A Journey to Peace.
The journey to peace after abuse strikes me very personally. In the friendships I have
enjoyed, the churches where I have served and in my own personal life the scars left
by abuse seem very prevalent. Sometimes they remain as nothing more than jagged
white reminders of a pain we no longer feel. Other times they are covered with a
numbness or even pain that reduces us from what God really intended us to be.
This journey can be taken successfully. However, several articles of equipment will be
necessary to complete the journey.
A Trust-Earning Pastoral Figure. When a leader, especially a pastor,
abuses someone it undermines more than their ministry. We placed our trust in one
pastor who betrayed us. How can we trust the next one?
We call this person the
After Pastor. Frequently the After Pastor is a pastor who has been thrust
into the situation by a revelation of past abuse by a former pastor or a leader. These
pastors have a lot of on-the-job learning to complete. Some Interim Ministers
train and prepare for such ministry. A strong After Pastor evidences several traits which
lend themselves to trust.
- Clearly Visible Integrity. The integrity of a pastor or leader will not be
assumed by everyone in the aftermath of abuse. Such integrity must be lived-out in
clear, unambiguous manners. I know of a pastoral couple who took over after a pastor
had an affair inside the congregation. They made it a policy that neither of them would
ever be alone with a person of the opposite sex. They trusted each other. They did this
to assure the congregation that the betrayal they had endured could never happen under
their pastoral leadership. Similar acts of clearly visible integrity can slowly earn an
After Pastor the trust of the congregation and the victims.
- Patient Compassion. The Journey to Peace does not move on a schedule.
Nor to victims heal at a predictable pace. The After Pastor work will commonly cover
5 or more years. Even then, the pain will not be fully healed until the congregation makes
its first transition from the After Pastor to another pastoral stranger who serves them well.
In addition, the individual and group sessions discussed below cannot be rushed.
Because of this the After Pastor will patiently serve both the congregation and the victims
within with a calm unrushed compassion in order to assure all that their stories are heard
and the church has become again a safe and loving place for them.
- Effective Preaching and Leading Compassion and integrity lose some or
all of their effectiveness if the basic ability to pastor a church falls short. Obviously the
work of an After Pastor will consume considerable time, attention and energy. The
organization of the congregation may well have broken down and many parts may
suffer or fail in the aftershock of Abuse. An After Pastor will need to stand in the breech
and help bring order out of any resulting chaos.
- Personal Emotional and Spiritual Strength Between the normal pressures
of being a pastor and the added dimensions of need in a congregation suffering from
abuse, the After Pastor needs to have a personality and practice that protects and
regenerates them from the stress involved. A well differentiated who can
both enter empathetically into relationships and yet remain their own self with their
own separate emotions and opinions will be better equipped for After Pastor work. In
addition, practicing Sabbath and self-renewal will allow the After Pastor time to recover
from the weight of their work.
Protecting the victims. This would seem obvious. Yet in the midst of revelations
of abuse people can react in many irrational and sinful ways. No matter how clearly
the offenders actions were abuse of another, we valued and even loved them. Emotionally,
we must take a long leap from these feelings to the jarring truth that this person did
something we find despicable and perhaps even disgusting. Many of us cannot leap that
gap immediately. And so we end up rationalizing that the victim must have played a role
in their own abuse. Even some victims will join in this rationalizing, often having been
taught by the Abuser that they carry the blame for their own abuse.
Publicly and openly condemning the abuser as an abuser and declaring the victims to be
victims begins to plant a protective hedge around the victims. Bringing the stories
of the victims to light in compassionate and considerate ways, especially helping others
to perceive the pain caused by the abuser, can sensitize the congregation to the harm
already done. And acquainting the congregation to the ways that abusers manipulated
both their victims and the congregation will lay the foundation for the congregation to
move forward. (I will talk more on telling the stories below.)
Re-establishing Safety in the Congregation. In a way abusers abuse the
entire congregation, including those who were not direct victims. The place where we
expected Gods grace, Jesus love and the restoring power of the Holy Spirit
to reign instead became the arena for human sinful desires to attack us. No congregation
can move forward until they reestablish the walls and gates of personal safety and
godly expectations. Several actions can assist this.
- Leadership repentance The leadership for every congregation serves as the
gatekeeper. At very least they bear responsibility for assessing the character of a
pastor before calling or assigning them and then for overseeing the behavior and work
of the pastor during his or her tenure. This responsibility may fall to both regional and
local leaders. Whatever the nature of that leadership, the congregation will trust them
less (to some extent) because they let an abuser in or go undetected.
Because of this leadership will need to work through the
5 languages of apology. Some leaders
may balk at taking these steps. In regional bodies the person directly responsible may
not even serve there any longer. Yet, if the local leadership and regional body do not
express the 5 languages of apology the church will lose trust with them and the
congregation will be a less-safe place than otherwise. Therefore, the leadership
- Accept responsibility for the abuser being present and undetected.
- Express regret that they did not more effectively protect the congregation.
- Make whatever restitution can be made including, if necessary, resigning.
- Genuinely repent by changing how they choose and supervise pastors.
- Ask forgiveness for their failings.
- Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation As we noted above, in the
pain of reveling a leader abused someone people can react in irrational and
sinful ways. Victims may not always be the only targets of the sinful irrationality.
Sides can often form with those in disbelief on one side, those in utter despair or
disgust on the other and people with various degrees of both strung out between.
The anger properly reserved for the abuser can get hurled back and forth, leading to
other forms of abuse inside the congregation, perhaps, but not always, less in degree
than the abusers actions.
As understandable as these reactions may be, they remain sinful, harmful and
destructive to the life of the congregation. Seeking and giving forgiveness leading
to reconciliation will need to happen before people will feel safe with each other.
5 languages of apology will need to be
taught and practiced.
- New ways of living Just as the pastoral couple mentioned above provided the
congregation with more security by how they created good boundaries for their
ministry, the congregation will often need to rethink policies and procedures. Even
areas of ministry unaffected by the abuse may need provisions made to reassure the
congregation that we will not let this happen again.
until the stories are just stories. We cannot erase the
memories of past abuse. We can bleed them of their effect and
power in our lives. We need to break the power of pain and fear, break their control on us,
so that we can be free to live the life the Jesus calls us to. One power device it telling the
story over and over and over. In most congregations we misunderstand the vital need of
various members to tell their tales over and over. Those of us less affected will find the
repetition meaningless or even distressing. Explicitly or by our disinterest we may say,
These people just need to move on. Others of us may fear that continuing
to discuss the abuse may memorialize it, making the wound in the congregation permanent.
All of this misses the power of telling the story. As we do we see that, no matter what we
have endured, God has brought us through them. We have survived and have an
opportunity to thrive. Those who have been abused need to tell these stories over and
over and over again until they quit being a source of sorrow and injury and become
just stories. Whether in individual counseling, with mentors, or in abuse recovery groups,
these stories need to be told. Early on this may entail mixed groups from the
congregation. Even after, the congregation needs to grow in compassion toward those
who need to continue to tell the stories long after others have moved on.
It is possible for bitterness to take hold in those who were abused as well as those most
closely connected to the victim and the abuser. They will need to work
the process of forgiving the abuser, themselves and
each other. They will need this for their own sake. This, like the rest of After Pastor
ministry, takes a long time, a journey with no timetable.
One last note. No person can write all that needs to be told about recovering
from abuse in a particular
situation since each abuse is unique to both the victim and the abuser. And no one can
prepare anyone for the aftermath of such abuse. Yet, in the grace, forgiveness and love
of Jesus we can walk the path of pain, anger, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.