By Brad Hambrick
This is the final article of a three-part series in which we will continue providing guidance on how to respond if a church leader is abusive in their role as pastor or ministry leader: Read Part 1 and Part 2.
When a staff member or volunteer in your church commits a major offense there will be ripples of awareness that begin to emerge. Church leaders may not initially know the extent of the situation well enough to communicate as effectively as they would like. That is the nature of an “emerging situation.” The following three circles of communication are meant to help you think through these challenges.
Circle One: Who needs to be aware to ensure the care for any known or potential victim? This is priority number one. Communication in this circle entails making all mandated legal reports, connecting the victim with an experienced counselor, and creating a care team. These actions cannot wait until you have the whole story.
Circle Two: What does your congregation need to know in order to maintain trust with its leaders? This circle involves updating the church about what is currently known and what is being done to learn more.
The best way to dispel rumors is with the truth. The best way to prevent gossip is by being forthcoming. The basic questions that need to be answered are: What happened? How did it come to light? What is currently being done? When will more information be available? Answer to these questions should be clear, concise, and avoid speculation.
The names of victims should not be used. As much as possible, information should be communicated in a way to limit the impact on the offender’s family. Information communicated with the church-at-large, as part of church discipline, becomes “public domain” and no longer falls under pastor-parishioner privilege.
Circle Three: What does your community need to know in order to view the church as an institution of integrity? Circle three is a response to when an offense becomes public outside the church. The world around us needs to hear of churches handling abuse cases well. If not, this will and should greatly hamper our gospel witness.
For the sake of the victims, we do not increase the awareness of their suffering. Unfortunately, there will be ample opportunity for churches to display good responses to abuse. As we communicate about cases that become public that we are handling them according to the principles of this curriculum, the church can again become the place where the most vulnerable in our communities seek refuge. May God let it be so!
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.