I remember talking to a pastor who told me that “IF” I was telling the truth about my husband that my life was “a mixed up mess”. He went on to order me to get rid of my children’s pets and make other “recommendations” that sounded more like orders as to what and how I should go about doing in order to make things better. I appreciate the man’s ability to preach. I didn’t appreciate the way he handled my coming to him for guidance. Honestly, it hurt. It was invasive. And, in the end, it wasn’t helpful.
What should a pastor do when a Christian sister shares that she’s being abused? He should believe her. I was telling the truth; most women who make claims of abuse in their marriage to the church are telling the truth. That’s the first thing pastors, elders, other church leaders, and Christians in general need to remember. We’ve got nothing to gain by lying but a whole lot to lose by telling the truth.
Ordering me to get rid of my children’s pets was just wrong. Yes, I know that they cost money but it isn’t that much. They need their pets. Having them has helped them to heal and to cope. Other women have been ordered to stay with her abuser, to leave him, or to make some other decision she wasn’t ready or able to make. If your sister in Christ comes to you in need of help, it’s a terrible time to start ordering her around. Ask her questions, let her know you are there for her, listen, suggest, recommend perhaps, but don’t order her to do something she isn’t ready or able to do.
A pastor can make sure that the gospel he is preaching is the pure Gospel with the power to save, rather than the social gospel that saves no on. It will do you or her no eternal good if you help her here and now but don’t offer her the truth that can truly set her free.
Address domestic abuse from the pulpit. Pastors should let abusers know that the church is not a safe place for them but is a safe place for his victim.
Announce from the pulpit, through a sign in the ladies’ room, or in Sunday school classes, that it is safe for abuse victims to confide in the church leaders. Tell them that they will be believed, and that, whatever the church can do to help, it will do.
Pastors should familiarize themselves about domestic abuse, then encourage his elders and his congregation to do the same. The reason for this isn’t to focus his ministry strictly on domestic abuse–the focus of the church is to be Christ Himself–but to enable the church to recognize abuse and to know how to help its victims.
Address practical issues and needs that Christian women in abusive relationships face. They are often told “Leave” but given no help to do so or they’re told “Stay and suffer for Christ” when that is against what Scripture actually teaches; Even Jesus Himself fled from danger when His time had not yet come. There’s many things that need to be addressed that often aren’t.
I remember reading about a church that had a ministry set up to help the single moms with car repairs. Another church that I knew of made it a point to paint and fix up houses for the elderly. The church I grew up in had what they called a clothes closet where church members in need could go find clothes for free. These programs are great but wouldn’t it be wonderful if, on top of those, individual Christians just looked for a need, found a need, and did what they could to fill it? Sure it happens sometimes, but encourage it to happen when it’s known that a sister in Christ has been abused. When it comes to those who have suffered under domestic abuse, the wife’s needs and the needs of her children are many but the church, even a small one, could do much to meet them. Call her up and check on her, pray for her specifically, offer to run errands for her, watch her children for a while, accompany her to her lawyer’s office, listen to her and offer advice where you can, give her $10.00 for gas, take her a meal, offer her a place to stay, include her and her children in a family outing or gathering, etc.
Also in the practical issues camp maybe deal with questions abused women might have such as “What do I tell my children about their father? How do I help them heal if I do leave? How can I take care of them if I stay? How truthful am I to be with others, his family, my family, the church?”. These kinds of questions are important and no pastor that I know of is addressing them. The church is, thankfully, becoming more aware of the issue of domestic abuse but we’re really only in the beginning stages of addressing it.
Many women who would leave, who have the biblical right to do so, don’t do so because they cannot afford to do so. Leaving an abusive man is hard, and often the expense falls on the wife. Do you have some place she could stay? Does a member of the church have an extra room? A vacation home? Can you help her to get set up in a new place? Does anyone have furniture they don’t need? Extra kitchen ware? Does anyone have a car she can use? Or a car that they would be willing to sell on the cheap? Or even give to her? A garden that is overproducing? Extra clothes? Would you be willing to buy her an outfit for her to wear interviews? What about teaching her to plant a garden, to sew, to can, or do other things that will help her get set up in a new home? Can you help her move? Do you have a job you could offer her? Are you able to teach her a skill that she could turn into a home business? No, you can’t do everything, and your church can’t do everything, but there’s a lot that could be done.
Her children have been through a lot. Maybe she wants to work from home to be with them or to not incure the expense of daycare. She still needs a way to provide for them. Do you know how to write a business plan? Show her. Do you have a skill that you could teach her that she could then use to make money? Teach her. Do you have a job you could hire her for that she can work from home? Offer it.
Does she need training to get a job? Help her to figure out how to get it. Does she need somewhere safe for her children to stay while she is in school or working? Someone could watch her children for free or watch them in exchange for something she does for them (cooking? cleaning? errands?) just until she can get on her feet.
There are programs that provide sewing machines to poor women overseas, or goats to the family so that they can then start supporting themselves. The items might be different here but if they could do it there, we can do something like that here.
Anything your church can do to demonstrate the love of Christ that she and her children so desperately need to experience would be a blessing to them beyond your imagination. Pray, then serve.