This year, mental and emotional health have been dangerously strained. As Barna president David Kinnaman noted in a recent blog post, new research on relationships in America reveals that crucial issues have reached crisis points—mental health is spiraling downward, the problem of loneliness is growing, family and marriages are being strained and addictions are deepening.
On the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman sat down with Pete Scazzero, founder of the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship ministry, to discuss how pastors and churches can respond to the widespread wounds of our traumatized world.
Pastors Are in the Field of Cascading Crises
Data from Trauma in America, a recent Barna study conducted in partnership with American Bible Society, show that Christians in crisis go to the church, with one in four (25%) practicing Christians reporting that they have gone to someone at a church or parish to seek help with trauma.
But Kinnaman, Nieuwhof and Scazzero agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new dimension to how the Church should deal with trauma. Now, pastors aren’t only helping their congregants with individual griefs and losses—church leaders are experiencing trauma right alongside their people.
Scazzero describes this corporate trauma as a “cascading of crises,” with one hardship following another.
To provide some hope, Scazzero offers a biblical perspective on the crisis: “To me, it’s much like the birth pangs that Jesus talked about in Matthew 24. All of these are the beginnings of birth pangs. And if you think of a person giving birth—a contraction comes, and the next one might come ten minutes away, but you don’t know if you’re going to have 30 contractions or 500 contractions. They just keep coming and they come with greater intensity.”
From this perspective, the events of 2020 will be fruitful in some way; the Church will see new birth and growth, whether good or bad. This should push the Church to ask what new things God might be bringing, says Scazzero: “The most important question and issue is, what is God doing?”
For Communal Trauma, We Need Communal Lament—and Communal Hope
To respond to congregational grief, Scazzero suggests that we need congregational lament. The pandemic has poured out loss on everyone—and everyone now needs to grieve.
Kinnaman suggests that it may be a “discipline” for church leaders to be “expressing their grief and learning to lament as a congregation for all that’s been lost, and all that’s happened to us.” By modeling their own vulnerability, church leaders can encourage the congregation to join in lament.
Furthermore, the Bible provides examples for grieving as a church. Scazzero calls attention to 2 Samuel 1, in which David writes a psalm for the whole people to lament the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. By writing psalms of lament, David creates a medium for collective grief.
In addition to grieving as a community, churches also need to hope as a community: “Our churches need grief opportunities,” says Scazzero, “but at the same time, we believe in the resurrection.”
Scazzero mentions the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with gold joining to create a more beautiful and unique piece than before, saying, “It’s in our shatteredness, our trauma that art comes, that beauty comes. And God, somehow, is obsessed with taking flawed, broken people and creating something artistic and beautiful for the world.”
Looking to Monastic Traditions for Mental Health Practices
While grappling with problems in the modern world, Scazzero suggests that leaders seek solutions from the ancient and medieval world. “One of the contributions of our work, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, has been to bring in the riches from monasticism through two thousand years of church history into the missional Evangelical church,” he says.
Monastic discipline can help us face the troubles of 2020—and if that seems extreme, “I think it takes something that drastic to slow us down,” says Scazzero.
Scazzero believes that disciplines like a consistent 24-hour Sabbath, regularly timed prayer (such as the Daily Offices), and silent time with God can aid leaders during crisis. To commit to these practices, Scazzero also suggests developing a rule of life, “a structure in my whole life… where the love of God is in the center of everything I say and everything I do.”
This kind of discipline will certainly limit our lives. But Scazzero argues that we learn to embrace limits: “God gives us the gift of limits to restrain our rebellion… The question is what are the gifts? How’s God coming to us through these limits?”
Practicing limitation can also aid healthy grief, because limits create space. “You need time to grieve, you need time to listen to God, you need time to feel, you need time to have fun.” Limits remind us, says Scazzero, that “you’re a human being. You are not God.”
And by disciplining ourselves, we let go of our idols. For Scazzero, leaders should all ask, “What are you clinging to?” Churches can easily cling to an American model of “success”—filling pews, big views online, likes and shares. But, Scazzero reminds us, the Church has always been called to be countercultural.
This year, the Church has an opportunity to face loss, grief and trauma. Instead of trying to escape the cascade of crises, counsels Scazzero, “we run to it, because it’s the heart of God making something unrepeatable. Something that’s a gift.”
About the Research
COVID-19 Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–September 28, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020
Week 16, n=315, August 27-31, 2020
Week 17, n=422, September 10-18, 2020
Week 18, n=475, September 24-28, 2020
The data reported in this article from Barna’s Trauma in America study are based on an online survey of 2,019 adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. who have experienced or witnessed trauma. To qualify for this survey, participants had to have personally experienced a trauma or have witnessed a traumatic event that left them feeling effects or symptoms, such as fear or anxiety, within the past 10 years (even if the traumatic event occurred more than 10 years ago). In this study, 1,015 practicing Christians and 1,004 adults who are not practicing Christians were surveyed (see research definitions for more information on how practicing Christians were defined on page 20). The maximum amount of sample error is plus or minus 1.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The sample error among the practicing Christian sample and the non-practicing Christian sample is plus or minus 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level each.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020