Are you a woman who leads? Maybe you don’t see yourself as a leader, but God has you leading someone right where you are. Maybe it’s your kids, your friends, or the teenager next door. Maybe it’s a Women’s Ministry, a team at work, or a small group. This series—led by our women’s ministry specialist, Kelly King—will help you no matter where you lead and whether you’re leading one or one thousand.
Several years ago I was informed that a church I loved was faced with a difficult situation. An FBI agent who attended the church inadvertently came across information from the pastor’s past. A sexual assault criminal record was discovered and as the agent began to put together pieces of the puzzle, he started his own investigation of possible current criminal accusations. Church leaders were informed and a quiet dismissal of the pastor occurred, hoping to spare the church of unwanted publicity and harm.
They thought they did the right thing.
Did they? They did what they thought was best. Criminal charges were pressed and the man spent time in prison. But questions remained, “What happened to the victim(s)?” “How would another church discover this man’s past if it was not disclosed or discovered?” “Could he pursue another ministry position and the cycle happen again?”
These are sobering questions. Unfortunately, more and more disclosures of church abuse have surfaced in the past year. Leaders are now having conversations about how to address abuse, how to care for victims, and how to answer questions from members struggling between loyalty to their leaders and the hurt individuals have encountered. It’s messy. It’s complicated. And it’s vital that church leaders work toward having a plan.
As a leader, what steps can you put into place that will prevent future abuse? What steps can you put into place to care for victims who are sitting in your pews?
First, become educated on the issue and learn to listen. Being equipped involves learning and listening. Thankfully, new resources are being produced and are available at little or no cost. One of them is the Church Cares website. Leaders can download a copy of the book Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused or purchase a copy for a small amount. The website also offers training for churches. Beyond learning about the issue, churches must listen to those who come forward with stories of past abuse and—especially—current abuse. J.D. Greear, the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently said, “A church that does not listen communicates that what a survivor experienced doesn’t matter to God or God’s people.” He continues by saying, “Listening removes ignorance from the church and church leaders. We need to understand as much as survivors need to be heard.”
Second, consider developing a committee or structure within your church that provides a safe environment for victims to come forward. I know a few churches who have actively formed a small group of staff members who continue to become educated on the issue and have put in place a system to protect victims, provide counseling, and develop resources for those affected. They consider how their church develops consistent background checks and how to properly vet new or potential staff. They also assess how to remove victims from dangerous and life-threatening instances.
Third, know your limits and know your next steps. Most of us aren’t professional counselors, but we can all develop a list of resources where help can be found. We can also know when law enforcement needs to be contacted (if the victim is a minor you must report any incident of abuse). Many times, the abuser is known by their victim and many times is living under the same roof. Have the phone number of a local domestic hotline and use it.
Finally, one of the best things you can do for victims is be empathetic, listen, and help them understand God’s love for them has not changed. Help them see themselves beyond being a victim; help them see themselves as God’s beloved. Help them understand that the abuse does not define them and help them move beyond the fear of sharing their story.
While this is just a simple blog post, the issue is not simple. I don’t claim to be an expert and I certainly am a learner in this process as well. For more information, please consider the Church Cares website here or the new book by Mary DeMuth, We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis.
Are you ready to lead well? Sign up for the ministry to women newsletter to get monthly content specifically for leaders here. Get training at events like YOU Lead around the country and Women’s Leadership Forum this November in Nashville, TN.
Kelly King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for LifeWay Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary. She has been involved in women’s ministry and led Bible studies for more than 30 years. A native Oklahoman, Kelly and her husband Vic enjoy kayaking and exploring their new state of Tennessee. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and Living By Faith: Women Who Trusted God.