5 Tips For Dealing With Families When Abuse Is Suspected

Earlier this week I wrote about 5 Things to Consider When Abuse is Suspected. One of those considerations was how we handle the family of a child who we think may be suffering abuse or neglect. These cases are ALWAYS emotional. Our natural instinct is to protect the child and, often, to seek justice for that child. If abuse or neglect are happening, then justice is important. But, how should we, as a church, handle the family? Here are 3 tips for dealing with the family when abuse is suspected.

1.) Remember that things may not be as they appear. Anyone who has ever watched a movie about an abusive husband knows that the marks of abuse are often covered up with lies. You may find yourself wondering just how many times a woman can fall. This can be true in child abuse cases as well. For this reason, we are often suspicious when we see thing that don’t seem right. Maybe it’s a kid that seems to have more broken bones than is “normal”. Maybe it’s a bruise in a strange place. Maybe it’s an injury that  doesn’t seem to add up with the story that the child is telling. All of these can spark suspicions of abuse. However, things may not be as they appear.

Even the strangest thing could actually be completely innocent.

Be careful not to jump straight to calling the police or the abuse hotline. Certainly we should be prepared and willing to do that when it is necessary. But, we need to take a moment to pause. Ask the parents about the injury. I DIDN’T say interrogate the family. I said ASK. “Hey, I noticed little Johnny has this bruise. I just wanted to bring it to your attention and see if you knew where it came from.” Be careful how you ask this. Remember that the goal is truly to find out what happened, not to accuse the parents.

2.) Look for circumstances that you may not be aware of, but could help with. Whether what we are seeing is actually abuse, or not is really not ours to determine. Their are people with specific training and who get paid to determine that. However, there are some things we can do to help the family. Maybe this child needs glasses and the family can’t afford them. Maybe there are some safety issues at the house that the family is not aware of to can’t afford to fix. Maybe the family is facing stressors that are causing a normally loving parent to lash out or neglect their child. If abuse or neglect is suspected the number one priority is the safety of the child. Still, I think there is room for us to look into the situation and see where we might be able to help.

3.) Don’t forget that reconciliation is possible. Each state and county is going to have specific rules for how cases of abuse or neglect are handled. In some cases this may mean that the child is permanently removed from the household. However, that is not always the case. In many cases reconciliation is possible. While our first goal has to always be the safety of the child. I think a close second has to be caring of the family. Remember that we have all sinned. We all required reconciliation with God and we all received it. I know this is hard. Regardless of the circumstance, this family needs to know that Jesus loves and them and so does his church. I can’t imagine the difficulty of visiting a convicted child abuser in prison, but if they are part of your church someone probably needs to.

4.) Remember the family may not be guilty and the child is not the only victim. When abuse is discovered it can be easy to condemn the entire family, at least all the adults. “How could you allow such a thing to happen?” “Aren’t YOU responsible for the safety of your children?” Trust me if you are the parent of a child that is discovered to have suffered abuse at the hand of another loved one or a trusted adult, you are already asking yourself these questions and a million more. This is NOT what they need to receive from their church. Truth is, even if the child is being abuse, the family may not be guilty. Even if a family member is involved, it doesn’t mean that the entire family is. In any case, any family member that was not involved in the abuse, is also a victim of it. They may not be suffering directly from it, but they are now going to have to deal with the guilt and shame that come from such revelations. In any case, these families are going to be in desperate need of LOVE. It seems to me that love was is a pretty big deal in the Bible. In fact Jesus only gave three commandments and they ALL revolved around love. Show the family the Jesus’ church is a place of love.

5.) BE NICE! Above all else, and regardless of the fact of the case, be nice. Sadly, Christians tend to forget that we should be nice to one another. And this is not just for people within the church, but for people outside as well. Be nice. Yes, I’m suggesting that you even be nice to the accused abuser. No, I my heart does not feel as if they “deserve” it. Yes, I know how hard that can be. I also know that we none of us deserved the love of God. None of us deserved the sacrifice that God the Father made in sending Jesus to die for our sins. None of us deserved the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made in giving up his life for our sins. Truth is we are all just as guilty as the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our specific sins may be different, but we are still no less deserving of the punishment that God rained on those cities. Remembering this, be nice when you are dealing with all parties involved with suspected child abuse.

As I said in my post earlier this week on 5 Things to Consider When Abuse is Suspected, this is something we hope we never have to deal with. I sincerely pray that your church never has to deal with it. However, it is an unfortunate reality of our broken world and we need to be prepared for it. I hope this post helps you do that.

Matt Norman

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5 Things To Consider When Abuse is Suspected

This is one of those things that you simply don’t want to think about. In a perfect world every person charged with taken care of children would do a great job. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Perhaps the most difficult part is that most instances of child abuse or neglect come from family members. The people who should be the most loving and protecting are actually the most likely to be guilty of abuse or neglect.

We all hope that we never have to do deal with this. As a long time ER nurse and children’s pastor I can tell you that I’ve seen it and it is always difficult. In those moments, when abuse or neglect are suspected, we need to be ready and willing to take action. But, we need to take the correct action. We need to have a plan in place with clear action steps and clear responsibilities for specific people.

Here are 5 things to consider when abuse or neglect is suspected:

1.) Mandatory Reporters? As an ER nurse I was a mandatory reporter. This meant that if I suspected chid abuse or neglect, I was required to report it. Clergy are usually considered mandatory reporters as well. However, is the person volunteering in a local church considered a mandatory reporter? In some cases they may be, but in others they will not be. In the churches I served, the staff/pastors were mandatory reporters, but the volunteers were not. You need to find out what the requirements are where you serve.

So, how can you find this out? One way is to call your local law enforcement office. They will have resources that can help you determine exactly what the requirements are. If not, then call the local office of your states child protection agency. These agencies are called something different in each state, but every state has one. They can certainly tell you who is required to report and who is not.

2.) Handling the Child. When I worked in the ER I, unfortunately, saw a few cases of sexual abuse in children. In these cases a child could only be questioned about the events a certain number of times. This was in an attempt to protect the child from having to mentally relive the event over and over again. This is the law in Florida, but you need to learn what the law is where you serve. This may not apply the same way to other forms of abuse or neglect. Again, you need to see what the law says where you serve.

Frankly, it is not our job to investigate the suspected incident. Our job is to identify it, report it and then support the child. Do what you can to make sure that the child is safe, and that the child knows they are safe. In doing so, don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. If you suspect abuse, don’t be afraid to call law enforcement and let them help you keep the child safe, and deal with the family if necessary.

Your job is to support and protect the child. Do that and let the professionals do their job.

3.) Handling the family. Child abuse is one of those things that automatically causes an emotional response. From anger to sorrow to fear to compassion to a myriad of other emotions, when we hear stories of a child being mistreated nearly every one of us is moved. Our instincts may lead us to lash out or even to seek justice against the family. Even in this most difficult situation we can not forget GRACE. I know that is easier said than done, but it still needs to be done. Later this week I’ll share a post with more thoughts on how to best handle the family in a situation like this.

4.) Communicating with the church. Communicating such an incident can be an extremely difficult thing to do. What do you say, what do you not say? What CAN you say? If the incident happened at the church, then the church has a right to know something. However, the details that are shared do not have to be very specific. Remember that you have a child and, perhaps even an entire family, to protect. How you chose to handle this can drastically effect the way that this family and any close to them view your church, other churches, and even Jesus Himself. Be careful what you share.

Also remember that the Bible makes it clear that gossip is sin.

Be intentional about what is shared with the church and be diligent to make sure that it is not gossip. It’s probably also a good idea to remind your team that gossip is sin and will not be tolerated.

5.) Training your team. We all hope that such an incident never happens in or around us. However, it is vital that all members of your team know how to deal with an incident like this if it does come up. After you’ve reached out to the agencies I mentioned above, you need to prepare some training for your people so that they know what to do. This could come in just about any form. What matters is that you give them the information they need to know now to respond when this happens.

I truly hope that no one reading this ever has to deal with child abuse or neglect. Still, it is much better to have a plan and never need it them to find yourself staring at child abuse and not being prepared. Consider these 5 things as you put together your plan for handling suspected child abuse or neglect.

Matt Norman

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Pastor, There is Value in working in the Community You Serve

The burden of pastoring a church is often heavy. It is a big calling that we feel on our lives. Doing this while also working a job outside the church adds another level of complexity and difficulty that cannot be denied. Speaking from my own, personal experience I can say that sometimes it can be difficult to stay motivated. I hope that this story will encourage and inspire any pastor that still works a job outside the church.

You may or may not know this, but in addition to being a pastor, I am also a registered nurse. After nearly two decades working in the emergency room, I know work with cancer patients. That’s where this story begins.

Many of my patients spend multiple hours in our clinic getting infusions. The particular patient in this story spent 3-4 hours once a week for 6-8 weeks. His wife spent pretty much all of those hours sitting in the recliner next to him. This allowed me plenty of opportunities to talk with them both and to get to know them a little. I remember one time I looked at the wife and could see the fear in her eyes. Her husband was doing quite well, but cancer is scary. I sat down next to them both, held her hand for a moment as she shed just a few tears. A few tears are all she would allow herself. She wanted to be brave and strong for her husband.

In the course of our conversations it came out that I pastored a local church. They told me about their church and I mentioned some folks that I know that also attend that church. She then said that she would like to attend our church sometime, as a show of support. I gave her information about where we met and our service times and didn’t think much more about it.

Her husband completed his treatment and is doing well. A couple of weeks after his last treatment she suddenly walks up to my desk and tells me that her ladies Bible study group was coming to our church that Sunday. I gave her my business card and pointed her to our Facebook page and website for full details. Honestly, I didn’t think any more about it. I’ve had a number of people tell me they were coming, who still haven’t. I’m certain that some of them will, but I trust God with the timing.

Well, the following Sunday four ladies walk into our little church. One of them was the wife I mentioned above. This was her ladies Bible study group. They were actually there! I hugged her and introduced myself and my wife and kids to all of these ladies. We had a great service and I really enjoyed having them there. We chatted a little after the service and they left. Honestly, I didn’t think much more about it at that time.

Over the next couple weeks I had some interactions with a woman on our church Facebook page. She talked about coming to a service soon and even apologized for missing the previous Sunday. I was confused cause her Facebook page said she lived up north. I continued to interact with her, but didn’t think too much about it.

The next Sunday a woman walks into our service. I couldn’t remember her name, but I recognized her as one of the ladies from that group. I asked her to remind me her name and we caught up a little. As we talked she told me that she had only recently moved to this area, from someplace up north, and since had been looking for a church family. She told me what she liked about our church and we talked a little about worship music, etc. I later found that she had also put a check in the offering bucket.

I can’t say for certain how long she will be part of our church family. But, what I can say that she is part of our church now and it happened because of the time I spent working in the community God has called me to serve.

If you are working a job outside the church, especially if it’s in the community God has called you to serve, be on a constant look out for the opportunities to serve people. Try not to worry too much about getting them to come to church. Serve them. Be open. God will take care of the results.

Matt Norman

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5 Things Children’s Ministers Wish Their Senior Pastor Knew

Recently I asked a group of children’s ministry leaders on Facebook what sorts of things they wish their Senior Pastor knew. I asked because I believe that God is moving me in that direction and I wanted to make sure never to forget the concerns of my fellow children’s ministers. Here are a few of the responses I received.

1.) Being there whenever the doors are open might not be healthy.

As children’s ministers we are at church a lot. I LOVE it and so do most of my children’s ministry friends. However, there are limits. Many senior pastors are workaholics. Not only is this not healthy for them, but they also tend to hold the people that serve with them to a similar expectation.

There are certainly times when we NEED to be at the church. However, senior pastor give your leaders the freedom to take some time off. If the youth or children’s department has an event on Friday or Saturday, consider allowing the leader to take extra time off that week. If you have midweek activities, be aware that your children’s and youth leaders will probably be at the church from the time they arrive until the end of the midweek programming. Consider allowing them to come in later on that day. Otherwise this turns into a 12 hour day.

2.) It’s difficult to make friends.

As a senior pastor you understand fully the difficultly that exists for ministers in making personal connections. This is just as true with children’s ministers. In fact there are added difficulties for us because we spend so much of our time with children and, therefore, much less with adults. Do what you can to be a friend to us. If nothing else, be someone we can go to with our struggles both from ministry and life.

I’m certain that most senior pastors would say that they maintain an open door policy. Most would say that their staff can come to them about anything. I am also sure that these things are actually true. However, what have you, as a senior pastor, done to foster that relationship? What have you done to create a connection with your staff that could lead to them feeling comfortable talking to you?

3.) My ministry matters too.

It can be the opinion of church members that children’s or youth ministry is little more than recreation or babysitting. Certainly there are things that children’s and youth ministry leaders can do to fight this believe. However, there is nothing more powerful than the support of the senior pastor to help church members see how important these ministries are. Talk positively about the children’s and youth ministries. Talk about it from the pulpit. Talk about it in other environments as well.

It can also be the opinion of other ministry leaders that their ministry is more important or of greater value than the children’s or youth ministries. The truth is that every ministry is important. Help the leaders of other ministries see that while their ministry is important so are these others.

4.) I wish you understood my struggles.

The pressures of the senior pastor position are great. In fact I don’t believe that anyone that has not sat in that chair can fully understand these pressures. I have not yet sat in that chair, so I include myself among those that don’t fully understand. That being said, the pressures of ministry at any level are great. Do you, as senior pastor, really understand the pressures that your children’s ministry leaders feel? Do you really know what they are going through? Honestly, in the same way they don’t understand your pressures, unless you are talking to them, you don’t fully understand their pressures either. Even if you think you have a good understanding, talk to them. They need to know you care and understand.

5.) Help me remember why we do this.

Certainly, every church leader should be able to, on some level, motivate themselves. Still, it can be difficult, at times, to get ourselves excited. We often do things and don’t see the results that we thought we would see. When this happens it can be easy for our motivation to slip. Help us to remember why we do what we do. In those times that the weight of ministry start to get us down, help us refocus on what matters.

Thank you Pastor.

We love our pastors. Without you, we cannot do what God has called us to do as children’s or youth ministers. Please don’t read these things as an attack on pastors. We are a team. These things are not said in anger. Chances are these things are not from the children’s ministry leaders at your church. Still, they are representative of how many that minister to children feel. I know you value these people and their ministry. Take some time to let them know.

Matt Norman

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4 Reasons Teaching Life Application Matters

There are many things in the Bible that are a mystery. Many things that seem to have no application to my life. Still the Bible calls itself a “lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” This says that it is the means by which we will see the direction we are to go. If this is so, then the things that we learn from it apply to our lives. If this is so, then we, as teachers of the Word, must ensure that we are helping those we teach to see how these things apply to their lives. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but here are four reasons why this  matters.

1.) They WILL need it.

“I will never use this in real life.”

Just about every kids has had this thought. I remember as a kid having this same thought… especially in relation to algebra. I hope you appreciate the irony, as I write this, but I also felt this way about many things that I learned in english class. Certainly there are some things that we learn in school that will not apply to our careers, depending on what field we choose. However, many of the things we learn WILL apply.

As a nurse I used algebra regularly to calculate medication dosages. As a pastor, teacher, and writer I use the things I learned in english class nearly every day. As I seek to get healthier and more fit I find that there are even lessons I learned from my PE teachers that are part of my life on a regular basis these days.

The point is the things I learned back then I DO use today. The same is true of the Biblical truths we teach kids, youth, even adults. The lessons learned from the Bible apply to every part of our lives. As such we need to help the people we teach to see how they apply.

2.) They can’t see it themselves.

If you teach children you know that, in general, they can’t see how the things we teach directly apply to their lives. They tend to think too concrete, too linear. So, if you teach a story about Noah they can’t, necessarily, see how this connects to their own acts of disobedience to God or to their parents. You need to help them make the connection between the Biblical truth you are teaching and their own lives.

The same is true for youth and many adults. While some will be able to make the connections for themselves, many will not. The truth is that it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that a person can make this connection on their own. So, for those that may not be used to listening to the Holy Spirit, let’s help them hear Him speaking.

3.) He’s not talking to me.

I believe that all of us have a tendency to assume that when the preacher says something that might actually apply to us that he is really talking to everyone else. It’s just human nature. For instance, I could easily read the story of the woman caught in adultery that was brought to Jesus to be judged. I could look at the whole thing and say to myself, “Well, I’ve never committed adultery, so this message isn’t for me.” While I have never committed adultery, this story is about more than the woman and her actions. This story is about the men that brought the woman to Jesus. The story is about the man that she was committing adultery with. The story is about Jesus. The story is about the words that Jesus said to the Pharisees and to the woman. Somewhere in the there we can all find ourselves if we take time to look. As a preacher or teacher we need to help people find themselves in the lessons we teach.

4.) Jesus taught that way.

In Matthew 6:25-32 Jesus teaches about the way to avoid worry and anxiety. In verses 34-35 He gives us the things to do, the principles that we are to follow. He gives us the formula. However, in verses 25-32 He gives us the application. He shows us how the principles He is about to give us apply to our lives. If this is how Jesus taught, then It is something we should consider as well.

What about the Holy Spirit.

As I mentioned earlier it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit to convict our listeners. However, it is our job to be as clear as possible when we teach. I think that part of this is including application in our teaching. We cannot include every possible scenario for every person in the room. But, we can include some current, real world, applications that are appropriate for some of the ages and life stages of the people in the room and I believe we should.

Matt Norman

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