Preaching To The Traumatized -- By: Paul D. Duke

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 03:1 (Fall 1985)
Article: Preaching To The Traumatized
Author: Paul D. Duke


Preaching To The Traumatized

Paul D. Duke

Pastor, Highland Baptist Church,
Louisville, Kentucky

Witness a dream. A man rises and walks to a pulpit. He is a preacher, and a gathering of people gazes up at him, waiting for his word. Before be begins, he looks at them. They are ordinary Sunday morning faces: old and young, female and male, all scrubbed and polite. And, since it is a dream, let us say that these faces are lifted with pleasant expectancy toward the one who is to speak. He, having gathered the people with his eyes, looks down at his notes, finds his place, whispers a prayer. Then he raises his head to begin. But he stops, horrified, for before him now is a nightmare. All the people are grotesquely wounded. Some are cut and bleeding. Some have broken bones and hideous bruises. There are surface abrasions and deep lacerations, bandaged injuries and open gashes bleeding. The people’s faces are twisted with pain. And their haunted eyes reach up toward the preacher like clutching hands. Unable to bear it, the preacher drops his gaze and shudders. Then painfully he lifts his eyes to face them, for he must speak. But again he stops, amazed. They have become ordinary Sunday morning faces again, scrubbed and polite and lifted with pleasant expectancy, just as before—only now he knows. He has seen them. And what will he say?

The preacher who partakes of a congregation’s life, who sits down with them hearing their confession, cheering their victories, tasting their disappointment, and entering into intercession with them, will know that every sermon is addressed to traumatized people. Trauma is the Greek word for wound, and no Sunday will come that does not set before the preacher people who are traumatized. Sometimes the trauma will have taken all the people together, as when the community itself has suffered catastrophe and the people gather in shared shock. On most weeks, however, the wounds are borne in separate secrecy and silence throughout the congregation: grief, illness, pain, guilt, depression, joblessness, abandonment, family estrangement, moral failure, impending death. How can the preacher most faithfully and effectively proclaim the Good News to so much diverse and overwhelming woundedness?

At times the choice may be to preach a directed sermon or series of sermons related to one or more of these traumas. A careful sermon on divorce or a series on death may have a long-unfolding impact. Particularly when the congregation as a group is reeling from some crisis, such directed preaching may be needful.1 As a rule, however, the preacher should resort to this method only rarely. Such preaching in the first place tends to be topical, and preachers are on shaky grou...

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