I want to begin this post by saying a huge thank you to the folks at Redemption Hill Church of Iron Mountain, Michigan. I had the wonderful privilege to speak at a conference they hosted a couple weeks ago designed specifically to raise awareness in the church regarding domestic violence. It is such a thrill to see churches and leaders humbly ask for help in learning more about how they can speak into the lives of victims, survivors, and perpetrators. The pastoral team at Redemption Hill are very supportive and affirmed the need for more and better quality church-based training. Unfortunately, other than the host church, there were few pastors in attendance. This is a common problem that must be remedied. We, as pastors, are often the first contact for victims and yet are consistently ranked among the least helpful. We need more resources and equipping for pastors.
Today, I’ll attempt to highlight a few things our churches can do for victims and abusers. Before I offer suggestions we need to ask ourselves, are we approachable? Are we trustworthy? Are we safe? Does our preaching, teaching, and leadership communicate to those we serve that they can trust us with their stories, pain, and anger?
- Believe her: When a woman in particular gathers the courage to tell her pastor what she is experiencing it is important that we believe her. Remember we are not gathering evidence for a court case; we are supporting a sister who is hurting. Belief validates her suffering and puts us in a position to help. My experience has informed me that we may be the first people to truly believe her story and her, genuine, response to that kind of hope will convince us of her sincerity
2. Support her:
- A. When she is willing and able to walk through her pain in community, surround her with loving sisters who will comfort, pray for her, and hold her accountable to the process.
- B. Provide Biblical counsel which will include a process of healing and forgiveness in the context of safety. Ensure her that the church will not rush reconciliation but will promote her healing, while aggressively calling her husband to repentance, change, and accountability. While I know this will be a difficult subject for some churches, consider how your plan may include considerations for separation, and even divorce if necessary. For more information on a biblical approach to abuse and divorce please consider my friend Barbara Robert’s book Not Under Bondage. http://notunderbondage.com
- C. Consider meeting physical needs. For instance should we establish an emergency fund to help her and children if the abuser is unwilling to financially contribute to her wellbeing? Should we establish safe houses within our congregations for temporary shelters? Are we prepared to offer rides or other services that may be needed?
- D. Confront the abuser: I believe the greatest means of serving victims is holding abusers accountable. WARNING. Unless you fear for her health or immediate safety and are taking her to a safe house, communicate to the victims your desires and intentions before you address her abuser. Articulate your plan and seek permission before hand. Confronting her abuser before she is safe may actually endanger her further. With that said, Here are a few suggestions based on an assumption that he is willing to change.
- -Make it very clear that abuse is sin and will not be tolerated. “We love you too much to allow you to continue down this destructive path.”
- -Contact and familiarize yourself with local domestic violence intervention programs or local counselors trained in domestic violence interventions beforehand and encourage him to seek help. Better yet, offer to go with him.
- -Provide a well-trained accountability group where men from the community are given permission to ask him about his behavior, challenge his beliefs, and pray for his transformation.
Here is a post by a friend of mine that I felt very helpful. It was intended to encourage victims in the ways they approach their pastors, but I found it very helpful as a means to educate me as a pastor.
What do you think?
Where are all the pastors? How do we engage them? Are you a pastor? What resources do you need?