I’ve started going to a new doctor. He’s different than most doctors because he doesn’t just treat the symptoms to my pain or fatigue; he tries to get to the root of the problem. He doesn’t just ask, “What hurts?” But he tries to answer the question, “Why do you hurt?”
I want to be more like him as a pastor. So often pastors only see symptoms and misdiagnose the deeper pain. We see people being promiscuous or indulging in drugs or alcohol, and we don’t always ask, “Why are you doing those things?”
What is the problem behind many of the spiritual symptoms that we see?
Not everyone who is involved in bad behavior is a victim of child abuse. But did you know that 20% of the population are sexual abuse survivors? Are you aware that if you were abused, you are much more likely to participate in risky, even sinful behavior? This was all revealed in a large study called ACE research, which showed the link between childhood trauma and lifelong struggles.
This is why I believe child abuse of any form is Satan’s favorite sin. Because if Satan can convince someone to abuse a child, he might have that person for life. (I’m not shifting the blame from the perpetrator, but I do know that the devil is ultimately behind this wickedness.)
Many abuse survivors have a lifelong struggle with shame and guilt. They wonder, “Was the abuse my fault?” They also wonder why no one came to protect them. Even worse, very often the perpetrator will combine the abuse with a distorted spirituality, leaving the survivor confused and resentful toward God.
Doesn’t that look like the work of the father of lies? Hasn’t the ancient serpent been twisting Scripture since the beginning, looking only to harm and destroy God’s flock? Doesn’t the devil ultimately want to put us on a path that leads away from the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ?
So what might we do today?
1. Be slow to judge sinful behavior. When you see someone involved in risky, even sinful behavior, be slow to judge and quick to help. That person might be fighting more demons than you can possibly imagine. We must be careful that we don’t mistake spiritual symptoms for a much deeper pain.
2. Bring this difficult topic into the light. Survivors suffer in silence because they feel so ashamed and alone. We need to let people know that their abuse was not their fault. We need to be a safe place for people to disclose their pain, so they can get the help they need.
Pastors, we have a unique platform to encourage survivors, especially this weekend. Not only is April “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” but traditionally churches have called the upcoming Sunday: Good Shepherd Sunday. Many will be preaching on John 10, where Jesus distinguishes his work with false teachers. He also says he didn’t come to harm but to give life to the full by laying down his life for his sheep. He also says that his voice is distinct from the false shepherds who lead people astray. Can you see how important these verses could be to the survivors and even the perpetrators in your congregations?
3. Participate in training to prevent abuse and to empower survivors. Finally, the reason this is on my radar is I went to a conference called Chaplains for Children. That conference made a major shift in how I look at my ministry to children, survivors, and perpetrators. Since then I’ve become the chairman of a ministry called Freedom for the Captives. This month we released a free course online to help churches and schools prevent child abuse and empower survivors. The course is called “Standing Up for Children.” I believe everyone should take this course, especially if you are in a church or school setting.
Jesus had some of his strongest words of judgment for anyone who would hurt a child. See Matthew 18:6. Jesus didn’t need research. He knew that childhood trauma could mean a lifelong spiritual struggle. So he condemned this wickedness.
Now we can look to the Good Shepherd for help in going forward. It is Jesus who calls the wicked to repentance. It is Jesus who speaks words of hope and healing to all survivors.
Would you join with me to face this grievous evil? If you do, know that you are entering a spiritual battle with Satan himself. Yet Jesus is here too, fighting to bring freedom for the captives.
Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry serving a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. Since March 2014, he has served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.
For more encouragement from Pastor Sadler and other Time of Grace writers, sign up here to receive email notifications of new blog posts.