I teach a course on counseling abusive marriages at CCEF. Many of the students who take my class and learn about God’s heart for the oppressed are significantly impacted by the tremendous suffering they encounter through it and want to help people in their churches to identify oppression and to better care for victims. As you minister in the context of your own church, I want to give you ideas for how you can educate your church about oppressive marriages. As you seek to engage your community, remember a few things. First, domestic abuse is an unseen problem. You have an awareness that your church also needs but often does not have. There was a time when you were not aware of the dynamics and impacts of abuse either, so be understanding of where people are coming from as you seek to educate them about oppression.
Second, there is a reason that Scripture is repetitive: God’s people need truths to be repeated to them. Be patient with your church—as the Lord is with us. Expect to have many conversations with them and to answer many questions. Finally, we learn best when we feel loved by the person who is speaking into our lives. Jesus loves the oppressed, and he also deeply loves his church. Seek to educate your brothers and sisters out of love—not only love for the oppressed but also love for them. On many of the pages of my book, Is It Abuse?, I stressed the need for gentleness and prayer—loving your church will require these of you. Once you have prepared yourself for engaging with your church, here are ten ideas to get you started. Please do not feel that you should do everything—or even anything—on this list. Each of you is different and has unique roles as well as varying levels of influence in your church. Work toward doing the things that the Lord places on your heart to do.
- Talk with the women’s ministry team. Share with them what you have been learning. Brainstorm with them ways that they can be mindful of victims. For example, they may want to preface a book study on marriage by telling participants, “This book is great at addressing garden-variety marriage problems between spouses who both value each other. It does not speak well to power imbalances or cruelty. If you need help with navigating a more complex issue, see us for another recommendation.”
- Ask for permission to post signs about domestic abuse in the women’s restroom. Such signs should indicate a person in your church whom a victim can contact if she wishes to come forward or to receive prayer, as well as the numbers for local resources. This says to women, “We know about the issue, we know that there are victims in our midst, and we want to help you.”
- As you grow in your ability to care for victims, invite people to walk with you and learn how to care for victims as well. We know what we know about oppression because we have chosen to love people, walk with them, listen to them, help to carry their burdens, and pray with them. If you are a newer helper, invite other people to join you and take on little loads such as regularly praying with you and a victim you are working with or helping you to meet her practical needs, such as through setting up childcare.
- Offer to teach a lesson or provide materials for your youth group or young adult ministry on abuse during dating.
- Suggest that your church leaders and small-group leaders go through “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused“—a free web-based curriculum that is described in the recommended resources linked below1. Its lessons are designed by experts to help church leaders to understand and implement the best practices for handling the variety of abuse issues that churches must deal with.
- Recommend my minibook Domestic Abuse: Recognize, Respond, Rescue to your pastor. I designed it to be a quick read so that church sessions would have a simple as well as biblical road map for engaging with this issue. It would be ideal for your pastor and elders to read it and discuss it together as a session before they face a real-life case. Pray for your session to grow in awareness of and unity on this issue.
- Help key people in your church to think through what their first steps would be if a woman disclosed abuse or alluded to a deeper marital problem. Help your church to come up with a list of trained point people, wise counselors, advocates, batterer intervention specialists, and local domestic abuse resources. If you gain traction in this area, ask if the church leaders want to start developing a domestic abuse policy for the church. Seek to connect with other churches that have policies and bring options back for your church to consider. (While taking steps like this is laborious, planning for the complex issue of abuse ministry really pays off. This can be seen in the way that churches have greatly benefited from putting child-abuse policies in place.)
- If you teach in your church (or are the preaching pastor), consider speaking about oppression when it is relevant to your passage or lesson. The Bible talks often about pride, unrepentant sin, oppression, evil, and vulnerable people. Consider how a victim might hear what you are saying, and speak directly to them about what you want them to understand. Or, when you are making an application about marriage, talk about the exceptions to what you are saying or how a victim might apply things differently if abuse is present in a marriage.
- Consider being trained to lead a domestic abuse victim support group and then offering one at your church.
- Offer to curate a library containing resources for victims and church leaders on the issue of domestic abuse. You can lean heavily on my recommended resource list below for this.
1 Find recommended resources on how to educate your church on domestic abuse here.