through the Kingdom of God, as an expression of the Lord’s favor, initiated by God for the benefit of all who turn to God for help.
Jesus recognized the tremendous need of those “harassed and helpless” who desperately needed good news, and compassionately engaged them in love. He gave not only of himself, ultimately to the point of death on the cross, but also pleaded with his followers to join him in meeting the need of a world traumatized by sin and the brokenness it produces in human relationships. As he said to his disciples then, he voices the same call, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV).
I hope you’ll continue with me on this exploration of trauma-informed principles as they apply to the ministry of Jesus! We’ve just scratched the surface, and there is much more to investigate. Next time, we’ll look at the ways Jesus approached the traumatized people he encountered, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in their lives.
© Chaplain Chris Haughee, www.intermountainministry.org