Podcast Episode 011, 41 min
Trauma, Brain Science, and Ministry, with Lori Andrews, EP 011
My podcast guest this week is Lori Andrews, Ed.D. She and I talk about trauma, its effect on the brain, and how to use this information as we lead through challenging times.

Lori Andrews: It’s amazing to me: the more I learn about the brain, the more the Word of God becomes alive.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church? My podcast guest today is Lori Andrews and the subject is ministry trauma and brain science. Dr. Andrews works in childhood education and her doctorate includes trauma and neurobiology. She and her husband have been friends of mine for a long time, starting when they were in small-church pastoral ministry near our church.

Because of this combination of experience and training, Lori is able to speak into a lot of the situations pastors face as we help our congregations acknowledge and find healing from ongoing trauma. And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question “can this work in a small church?”

I think to a certain degree, we've all been experiencing what I would call low level trauma for the last 18 months. What happens when we are constantly in a state of low-level trauma. And I'm always slow even to use the T word for what I'm going through because I look around and go, people are experiencing a real trauma .I have never been abused. I've never gone through any of those issues. I've never lost somebody really, really close to me.

So what I'm experiencing is very low level to the point where I don't even want to put the T word on it and yet it does feel like we have all gone through and are continuing to go through a low level trauma.

So it's kind of like we're not having this initial spike, but if you take the amount of trauma in a spike and you spread it out over 18 months, it's still the same amount. It's just simply spread out. So, how is that being experienced in us? And how as church leaders, because that's who this podcast is primarily for, so as church leaders: one, how do we deal with that within our own lives and behaviors? And secondly, how do we help those members in our churches who are going through it, who wouldn't even think, and don't even need it to call it trauma, they just simply need to be able to navigate their way through it?

LA: Yeah. So it's funny. Because if you’re on any social websites or whatever, you'll see people making comments about things like Zoom exhaustion, right? I think that's exactly what they're expressing is this idea: I'm exhausted. I am exhausted and tired and overwhelmed, right?

So even if we're lucky enough to be in that group of people that didn't lose our home, we had enough food during COVID, right? You're going to find in church—and especially, I think people that just feel like I need to go to church—you're going to see in those people that many of them have had food insecurity, housing insecurity. So on top of just being shut in with your family members—which could make anybody crazy, right?—they've also had those ongoing issues of, I don't even know how I’m going to pay rent next month.

KV: You don't have to have something bad happen to you. The uncertainty and the rising level of —

LA: Unpredictability.

KV: Yeah, there we go. That's it: the unpredictability of looking around and going, uncertainty and this unpredictability is not something I'm making up. I'm looking around at a situation that none of us have experienced before. And so the potential for me losing these things is not something I'm making up in my head. There's a very real risk here.

And so even if the bad thing doesn't happen, the potential for that risk creates a traumatic situation in my brain.

LA: Yup. And it's not even that it's a traumatic situation. It's just that your brain is exhausted, right? Your nervous system—every time you worry, you're escalating, and so then your body's having to respond to de-escalate, and you’re caught in this loop.

KV: Oh, okay.

LA: I think the crucial two things that you just said is that unpredictability, and what was the first thing you said?

KV: Uncertainty.

LA: Uncertainty. I think those are that crucial part., Dr. Lori Desautels is a great author. She has tons of stuff online that's free. But she's just a great person to explain applied neuroscience: how does it apply to us?

And she talks a lot about when you feel like there's that black cloud hanging over you and you're just every day . . . like, during the first part of COVID last year, we're in Southern California. There were fires all summer.

I would call my mom and say, “it's literally like living in mortar, you know, where you look out and it's just orange outside.” And then with all the riots . . .

KV: And a really delightful political season that we all went through together…

LA: Oh, yes. Yeah. That was genteel.

KV: We can laugh at it now, but when you, again, they're all fairly low-level traumas for the people who didn't actually lose a house in a fire, the people who didn't actually lose a loved one to COVID, but when you do add them all together…

I've been talking with other pastors and I'm going to throw out what I've been telling other pastors. I've got a theory. It actually came up from the conversation you and I had over a year ago on this, that if we're experiencing one low level trauma after another, there's the, you know, there's Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s, stages of grief. So you have this trauma happen, you go through denial and then bargaining and then into depression.

And then another trauma hits. And so you're in denial on that one and you're moving through that. And then a third one hits. And so you get yourself to a point where you're in three different stages of grief recovery from three different ongoing traumas, two of which are still actively anticipatory that could still happen at any moment. I could still lose my house at any moment.

LA: Right.

KV: So while none of them are extreme, the combination of it creates an extreme situation in my brain that I need to one, acknowledge, and then secondly, need to respond to in a healthy way.

LA: Yes. Yep.

KV: Okay, good. So I've been telling people accurately. That's good.


LA: So this is kind of the phrase that I would say to the church: for the church, the goal of helping people through this time is to understand what's happening, connect the behavior to what's happening, right?—people's behavior, whatever that is—and have a plan to help people, right?

So I think that's the overriding question is: if we all agree that there's just this overwhelming exhaustion, and if you're already a leader in a church, you tend to have more exhaustion anyways, because you're constantly giving to other people, so then how do you help yourself cope? Because, a drained vessel can't give anything to anybody else. So how do you help yourself stay full so that you have the energy in this time where we're feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, how do you help yourself to have the energy so you can help other people through the process?

And I think that's really what this comes down to, right? It doesn't really matter what the neurology is. It does matter that people understand that there's an organic component because in the Christian world, when we talk about body, mind, and soul or, you know, whatever words you want to use to describe that we are a one being, right? God created all of those parts of us and all of those things work together. So our physical body impacts our mental, right? It impacts our ability to give to other people. So if you're not taking care of all of those parts of yourself, then you get out of whack.

So again, to me, it's that understanding of the Christian world that, how do I help other people? How do I see? How do I spot? Okay. You're a person that's struggling right now.

If I’m a Sunday school teacher, and I've got a little kid who's just out of sorts and he's, you know, he doesn't want to be a part and he's up against the wall and he doesn't want to sing and he doesn't want to do the motions and he doesn't want to sit down when we sit down, it's recognizing, okay, this is a kid who's pretty elevated right now. What can I do to help him bring that down? And so it's understanding the science of h ow do I help that parasympathetic nervous system kick in?

It's really about coding the nervous system so that it calms down. So the things that help our nervous system calm down, there's only really two ways to do that.

Either: medication, so that is the value of medication for some people is because it, I, I think of it like hair, like when you put a conditioner on your hair and it calms it, you know? It smooths out your hair.

It's the same kind of a thing with your nervous system, right? So it's either medication or it's about helping people to develop the physical, coping strategies that they need in order to calm down.

Now, my experience with this is that nobody wants to learn those. If you have a toddler who's three years old and you're like, come here and sit on my lap. We're going to learn how to cope with this.

No, no, thank you. I don't want to do that. I would rather lay on the floor and kick my feet.

But we're the same as adults. Physiologically, what helps our body to calm down are physical things. So the whole thing that people are talking about with mindfulness, right? So all of that works because it calms down the nervous system. So you have to kind of get people from here to like, okay, let's try this.

And that is to me where science does come in, where I can say to kids, you know what, let's talk about your brain and what's happening with your brain. Is your brain above the line or below the line right now, right? Are you escalated or are you calm?

And kids can say to me I feel pretty escalated.

How does that feel to you?

I feel hot. I feel funny.

They're able to put words to that. When they're able to do that, I can say, okay. Here's why, when things happen to us and our nervous system starts to rise and get accelerated, that's how it feels. Right?

So in order for us to bring our nervous system down, we need to use our senses. So we always talk about things that are sensory that we can do that help calm us down. So, smell: things like lavender, peppermint. Doing activities that are calming: the deep breathing. The reason they work is because they're helping our parasympathetic nervous systems calm down. So this is what we talked about a year ago, things like rituals.

KV: Let's look at that from a church standpoint, because we did talk about this a year ago and you said a couple of things. So let me dig into them one. You said something that was just huge to me. You said, “first of all, people in trauma can't hear explanations.”

And then my response was, “but that's what I'm trained to do—to explain to people. And now you're telling me when they need it—the explanation— the most, they're not able to process the explanation.”

And then we talked about it, but we didn't talk about it on a recording. So let's talk about it now on a recording that can help people, about how then do we, as church leaders respond by giving them physical ways to respond given, whatever your church background is? In some places, it may be kneeling in quiet prayer. In other places that may be raising hands. Receiving communion is a physical thing that all churches do. So when people in trauma can't hear explanations, that is a neuro-biological reality, isn’t it?

LA: Yes, when they’re escalated, then they're not going to be able to really hear you. There's actually this little membrane in your ear that, when you are escalated, it actually swells and your hearing is actually lessened.

KV: So physically your auditory ability is decreased.

LA: Yes. I think, again, it's an adaptive thing that your body does, right?

KV: Because it's bigger than saying let's just pay attention to this and let's get rid of any distractions. Yeah.

LA: It's like everything is coming inside. Right. So, yes. So when they're like that note, they can't necessarily process that information. So my calm helps another person calm. Think of it as you're a parent of a teenager and your teenager comes in and is screaming at you. If you respond with screaming, does that help your child calm down? No, it escalates more, right? So if we meet our children's escalated state with calm, it's going to make them angry, but they will calm down. We call this coregulation.

KV: So from a pastoral standpoint, immediately I'm going back to when the kids are little and we got grandkids and one of the grandkids falls, they immediately stand up, they look like about to burst into tears and they look at me for a cue for whether or not they should cry.

If my response is, “oh, no,” they're going to cry. But if my response is, “oh, what happened?” They're going to go, oh, I guess it's not a big deal. So I guess I shouldn't cry.

So as pastors, I don't want to immediately make the direct connection that our congregations are a bunch of crying little kids, but there's too much comparison here to ignore.

So as we're going through these seasons of trauma together, and when this one passes, there'll be another one. We live in a broken world where bad things happen and then another trauma is coming along, folks, just guarantee it. So when the next trauma comes along, they are looking to us—the leaders of that congregation—about how we react in anger or quite frankly, if we are constantly reacting to cultural shifts, rather than responding in biblical ways and in healthy ways, we're going to create an environment around us that is just going to be unhealthy because they're going to follow our example.

LA: Yes. So that is co-regulation—where people take on your state.

KV: Okay. So, alternative to that is if we can, as pastors and church leaders, be aware of how we are responding to these situations and be aware of how we are coming across to our congregation, we can then create a healthier environment within the congregation, by as much, or even more, by our behavior as by our words.

LA: Absolutely. I would even say if you have a church service, and certainly this didn't happen a lot in our ministry, but there were times where we had a church service where somebody was out of order or out of line. Maybe somebody walked in off the street and they were drunk. One way to handle that is to have your ushers trained to go in and say, you know, all right, we're going outside. And you know, sometimes it causes a bigger uproar, right?

If you can train your staff to have a plan for that. So, somebody comes in. They're drunk, they're kind of disorderly. You have somebody who goes over to them and says, “come sit right here with me” and holds their hand. Right?

Don't worry about the fact that they're drunk. They're going to become undrunk at some point. First of all, you are going to help them regulate, right? Most people are expecting to be confronted, right? If they get what they're not expecting, if they get somebody who's like, you know what? It's going to be okay. I don't know what's happened to you. I don't know your story, but it's going to be all right.

And if your ushers are trained to get that person to come and sit down with you on the couch in the back or go to the little prayer room or just sit in the pew right next to each other, you actually can help that person.

And you're telling the rest of your congregation, we're a welcoming place. We are a hospital for the broken. We're not going to let people disrupt our service, right? But we're going to react to them.

So another example, and it's actually in the article that I read about that pastor. It talked about a woman coming into this Methodist church, which is very staid, they don't do outbursts and prayer out loud or that kind of thing. And this person starts speaking out loud and extorting the congregation, and she's got her eyes closed and it's kind of manic a little bit. And the pastor was sort of like, okay, what do I do?

And everybody's looking at him: what are you going to do about this? And he went over and he just put his hand on her shoulder and he waited and he said it was an excruciatingly long 60 seconds. But eventually she stopped, and he said to the congregation, “why don't we all stand? And you know what, I'm just going to pray over our sister here.”

First of all, by everybody standing, it lessened the eyes on her. And secondly, his modeling was, I don't know what's going on, but I'm not going to just, you know, berate her. I'm going to say let's pray. I don't know what else to do.

KV: That reminds me of the joke out there that the worst way to make somebody calm down is to tell them to calm down.

But if we say to calm down with our behavior, rather than with our words, we communicate with our behavior. But we are so verbal. We're so used to going to the words. So you've got someone who's out of sorts in the service for whatever reason, and you go to them and you, you start using your words to say, shh, be quiet, stop behaving like that.

That's not going to help, but a calm presence, an arm on the shoulder, just sitting and listening for a while—you're actually saying calm down. But you're doing it in a way that they're able to hear, because it's with your behavior rather than with your words.

LA: Right. And it's also how we say it. Instead of saying what's wrong with you? It's what happened to you? What's going on?

KV: And now a 20-second break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First forward this podcast to a friend, secondly, consider becoming a Patreon partner. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of ministries that need it the most. Our Patreon link is in the show hands,

LA: Let’s talk about calming people down and trying to help them get to that place. Right? So in church, rituals and routines become that repetitive activity that is predictable. If you think about a kid learning a new skill, like learning to play violin, right? The way that they're going to learn to play violin is by playing violin and by practicing it very regularly.

And there's something about, when you first try something new, you're like, I don't know if I like this, but the more that you do it, you get better at it. Right?

So when I went into a Catholic church once with a missionary friend, I was like, I don’t know what they’re doing. Standing up. Kneeling. Like this is weird.

But if I would have kept going, that would have become routine to me. That would have become something I could predict and understand. So in churches, we need to find those things in our own congregation that are the things that people can expect. So every church is different. It doesn't have to be the same for every church, but you want those things that people can expect.

So one of my friend’s churches, they do communion every Sunday. People know when they come into church and although they may change a little bit how they do it, it's pretty predictable the way that they're going to do communion. So again, it's that I can predict that this is what I do once I learn how they do that.

Your brain actually calms down when there's predictability. So if people can learn , okay. When I go to this church, there's always going to be that greeting time. And it's going to be right after the music.

What we found in Pasadena is that there were some people that came to church after greeting time. And we talked to them and they were like, I don't want to do that. So we moved greeting time a little bit earlier and made that a part of the routine—we would sing a few songs then have greeting time because for most of our people, that was something that actually helped them.

But then we would sing a few more songs and kind of finding that midway point of like, I get it. And nobody's going to force you to be a greeter or walk around the church. And we would actually say that from the front after we found that out, like you don't have to get up and walk around, you know, please feel free to sit if you're not comfortable.

So again, finding those ways to listen to people, but also to embed the rituals and in some churches, those rituals include things like the sensory. What do you call the...

KV: Oh yeah, you're doing a physical motion here that nobody in the podcast is going to be able to hear and I can't come up with the one either, so we're not helping.

LA: Incense! So we’ve got churches where we're going to bring the incense down the center aisle. And there's actually, again, if you think about the sensory part of this, right? That our senses are linked to the nervous system. And I actually have noticed when I've gone to some churches that the bathroom smells good.

That sounds so silly.

KV: Oh no, it's a huge thing. Yeah. It's an even bigger deal on the other side of things. If you notice it smells bad.

LA: Yes.

KV: That reminds me of this. A year and a half ago, even churches that had an online option, it was secondary at best.

We’ve now had to learn how to do online church. And so now there's a bigger debate than ever before, about one, how legitimate are online churches? Which, my take on that is online church is church, but it's not enough church. And here's why I say that.

I think there's a neuro-biological basis to this. When we are watching church online, we are only engaging two of our senses: our sight and our hearing. When we're physically in the room, we're engaging all five of our senses, especially if there's a potluck or communion, right? So there's taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing.

And the more of our senses that are engaged in the process, the deeper the experience goes. The more meaningful it is. Is that from a neuro-biological standpoint, am I on point?

LA: Absolutely. Isn't it amazing that that's what Jesus said, right? “Don't neglect the meeting together.”

KV: And when you meet, have this meal. And in that meal, all five of our senses are engaged.

LA: Yes. It's amazing. To me, the more I learn about the brain. The more, the Word of God becomes alive, right? It's like, wow, God, like you created our bodies in such an amazing way. Let me put one more thing out there. As far as calming. When you're talking about children, I have found that this is one of the things that really helps them.

And this can become a routine. Let's say your church does children's church and they leave right after worship, or they leave halfway through worship and you've got some sort of a play area set up and you can either paint this on the ground or you can buy stickers and put stickers on the ground. Set up almost like an obstacle course, but it doesn't have to have obstacles. So it can be things like. Jump five times. Do five jumping jacks. Hop like a bunny, depending on the age of the children. But all the way up to maybe sixth grade, if you do something where you take kids through this little course, as they're going on their way to children's church, first of all, you're giving them kind of a calm down moment before they're going into children's church, right? Or if they go to children's church from the very beginning and you do some rowdy songs, people usually end with a calm something to bring them down. It's the same idea.

You can just Google “sensory path” and come up with all kinds of ideas for this. That's also a way for children's church workers to be able to help a child who's struggling. If you've got a kid who just can't sit down, they're just having a hard time, you can say, “hey, what if we take a break and go around the sensory path again?”

And again, the more that you do that with a child, the more that they're going to get that routine of this is one thing I can do. And by doing that routinized thing that has to do with the physical, it actually is coding those neurons for them.

KV: So this is like an advanced level of, “okay, stop and just breathe for a minute.”

LA: Yes, yes. How many people do you know that you say that to them and they're like, are you serious?

KV: Yeah. I'm breathing all along here. But something actually happens physiologically and neurobiologically when we take the time to slow down and are aware of the intake of air.

LA: Yes.

KV: It sounds, it sounds so California, left-wing weird, right? I know all of my friends in the Bible belt in the south right now are going t hat's what happens when you get two California people together talking about our brain, they get all kinds of weirdo on us. Right? But this is a neuro-biological reality and a physiological reality. Isn't it?

LA: Yes. Why couldn't we wrap this into words? At the end of worship, we're singing that last slow song and the worship leader just says, “you know what? Just breathe with the beat of the song.” They don't even have to say like, let's all calm down. Take a few deep breaths.

KV: In addition to that, even if we don't say it, that is in fact what singing a slow song together does in addition to, obviously, the worship and the praise of the Lord, which is the value of it. Right now in our society, it's really the only time where people get together and sing the same song in the same room at the same time.

LA: Which, again, ritual.

KV: And there's a way that wires us together in a way that when the Bible talks about us as the body of Christ, these are the actual physiological things that make us a single body.

LA: I think that again, when we come back to the value of being together, singing together . . . my parents were raised in the disciples of Christ. And so we only sang hymns out of handbooks, but those hymns? Still to this day, I can, you know, open up a hymnal and sing one of those hymns and it does the same thing to me because it's familiar.

And so I think, again, as churches thinking about, how do we do everything we do intentionally? So if we introduce a new song, great! Right? But making sure that we have some songs that people know.

KV: Our church has gone through a lot of changes over the years including a pastoral transition where the old guy, me, still stuck around and all that kind of stuff. And people wonder how we’ve gone through all those transitions so well, and one of the things that we've discovered, and again, I'm going to assume a neuro-biological basis to this. So you'll help me with it.

The more we know we're going to be going through some radical changes, whether it's changes that we intentionally bring or, like the last year and a half, changes that just came upon us— the bigger the changes are, the more important it is for us to reestablish those familiar beliefs and patterns of worship that never change as a safe zone. Kind of like the net beneath you, the higher you're going to go on that trapeze, the more assured you need to be that the net beneath you is secure.

LA: Yes. Yep. And it goes back to routines. Rituals. Our brains, and our bodies, need that in order to feel safe, right? This is a safe place for me.

KV: Is this where some of it comes from, then, for folks of our age and older, who maybe are looking at younger generations these days and saying, “I can't believe the songs we're singing today. I don't like the changes.”

And some of that is because as we get older, there is a greater risk aversion? And so the changes are harder because they feel more risky than they did when we were younger. Going back to the old songs, watching the TV shows that I watched when I was a kid, listening to the music from when I was a teenager—it's not just simply that I'm old and stuffy. It is because those actually do bring a calming presence into my heart and into my life.

LA: Yeah, I think that that is a part of it.

KV: Okay. All right. I'm going to jump from that into the lightning round questions that everybody is subject to having to go through.

First of all, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted?

LA: My answer is relaxation in the rules or expectations. Just thinking about dress or people having tattoos in church. I'm not sure how much this plays out in middle America because I'm on the coast, right? So I've actually wondered, like, is this something that we're seeing across the country or is this mostly a coastal thing?

KV: As someone who travels across the country? Yes, it's everywhere, but it does happen here earlier. Yeah. So how have you adapted to that?

LA:, I actually have always kind of been a non-conformist. And so I think actually it works for me because, you know, back in the days when people were like, oh my gosh, she dyed her hair, you know, flaming red, like, what was she thinking? I remember thinking, why, why do you care? Why does it matter?

I think, you know, although there are times when some things are appalling, there's also a part of me that just keeps going back to really, does the word of God speak to this?

KV: Yeah, I hear where you're going with that. We're good. Okay. Second one. What free resource, like an app or website or something like that has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?

LA: Absolutely. Here's the best one that I have found recently is actually two. The first one is freshhope.us. And the second one is mentalhealthgracealliance.org. On their website when you pull it up it says “because mental health is the new normal.” Great resources, Bible studies. Some of Mental Health Grace Alliance has a little bit of cost if you want to buy some of their own stuff. But I think Fresh Hope everything is free. But again, the fact that the church is talking about mental health and trying to get the word out there that, Hey, there is help. And I think it has to be more than just having an Overcomers Anonymous or, you know, one of those meetings.

I have dealt with severe depression my entire life. I remember going to a church here in Southern California and our small group met next to a group like that. And I remember thinking , I need that, but I can't go in there. I'm not a drug addict. I'm not an alcoholic.

And that's what it felt like it was for. And yet what is there for those of us—and I think it's a large number in our churches who are depressed, overwhelmed., feeling like we can't cope, you know what I mean?

KV: Yes, and how much better are we to recognize that we're heading down a road early on and to deal with the health issue when it's a small health issue, rather than after it's blown up and, and we hurt ourselves and hurt others. And it becomes so much harder to recover from that. That, to me ,is one of the real benefits of a growing recognition that just like we don't traumatize someone for a broken arm, we should not traumatize them for issues that are going on inside their brain.

A lot of it is simply physical, physiological, neuro biological. And even if it is simply broken thinking or whatever that doesn't make it sinful. Jesus didn't just come to heal us from our physical diseases. Our minds are a part of the redemptive process.

We’ll put the links to those two recommendations in the show notes for sure.

Next one is: what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

LA: Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.

KV: I don't even need to know where that came from or what it means to like it, but let's delve into it a little bit.

LA: So my husband had a professor at Fuller when he was doing his master's there, and I remember there was a semester where—I think it was the semester that his mother died and we had just had a baby a year and a half before that. It was just a really hard time. And I remember Ken going to the professor and saying,” I think I'm just going to drop. I certainly can't give this what it deserves.” And that's what the professor said to him.

And I've used it so much in all different parts of my life, including areas of ministry where it's like—sometimes I think we beat ourselves up and I think at times, God is just saying, “just go do it. I am your shield. I am your bulwark. Just do it, whether you do it excellently or not, go do it”

KV: Yeah. On a recent podcast, Andy Stanley was talking about during this season of trauma and people going through difficult things, he said that one of the things that we need to do is we need to become more shepherding pastors. And he said, “if anybody knows me, they're laughing at that because I'm the least shepherding pastor that's ever existed.”

I don't think that was exactly his exact phrasing, but that's basically what he said. He acknowledges “I'm terrible at that.” But he said that even if you do it badly, you need to do it right now. People need to have a shepherding presence in their life. And it's a slightly less pithy way of saying what you just said. A great piece of advice.

And then the last one: what's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

LA: Okay. So the only thing that came to mind is this one potluck. Our church in Pasadena was so small and so poor when we first went there and we would do potlucks once a month. Again, part of the ritual, right, and facilitating relationship.

Basically what would happen is that I'd have somebody in the kitchen receiving the food and based on how much food people dropped off on their way to church, she would come over and tell me, and I'd run to Vaughn’s to buy food to bring back to the potluck so we'd always have enough for everybody.

So this one Sunday, she comes and she's like, “you will not believe this. There are six whole chickens that somebody dropped off.”

And I'm like, “whoa, that's awesome!” Right?

So we get in there, people are getting all their food, everybody's eating and, one of our parishioners stands up and she says, “I just want to share a praise report that happened to me on the way to church this morning.” She said, “I was walking by Vons and I was in the back of the store, and there sitting out by the trash cans were six roasted chickens. And I just knew God provided them for us.”

And of course everybody in the place is like, “uhhhh.” .

KV: Yeah, wow, okay. Small church realities. I love it.

LA: Small church realities, there ya go.

KV: Thank you, Lori. I sure appreciate your time on this today. So much good stuff for us to chew on.

LA: Awesome. God bless.

KV: Thanks so much to Dr. Andrews for how a whole lot to chew on right there. For me as a hands-on pastor, I love the practical help about how our behavior acts as a subconscious trigger that others will follow.

If we are like the shepherd of Psalm 23, we can help people and we can lead them beside the still waters of worship or fellowship and have healthy relationships. So can a small church pastor use insights about trauma and brain science to help ourselves in our congregations? Yes, if we do a handful of things.

First, we have to recognize that everyone deals with some type of trauma, even at low levels.

Secondly, we need to use the defense mechanisms that God gave us to heal from trauma, including the gathering of the body of Christ and worship. Third, we need to train our church leaders to respond in simple and calming ways to people who are experiencing trauma.

Fourth, we have to pay attention to our own spiritual, mental, and emotional health.

If you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need it the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes. If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at Christianitytoday.com/Karl-Vaters. You’ll find the link in the show notes.

This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Edited by Jack Wilkins. The theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsMusic.com. Podcast logo by Solomon Joy at joyetic.com. And me? I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

August 19, 2021

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