Abuse is a horrible topic! It comes in many different ways and each of them comes with horrors of their own. In recent weeks and months I’ve been thinking quite a bit about abuse because it is has come more and more to the forefront of the mind of the global church. Over the years there have been many cases of abuse that have come to light in the church, these cases are to do with sexual, domestic and spiritual abuse.

Abuse, in all of it’s forms, should have no place in any church or in the world. The fact that it exists is a prime example of how the Fall and original sin infects every human heart. But the church can no longer hide her troubled past. People cannot hide cases of abuse because the message that is conveyed to the world is that we do not take abuse seriously. That is not the case!

There will be cases of abuse that take place in a congregation. It is always difficult to deal with these situations, especially in a way that is done well and right. Seminaries, generally speaking,  do not prepare students to deal with these situations pastorally. Abuse can be kept quiet because we don’t know how to deal with it and we don’t know what resources and services exist to help us work through it. But that is no excuse.

Leadership need to…

  1. Help their congregation understand abuse and know how to spot it
  2. Help and care for the survivor well and in cooperation with professionals
  3. Not hide abuse just because it is difficult, but be open about our limitations

One of the conversations that is happening more in churches today revolves around spiritual abuse. A few books have been released in recent years that bring this topic to the forefront of people’s minds and sadly it is a relevant topic.

It is very easy for a leader to use their position in the church to spiritually abuse members of their church. People want advice on how to live or deal with a certain situation, people want advice on a matter in their lives and they will often speak to their pastor about it. The pastor then has the tricky situation of giving good Biblical counsel but making sure that they are not influencing the person to do what they personally want.

Pastors and church leaders can often be strong, charismatic characters who want to be liked and listened to. The danger is that we start to think that people should listen to us! The job of a pastor and leader is to point people to God and what He wants. That’s why we preach the Bible, we counsel with the Bible, we pray the Bible and we encourage people to search the Scriptures. That way they will be influenced by God’s Word and not by man.

But pastors and leaders can also experience spiritual abuse from their congregation members. If people are big givers to the church, if certain people are strong voices and if people use the language of “God told me that we should…” These are just a few examples of how pastors and leaders can also be the victims in cases of spiritual abuse.

Very few of the books that I’ve read and the talks that I’ve heard have wrestled with how to approach this topic in a Biblical and practical way. They have spoken about how to identify abuse and its effects, which is good, but what do we do after that?

I’d encourage you if you are in an abusive situation or know of one, to speak to someone. Do not let the dark corners of the church stay in the dark. Leaders need to engage in this conversation more and think about how we can spot, confront, deal with and help people live after abuse in our congregations.

No church is perfect, no pastor is perfect and no Christian is perfect but we cannot keep things quiet just to save face in front of others. We cannot let abuse continue to hold on to reputation. Our calling is to look after and care for one another, to be a family, to hold each other accountable and to live in a way which glorifies God. Therefore, shine light into the corners and help those who need help and confront those in the wrong.

If you’ve not engaged at all in this conversation I’d encourage you too. If you want to talk about anything that I have written or you have found helpful resources comment below or contact me and let’s start that conversation.