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How Your Church Can Help Build Resilience in Your Children and Teens

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It’s been a year since I wrote about how the pandemic is impacting our children and youth, and the pandemic is still not over. Ministry leaders are becoming increasingly aware that returning to regular pre-pandemic programming may not be wise until we address the impact of loss in the lives of our younger members.

That loss can range from family members who died from the virus, to the loss of social connection because of virtual learning, to a loss of hope because the future still seems pretty foggy when it comes to imagining any return to what our children once knew as normal.

We are left wondering not only how to help our children and teens process this pandemic through the lens of faith, but also what we can do to help build their resilience as we move forward.

I have been reflecting on two stories of God’s people of late: 

  1. the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah and
  2. the story of Jehoshphat, the King of Judah, in 2 Chronicles 20. 

Both stories deal with traumatizing events: one after the trauma of exile and rebuilding, and the other within the trauma of war. Interestingly enough, both stories talk about how the entire community gathered to witness God’s power and grace in the midst of those traumas.  

Both passages have one detail that I know may not be the main point, but I think is worth noting when it comes to helping children and youth process the trauma they experience. Both stories describe the community gathered in prayer and worship as an entire community: the men, women, children, and little ones.

I do not believe that this is a throw-away detail. I think the writer of both passages is reminding us that one way we learn resilience is by observing it within our communities and, more important, by having our communities intentionally invite us into the experience of lament and hope in age-appropriate ways. 

If we are not able to see how our families, our elders, and our broader communities make it through from grief to hope, hope almost seems like wishful thinking. Children and young people build resilient faith when they belong to a community that shares stories of God’s faithfulness and doesn’t shield them from all of life’s adversities.  

The community of believers can be the perfect place to navigate life’s challenges, hurts, and disappointments because we have a promise-keeping God who leads with compassion and a Saviour who understands our infirmities while shepherding us through the Valley of the Shadow.  

Here are 4 resources to help ministry leaders begin thinking about how to help children and youth process their grief and trauma, while simultaneously building toward hope and resilience:

  1. Forming Resilient Children: The role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development by Holly Catterton Allen. Allen includes research and strategies for families supporting the spirituality and resilience in children as well as congregational strategies.  While her book is aimed at younger children, many of her insights are applicable to older youth as well.  She includes a list of children’s books that help children reflect on adversity. 

  2. Navigating Church after Pandemic Trauma is a video snippet of an Around The Table discussion facilitated by Faith Formation which took a general look at trauma response and resources. Those interested in participating in future gatherings of Around the Table can check this link for more information.

  3. Springtide Research Institute recently released its report called The State of Religion and Young People: Navigating Uncertainty. This report specifically looks at the impact of the pandemic on the fath lives of emerging adults. The report gives some helpful strategies for ministering to this cohort.

  4. Faith Formation Ministries provided helpful resource lists for children’s ministry and youth ministry during the pandemic.

Another resource in the making: various ministries within the CRCNA are partnering to assemble a toolkit that will include congregational post-trauma conversations where all the generations will have a space to reflect upon and process these past couple of years. This resource will be made available in the new year.

If you have any questions about these or other resources, please feel free to comment below or contact me at [email protected].

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