Churches must address adult abuse as well as child abuse – a guest post by Now Free
I thank God for the fantastic teachers I had at Bible college, past ministers long gone into glory, ministers who put real problems before us to think about and digest. I’ll never forget one of those old teachers telling us the ministry we were going to enter was a very precious ministry, but also a very painful ministry. “You will face things that, whatever you say or do, you will have people against you. Whatever you face, follow God and what He is telling you to do. Follow His word. Ensure your own conscience is clear with God, not with men. You will still receive great heartache and strong opposition, often feel no matter what way you turn, you can’t win, but ultimately you answer to God. You may be put out of churches or lose your ministry, but do the right thing, follow God and not man.”
I’ve never forgotten his words. We knew he had been there. This was not just talk, it was deep rooted from his own pastoral experiences.
My wise old boss once said, “The best way to learn is not from your own mistakes. It is by observing others and learning from their mistakes. You then, hopefully, ensure you don’t make the same and undergo the pain.”
In the pastoral ministries class, many of us, if not all, were in tears as he revealed “real” stories as scenarios, stories we knew were from his own experiences. Often, we cried together with him in class. It was such an eye opener and meant more, as we knew this was not textbook stuff, this actually happened. This was the real world!! After our time, we had “faced up to life”, at least in theory, and how we as God’s people should deal with things. Believe me, it did not make things easier in ministry, but it was often relied upon when I faced different dilemmas. I can only hope and pray I did what I feel Jesus would have done in everything. Only eternity will reveal all. At times, really thinking through the application of scriptures into real situations was a horrendous and difficult task. I believe, though, the class was very much all about training men and women to stand for truth and justice, rather than for a denomination or ministry for church growth. It is, after all, supposed to be God’s work, not our own.
I fear a lot of pastors have lost sight of that. The ministry has become more valuable than the ministering to. I saw in ministry how easy it was to cross the line of creating worship to “the worship or ministry”, rather than worshipping the creator and truly ministering. I have heard it often said, “But if we expose this sin (abuse), it may do damage to the work (ministry).”
I can only remember once seeing true discipline administered properly in a church. I had a lot of respect for that church, who challenged sin and harmful conduct. They had godly, strong leadership, and the members knew they could not just do as they liked regarding sin and conduct and get away with it. They were brought quickly to account, dealt with in love, and the church functioned well. Those who wanted to do their own thing or have control did not like that and left. The church remained solid in its teaching and practice, with good biblical teaching and standards.
In contrast, I knew another church who refused to discipline, and it gave rise to more problems between the members and the person who should have been disciplined. It caused more hurt in the end, and more damaged relations than if the church had acted correctly in the first place.
Good church discipline must involve genuine love and a time frame to see genuine repentance. Many abusers often show their true colours, if disciplined. Discipline does not bode well with their sense of entitlement, and often at some point their facade of genuine repentance will unravel.
There is such a desperation in some churches for leaders or people to be involved (especially smaller churches), sin is overlooked or covered up, including the sin of abuse. I’ve witnessed people come through the door a few times, share they did some preaching or were involved in their last church. Without any checks or scrutiny, they were suddenly delivering God’s word before the congregation. Over time, I’ve seen that work for a few churches, but on the whole, I’ve seen it destroy churches, as eventually the person was found to be controlling and abusive. The church acted unwisely and too quickly in desperation.
In a few cases, people were “planted” from other churches to take over a smaller congregation and bring their own extreme doctrines. In others, such people were power hungry and manipulative, seeking to eventually take over and press their own ideologies and agendas. If they didn’t get their way, a split occurred as they left with many of the congregation.
Strong leadership is necessary for good godly discipline. However, I’ve found sound teaching must accompany good leadership for a church to function well and administer that discipline correctly.
There should always be a period of proving yourself. Abuse, if not dealt with correctly, will eventually bring destruction. If the leadership allows manipulating abusers to continue unchecked, or congregations allow leaders who are abusive and controlling unchecked, those fellowships may have some mode of function, but it will eventually bring further destruction.
Secular work situations have time periods to prove a good workman, why should the church be of lesser respect? Secular work situations have warnings and rules to be adhered to, discipline given even to the point of dismissal if wrong conduct has happened. The church and its leaders should be operating to an even higher respect than the world. Where are our standards?? Cover ups of unrepentant sin do not and will not work. The truth sets you free!
I remember attending a seminar series. One weekend of the series dealt with listening, with the idea saying nothing, just listening, should be the first thing in any counselling session. Nothing else; definitely no admonishment or instruction. Pastors are all too quick to express their opinions or agendas than truly listen, including letting a victim vent if he/she needs to. Venting is release of much pent-up emotion and pain that has been bottled up and kept under wraps for their own safety and out of fear. All that must come out before you can even begin to pour in healing from God’s word to help in those areas.
The second weekend of teaching was to listen, but only after listening properly can you give encouragement. After listening intently, getting hold of the truth of the real problem, it is only then time to “put an arm round” (not literally) someone’s deep problem, and be there for them and start building them up. Nothing more. No criticism, no questioning, or cross examination.
The third weekend of the series was exhortation. Only after the first two criteria were met should we exhort, a time to challenge and exhort into action. Helping them see the scriptures in their situation and how to take action and make moves for better change. The order should never be confused, but all too many so-called Christian pastors who are ill equipped jump in right away to challenge and say what they think, rather than properly listening first.
In all the failings I’ve heard reported here on ACFJ regarding pastors / leaders and families, I do not think once I’ve read that anyone truly took time to listen, let alone encourage. However, there was plenty of exhortation, and it brought more damage many of us are still trying to recover from.
To me, the church on the whole does not counsel in any way near in the way it should, perhaps due to lack of education and training. This lack is something I think all denominations need to ensure is addressed. More and more we need top quality counsellors in our churches. Ones who listen and understand the problems faced by people today. I was once told more and more pastors today are not getting time to concentrate on the ministry of the word, as so much time through the week is given to counselling and dealing with pastoral problems. In this person’s opinion, from some time ago, churches needed to re-address and have appointed full time Christian counsellors, as church leaders were often not well equipped, and only trained in biblical scholarship. As a result, many were going crazy under the stress of the sheer volume of problems the church was facing.
A two-pronged approach is needed for ministry education. 1) Upcoming pastors trained by the various colleges most closely linked to churches need up-to-date training (meaning lecturers keeping brushed up and curriculums changed or adapted), and 2) a retraining approach of pastors already in existence who will not be going through seminary or college training. It’s approaching it from both sides. If the law says you need child abuse policies, etc. then churches need to update their own training. In some areas, it’s left to individual churches what their policy is, but it must include certain things, and must have people give training that are registered with the authorities. Some churches will adapt accordingly and some be far better than others. Some training is updated each year, but is mainly aimed at prevention and reporting. I’ve yet to see anything regarding how the church would help survivors, there’s virtually nothing in most church policies to help those still in church and families who are surviving. We cannot just leave that to authorities, there must be help in the church. Pastors need to be not just providers of the flock (food), they must realise they are also to be protectors of the flock.
The church cannot truly operate as the body of Christ on earth, if it’s not acting in keeping with the word of Christ and with the heart of Christ and in the spirit of Christ! There’s so much more to shepherding a flock than just speaking words to a sheep, or caring for them with a few nice words and I’ll pray for you.
I had absolutely no one except God, so with a prayer of desperation I sought the net, found ACFJ and Barbara and started for the first time in years getting specific answers to my situation.
The results from a pastor interfering – damaged emotions, spirit broken, confusion, deep hurt and pain, little to no self esteem, loss of ministries, friends, church, but hallelujah NOT LOST GOD!!!, ever true to His word. It took well into my marriage to be totally convinced I needed out. With the added confusion, another period of lengthy time to a stage of moving away in my head, another time period of sheer hell every day after my pastor and his wife put me away quietly, and yet ANOTHER lengthy time of not knowing who I would come home to, not knowing minute by minute who I lived with, with ever increasing threats and living in fear. I took the step to contact Barb, and it took more time to eventually break free. Pastors, you have no idea of the struggle we face and the pain we have endured!! I say to you do not add to it!! Be very sure before you act on God’s behalf!
No set of circumstances is the same. Each person is an individual with unique situations they face. There are no black and white situations, but loads of grey ones, with plenty of complications. However, in abuse situations, there are many non-negotiables and it would do a church well to make them one of the traits and practices of the church. Just as we have child abuse policies, we need to go one further and have policies for adult and domestic abuse.
God’s character and attributes are not to be dismissed when reading His word. I am ever reminded the trinity is in operation upon the God breathed inspirational word as Timothy puts it in 1 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture is God breathed and useful for ……”
God the Father revealing His spoken word out of His heart via mouth involving His breath and vocals – Christ the Son of God is the word (logos) become flesh and God the Holy Spirit as the breath of God, (the pneuma) all in operation. When God speaks, the trinity is always in operation. When Christ or the Holy Spirit speaks, the same trinity is operating. God cannot be separated from Himself or His word. Just as we live and breath and our words involve our hearts and our breath and we cannot be separated from ourselves, God is the same. We must interpret His word with the same spirit, knowing God’s heart and character and thinking, what would Jesus do and listening to God the Holy Spirit as He reveals God in His word.
More emphasis is made on church building than church character building. I’d rather have a smaller church filled with godly encouragement and love than a multi-functioning church like a shopping mall, but full of critical silence and hypocrisy. Is this why there’s so much damage to God’s people? Pastors and leaders ministering in denial, walking in pride and fear and defensive, opting for the “easy way out”. Getting rid of marriage problems, trouble makers or someone that’s too risky for church to have about by brushing under carpets, covering up or simple prayer.
Pastors take note – we need more than the prayer of faith and a bit of bible study. Your “sheep” deserve your very best you can give them. If you need reinforcements, go get them.
Woe unto them I say – God is very much against them if they do not take a stand for the oppressed.
There’s a serious lack of education and training in most churches. Too many pastors are ill equipped, and instead of passing it on to experts, try with disaster to undertake in their own strength. Lethal operations take place every day in churches, as leaders make decisions that kill the mind, body and spirit. In the Latina ladies article here at ACFJ, Evaliz made it clear it was the law of the land to report regarding abuse, and the church needs to operate within the law and report matters to the law. Let law matters be dealt with by the law and people who are trained and qualified to deal with it.
Stop couples counselling as the be all and end all of marriage problems. After each session, abuse may be intensified. Pastors need to be aware of this: Some victims and survivors may have been through counselling over many years, only to be more confused as the pastor does not “get it or get me!”
I do not believe Christ on judgment day will be in the least bit interested in how big your church is or how fantastic your programs. He never was interested in that on earth; what possesses us to think things will be different then? He was a people person! I think He will more likely ask about what you did about Mrs. so-and-so when she was at the end of her tether with life over her constant beating and brow beating by Mr. so-and-so. How did you protect her and her children? I think these are more what the Christ I know and love will be interested in. I still see Him rush to Mary’s aid, and defence of children, widows, blind, the lepers and oppressed! Defending Mary, who’s sister was trying to build a better home, a better surrounding for Christ. Work, work, work, but Christ wanted devotion. He is interested in people, not empires. Interested in the church as people, not the church as a mere ministry or work. He is the Lord God; He is not going to change! The sooner we get hold of this in the church the better. Pastors what is your priority? Or should I say, who is your priority??
I’m glad the voice here at ACFJ calls “a spade a spade”. Many people don’t like those who are like that, but though I sometimes do not like the abrupt, sometimes wrong nature, I’ve always said at least I know where I stand with that person. There may be no airs or graces with them, but there is no hidden agenda behind the scenes. They are what they are with no facade. I’m sure Barb and others here would only hope for the day such a site was not needed, as churches take up each case so well. In the meantime, we will speak up and share for the sake of each other and in the hope that the true church changes to serve Christ on earth, rather than their own agendas.
God IS LOVE! God IS TRUTH!! We must act in love; we must act in keeping with truth.
An example of church training can be found in Child Safety Training – by Ps Jimmy Hinton, the son of a pedophile pastor.
An example of updating education about trauma and recovery can be found in Wound Healing. Make sure you read the comments on that post too as they add more detail about how to facilitate the healing of wounds.
For those who don’t know, Now Free is a Christian man who has suffered abuse from his (now ex) wife. If you are following this blog you will have probably seen his comments on various posts.