A Pastor’s Heart: Shepherding When Tragedy Strikes (Part Two)

Church shepherds must also defend the flock. Fair, just, and serious steps for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse must be thought and prayed through in advance of reported trouble. The church which waits until the pressure of the moment to face such questions is arrogantly presumptuous, inviting the rebuke of the Holy Spirit. Procedures for hearing allegations and reporting them to the proper authorities should be written down in your competent Child Protection Policy. Mishandling an allegation of child sexual abuse can make a tragic situation more bitter, alienating lives from Christ’s Church for years to come.

Finally, church pastors and other leaders must be shepherds who mend the flock of God. Pastoral care should always be offered to both victims and perpetrators, as well as their families. But the table is not level in this regard. Victims must be given priority rather than short shrift.

All too often, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness and reconciliation is misused and applied clumsily to the area of child sexual abuse. When dealing pastorally with a victim and her family, the first matter is to make the church safe for her to attend. Misguided ministers and counselors who foolishly force victims and their families to be constantly  re-exposed to and, thereby, emotionally re-victimized by their perpetrators commit agrave sin. Victims deserve priority: the church must be made safe for them to attend. Therefore, it is the Christian duty of perpetrators to remove themselves to another local fellowship, after making full disclosure of their situation, so that they no longer are a source of spiritual confusion and harm to victims and their families. It is also the duty of church leaders to see to it that this protection is provided.

Perpetrators need pastoral care too! But, that care cannot be provided at the cost of further victimizing harmed children and their families. A sister church, perhaps even across a geographic or denominational line, will need to provide ongoing pastoral care and advice. Often, child abuse does not strike in a vacuum, and the family in which it arises has complex issues which require professional counseling on a broader scale. Churches intent on following Christ’s command to suffer the little children to come to Him must be ready, willing, and able to require such professional counseling care along side and in coordination with ongoing pastoral care.

Ignoring this elephant in the church will not bring honor to God! Church pastors and other leaders can glorify God by prayerfully developing Child Protection Policies which help fulfill the call of Christ to shepherd the flock of God which He purchased with His own blood!

Are you and your church ready to receive an unfading crown of glory? Make it so!

W. Duncan Rankin is a pastor, seminary professor, and board member of GRACE.   Dr. Rankin was introduced to the painful problem of child sexual abuse in the ordinary pastoral ministry.