Over the last six months, at the directive of my senior pastor and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), J.D. Greear, I have had the privilege of leading a team of nine individuals to develop a curriculum to equip churches to provide holistic care in the initial stages of learning about instances of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.
The name for this curriculum is Becoming a Church that Cares Well for Abuse and will be a free 12-lesson, video-based curriculum. It will be available at churchcares.com so it is accessible for every church, pastor, and ministry leader.
While this is an education curriculum, it should be made clear: education is not the answer, because ignorance is not the problem. Churches don’t mishandle abuse because of a lack of knowledge. If it was our child who was being abused, we would figure out what to do. To blame ignorance is to fail to own the role of a leader.
The sad reality, however, is that most pastors have had little, if any, training on pastoral care for abuse. A lack of training can result in ministry leaders being tentative and passive when we need to be active in protecting. We want to equip ministry leaders to respond with excellence when they learn of abuse.
We wanted members of the teaching team to represent a variety of perspectives and areas of expertise:
- Social workers
- Law enforcement
- Attorneys who have represented survivors in the legal process
- Trauma counselors
- Abuse counselors
- Batterer interventionists
- Pastors who have cared for abuse victims well
Based on these criteria, the expert panel for the project is (listed in alphabetical order):
- Rachael Denhollander (survivor, attorney, advocate)
- Mika Edmondson (pastor and church planter)
- Samantha Kilpatrick (attorney, former prosecutor, victim advocate, and church advisor)
- Diane Langberg (psychologist: trauma and abuse specialist)
- Chris Moles (pastor, ACBC and IABC certified biblical counselor specializing in batterer intervention)
- Andrea Munford (police officer and lead detective on Larry Nassar case)
- Karla Siu (LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
- Darby Strickland (counselor at CCEF, specializing in domestic abuse)
- Leslie Vernick (MSW, focusing on destructive relationships)
We chose people with decades of experience in caring for survivors. And we wanted people who knew firsthand the weaknesses prevalent in the church’s responses to abuse.
In addition, we chose experts from various fields in order to model listening and constructive conversations with key professionals. We want to help churches become partners with law enforcement and key care providers in their community as they minister to victims. The people selected and style of video production give an example of the fruit that comes from these conversations.
We also chose people from many different denominations because we know that no group of churches or ministries is immune from needing to grow in this area. We wanted to learn from others and have an opportunity for what we've learned to be received by the broader evangelical community.
The outline for this curriculum breaks into two sections:
Key Concepts for Pastors and Ministry Leaders
1. Ministry Context: The Church’s Response to Abuse Is Grounded in the Gospel
2. Ministry Tension: Matthew 18 Complements (Doesn’t Compete with) Romans 13
3. Ministry Responsibilities: Abuse Against a Minor vs. Abuse Against an Adult
4. Ministry Partners: Awareness of Key Professionals in Victim Advocate Roles
Key Responses from Pastors and Ministry Leaders
5. Key Responses to Sexual Abuse
6. Key Responses to Physical Abuse
7. What Happens When You Call CPS? Don’t Avoid What You Don’t Understand
8. Non-Criminal Forms of Abuse: Verbal and Emotional
9. Pastoral Care After Reporting: Reporting Is Not a Ministerial Hand Off
10. Pastoral Care and Correction for an Abuser
11. Response to Abuse by a Church Leader
12. Seven Next Steps After this Training
We want to use this educational tool for a four-fold impact, at least:
First, all six SBC seminaries have encouraged our effort to produce Becoming a Church that Cares Well for Abuse and have committed to integrating training on how to care for abuse survivors into their mandatory curriculum. No longer should seminary students graduate without training and a reference tool on how to handle matters of abuse well. We hope the denominationally diverse expert panel will result in other denominational seminaries making this part of their education as well.
Second, all 42 Baptist state conventions (representing all 50 states) have agreed to integrate this resource into their ministries, employee practices, and church resourcing.
Third, we are creating a website, churchcares.com, where churches can publicly identify that their leaders have completed this training and agree with its approach. This will allow victims who have been hurt by churches who handled their abuse poorly to find churches where the staff is trained in handling future abuse cases well.
Fourth, we are recommending that this training become a standard item under educational expectations on every job description written by an SBC church or entity. We want the education in this video training to permeate existing churches, not just influence future pastors. We hope churches and ministries from other denominations will adopt this practice as well.
This impact strategy is our attempt to use the educational training to have a swift, deep, and enduring impact in equipping churches to care well for victims of abuse.
The video segments will be recorded on February 27–28, with web creation and video editing being completed in time for the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 11–12.
So, what can you do now? Here are a few suggestions:
- Visit churchcares.com, and sign up to get an email announcement when the curriculum goes live.
- Pray for this team: that we would honor God by equipping ministry leaders to care well for victims of abuse.
- Pray for the project: that it would be received well by ministry leaders.
- Pray for victims: that their trust, duly broken, could begin to be restored as churches strive to become more aware and skilled in this area.