Most likely, around 25% of the women attending your church are victims of domestic abuse. When you see that number, is your first thought disbelief? Mine certainly was, and I am what some would call an expert in this area. But in ministering to the women in my church, I have sadly witnessed its truth firsthand.
We struggle to believe that domestic abuse is in our churches for three main reasons. First, abuse is a hidden reality. It happens behind closed doors. The sinful tactics used by an abusive husband are inconceivable, in part because abusers strive to keep their deeds hidden in darkness (John 3:20).
Second, abused women often do not identify as victims; they feel responsible for their oppression. Most women come to me for counseling about something else, such as anxiety, depression, or guilt. Oppressors confuse their victims to control them; a common by-product of sin is “disorder” (James 3:16). Victims often do not possess the clarity required to conceptualize what they are enduring is abuse.
Third, we struggle to identify abuse because the oppressor usually attends our church. We have talked and prayed with him. We think we know him. In reality, we only see how he presents his public face. At home, oppressors are very different people. Even though Scripture warns us about deceivers (2 Timothy 3:13), we struggle to identify them among the people we think we know.
Although we often are not aware of abuse, the Lord sees victims and is active in their rescue (Luke 4:18–19). I also believe that God calls us to join him in their rescue. Below are five ways the women’s ministry in your church could help identify and care for the sufferers in your midst.
- Pursue training for your women’s ministry team.
Studies show that when a Christian woman seeks help in an abusive marriage, she first consults her pastor or a Christian woman in her church. This first disclosure is critical; research consistently shows that the advice a victim first receives will, in large measure, determine her next steps. So be ready to offer wise advice—it is hard to helpfully speak Scripture into a situation that you do not understand. See the resources in the link at the end for training materials.
- Post signs about domestic abuse in the women’s restroom.
Signage should indicate a person in your church whom a victim can contact if she wishes to talk or pray, as well as the numbers for local resources. This says to women, “We know that there are victims of abuse in our midst, and we want to help you.”
- Teach on subjects like marriage, conflict, or submission with abuse in mind.
We need to be clear regarding how biblical principles apply in abusive situations. For example, when we talk about submission, we need to also describe what it is not. Submission should never be demanded, and it never requires a wife to remain silent about abuse. Oppressors often misuse Scripture to force their wives to submit in unrighteous ways. Every time you teach, you are likely speaking to victims, so spend a sentence or two on these nuances. One easy way to do this is to ask, “How might a victim of abuse apply this teaching?”
- Teach your women’s ministry to be listeners when suffering is revealed.
Abuse victims often first share small details. They test the waters to see how a person responds. Train your leaders to slow down and ask more questions:
- “Has that happened before?”
- “What was that like for you?”
- “How does that type of conflict get resolved in your marriage?”
Sufferers of all kinds need to be drawn out; do not assume everyone is relaying details that fall under normal marital difficulties. Train your leaders to ask questions and be attentive learners.
- Add biblical resources on domestic abuse to your church library.
This is a simple way to provide victims with resources (see link below for ideas) that will help them gain clarity. But it also shows that your church understands you have sufferers of abuse in your midst, and that you care about them. This might encourage them to ask for the help they desperately need.
As you think and pray on these suggestions, keep Hebrews 13:3 in mind: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (KJV). An oppressed spouse lives in bondage to a cruel master. We are called to minister to the oppressed. As you do, remember God also wants you to become aware of the intensities of their sufferings as if they were your own. We do this for the sake of Christ, his gospel, and his rescue.
Darby Strickland, CCEF Counselor, and Author Is it Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims (www.DarbyStrickland.com)
For Further Resources on Domestic Abuse: https://www.ccef.org/recommended-resources-to-educate-your-church/
 See Ron Clark, Setting the Captives Free: A Christian Theology for Domestic
Violence (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2005), xx, quoted in Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb, Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 59–60.
About the Author:
Darby Strickland counsels and teaches at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Her course Counseling Abusive Marriages is offered through CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling. She is a contributor to Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused and the author of Is It Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims and two mini-books on the subject. She graduated with an MDiv in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, where she met her husband, John. Darby has three children and takes delight in homeschooling them. Her writing and speaking focus on training churches to tend to those who are affected by trauma and domestic abuse. To follow Darby’s writing and speaking, visit www.darbystrickland.com.