By Brad Hambrick
It might be easy to think that once you connect an abused individual to the best-fit social worker, counselor, or law enforcement officer, your pastoral work is done. After all, it is only a matter of time before another crisis emerges in the life of another church member and you have a sermon to write, committee meeting to lead, homebound person to visit, and your own family to invest in before then.
Every ministry leader wears an inordinate number of hats. Doubtless, this is why once the appropriate report or referral is made, pastoral care can unintentionally be neglected.
It is easy to think that “church = pastor.” If that is how you’re thinking, your thoughts are likely racing as you wonder, “How am I going to do more?”
It is only a church-as-entire-body that can provide the kind of care an abuse victim needs. We will be thinking of you as the coordinator of the church’s ministry care; not the sole provider of that care.
When we make a referral to a good-fit professional, what have we done? We’ve added needed players to our ministry team. We have completed our roster. We still have to, metaphorically speaking, finish the game.
There are four types of ongoing, church-based care: (a) social support, (b) counseling advocate, (c) deacon care, and (d) pastoral guidance. If you are the pastor who has been running point on this situation during its crisis phase, you can relax a bit because only one of these has your name on it.
Social support: Abuse inevitably destabilizes someone’s social network. The simple question, “Who in our church do trust enough that you would like them to intentionally walk with you during this time?” can pay exponential benefits in the weeks and months ahead. This question creates a care team.
The functions of a care team usually include:
- Encourage and assist the individual to take care of themselves: sleep, eating habits, spiritual disciplines, not isolating, exercise, or engaging personal interests to help them maintain endurance.
- Provide an emotional outlet. If all conversations about their life context are action-oriented, the individual can feel like a problem to be solved, a burden, more than a person to be heard. The care team can “just listen,” directing needed questions to the appropriate person: counselor or pastor.
- Including the individual in their life rhythms can alleviate large spaces of empty time.
- Support the individual through prayer.
- Assist with or communicate service needs to the church’s deacons.
- Communicate guidance needs to the pastor overseeing the care team; especially if the victim is female, a care team prevents the church’s care from being predominantly male.
Counseling Advocate: A counseling advocate is a peer-based relationship, a friend, mentor, encourager, etc. who serves as a periodic guest in counseling, meaning they don’t come to every session. Their role is to provide support and reinforcement while that individual is in counseling and serve as a long-term encouragement and accountability after counseling concludes.
Not every counselor will be open to this possibility. Not every victim of abuse will want an advocate in their counseling. But when it is possible, advocates are an excellent way to bring greater continuity between the advisement being received in counseling and the ministry efforts of a local church.
In Part 2, we will cover the remaining two types of ongoing church-based care: deacon care and pastoral guidance.
This article is adapted from Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. Access this free training at ChurchCares.com.
*Please note the curriculum is not intended to be legal counsel or to provide holistic training for counseling or pastoral care on the issue of abuse but is an accessible tutorial on how to respond with pastoral and ethical excellence. The curriculum gives a theological foundation for the topic, brings understanding on the issues connected to abuse disclosure and reporting, and gives practical wisdom by which leaders can navigate complex situations.
Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.