By Brad Hambrick
In Part 1, we examined how reporting abuse is not a ministerial handoff and examined the first two types of ongoing care: social support and counseling advocate. Now we will cover deacon care and pastoral guidance.
Deacon Care: If you think about Acts 6, it is almost as if God created an entire role in the church for situations like we’ve been talking about. The early church pastors were overwhelmed trying to care for a group of people in family crisis—widows—so God raised up deacons.
Think about the kind of situations that cause an abused woman to return to her abuser: the garage door opener breaks, she doesn’t know how to fix it, and doesn’t have the money so she calls him; both her children have an event on the same day and she can’t be in two places at the same time so she calls him; or while doing all the work in a single adult household, she cannot manage to get the yard mowed, so she calls him.
What is the fall out of these decisions? She goes back into his relational debt. They have an argument. He claims he was just doing what she asked and that she was trying to set him up. The pastor or care team get lots of long, emotion-laden phone calls and begin to think, “We thought you felt unsafe with him?”
A deacon who can fix a washing machine, take a kid to a baseball game, or mow a yard can prevent all of this. At the same time, the deacon’s wife can spend time with the victim and further establish a sense of care and presence from the church. No advanced training is needed for these roles of inestimable value.
Pastoral Guidance: With those other roles off your plate and an experienced abuse counselor involved, you might be asking, “What’s left for me to do?” There are still several guidance roles that uniquely belong to ministry leaders.
- Prayer – The victim needs prayer; not just from-a-distance prayer, but in-person prayer.
- Shepherd Through Suffering – The aftermath of abuse is a time when doing the “right” or “wise” thing doesn’t have always have immediate pleasant outcomes. Discouragement, cynicism, and confusion are common struggles that need the shepherding care of a ministry leader.
- Wrestle Through Difficult Moral Decisions – Abuse creates a plethora of moral dilemmas, situations where none of the options available seem “good.” As you provide guidance, make sure the voice for decision-making remains with the victim and they do not place you in the position of being the “benevolent decision maker,” the role that their spouse used to be in and you become the rescuer. Help them recover their own voice.
- Coordinate Care – The deacons and care team need a touch point for questions that arise for them.
- Oversee Church Discipline – If the abuser is a church member, then in the post-legal-report phase there will still be a significant amount of time and energy being poured into church discipline.
Thank you for caring enough to persevere in this area of ministry. It is hard. You are weary. Answers are not clear. Opinions about how things should be handled will vary and vary widely. But it is worth it, because there is a soul looking to you and your church to be God’s agent of refuge. Thank you for being committed to doing this well.
This article is adapted from Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. Access this free training at ChurchCares.com.
*Please note the curriculum is not intended to be legal counsel or to provide holistic training for counseling or pastoral care on the issue of abuse but is an accessible tutorial on how to respond with pastoral and ethical excellence. The curriculum gives a theological foundation for the topic, brings understanding on the issues connected to abuse disclosure and reporting, and gives practical wisdom by which leaders can navigate complex situations.
Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.