Resilience is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days.  Lectures, TED Talks, Brené Brown, Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg… it seems everyone is inviting us to pursue resilience as a key to joy, fulfillment, and growth.  I don’t disagree.  But what’s the pathway to resilience?  We are supposed to work on developing resilience, but how will we know when we have achieved it?  What are the building blocks of a resilient life?  How does one actually go about becoming resilient?  There is no lack of definitions for resilience.  A quick Google search will give you an abundance of them.  My favorite is “the capacity to adapt successfully to challenges.”  But the definition still begs the question, “How does one get that?”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says “Though one may be overpowered…. a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  This principle applies to resilience.  We become resilient people when we develop and diversify our emotional, financial, and relational reservoirs.  Put another way, we do it by making sure all of our eggs are not in one basket, that we have multiple baskets and that we are working to collect enough eggs in each one to get us through in times of greater need.  When we do that, we have an abundance of resources to draw from if adversity comes our way.  The work of building resilience, by my estimation, is precisely that.  It is work.  It is the work of:

  • Developing a handful of relationships that are good for the soul
  • Finding the places that bring you joy and spending time there
  • Collecting things of beauty and surrounding yourself with them
  • Cultivating hobbies and interests that ground you and give you creative outlets
  • Engaging in exercise routines and creating healthy food habits
  • Keeping your financial house in order and saving up for a rainy day
  • Practicing Sabbath, self-care and actively learning to rest
  • Spending time reading Scripture and incorporating prayer into your life
  • Tending to your mental health through therapy and medication management
  • Caring for your physical health through regular check-ups and medication compliance

As you can see, the development of resilience cannot be rushed.  It is prevention work that takes intentionality and cultivation over time. 

This is where the church comes in.

It’s no secret that the church is in experiencing trials.  Many churches have been struggling for decades now to connect faith to people’s daily realities.  Modern life has become increasingly complex, weighted down with technology, a globalized economy, and an over-abundance of entertainment options.  Basic assumptions about how we should live and whom we should be are being called into question at their core.  Youth have access to more information in their smart phones than many generations had over their entire lifetimes.  It should be no surprise to us that suicidality and mental health challenges are on the rise in alarming ways. 

Unfortunately, an Achilles heel of the American church has been our tendency towards abstraction.  We can wax philosophical about grace, sanctification, and eschatology.  We can be champions for orthodoxy and can spiritualize just about anything a hurting person is going through with calls to prayer and affirmations of God’s will.  But rarely are we given much practical guidance about how to develop, build and cultivate the tools to help us navigate what faces us today.  Our proclivities in the church toward abstraction can make the church seem removed and irrelevant while people are sometimes literally dying for lack of practical help navigating these complex challenges.   

What if the church took seriously this belief that resilience is a key to effectively negotiating life in our complicated world and understood the role that it could play in that formation?  If our calling is to see “Christ formed in us,” then the health of the whole individual is our concern—the emotional self, the financial self, the aesthetic self, the relational self, etc. 

The church could become more practical in people’s lives by: 

  • Helping members get their financial house in order through debt management classes
  • Creating opportunities for people to form friendships through fellowship and special interest groups
  • Providing space for people to learn to knit, garden, paint and cook
  • Hosting Zumba, Yoga and Pilates classes with childcare provided
  • Offering space for faith-based counselors to work
  • Allowing 12-step programs of all stripes and flavors to use their space
  • Creating cultures where leaders do not hide their own struggles and failures, and where members are celebrated for vulnerability

What people need most right now is help in learning how to adapt successfully to the challenges that face us all.  As my friend and fellow church consultant says, “If we as a church could learn to do that with integrity, we would be beating people away at the doors.” 

Michelle Snyder
Michelle Snyder, MDiv, LCSW has been doing organizational consulting for over 10 years. With training in theology, systems theory, and organizational intelligence, she brings a unique perspective to her consulting and coaching work with middle judicatories, congregations, nonprofits, and clergy. Michelle has co-authored the book Life, Death and Reinvention: The Gift of the Impossibly Messed-Up Life. When not coaching and consulting, Michelle does suicide prevention training for faith community leaders and spends time at home in Pittsburgh with her clergy husband and two teenage daughters.