Some students came forward. All youth group age. The church body is broken.
The church is a mix of all types of people. Young, old and in between. Single, married, divorced, widowed, it’s complicated and so on. It’s also full of people striving to follow Christ and live out the ways in which He has commanded us to live. And it contains people who sin. Sometimes even against those in their local congregation. Sin tears and rips into the fabric of the lives of those directly affected, those that know them, and their church. When sin is committed against others, especially vulnerable children, devastation, anger, vengeance, sorrow, and wrath are introduced into the community. It is something which we can imagine, but don’t want to. It is something that some of us have experienced. It is something some of us have witnessed in our own church.
The church which this occurred is a faithful, God-honoring church. Well respected by the community as well as most of its congregants. The perpetrator was not on staff but a regularly involved member who had many friends in the congregation. That man is now awaiting trial. So what do you do when someone violates the trust developed within a church community? What do you do as a member of the congregation? What can you do?
My husband, Tim, and I work together to offer consulting for people and organizations in turmoil or conflict. We worked with this church to help their leadership and congregation members heal and create support systems to the victims, their families and friends. When my husband brought this possibility to me, I knew that we absolutely should do this. We are equipped to help in certain ways to bring some healing to this brokenness. At the same time, I wanted to avoid this situation at all costs. We have 3 young children, 2 girls and a boy. All I could think about was sometime in the future, my children will be attending youth groups and interacting with fathers of other children, and the thought that something like this might happen to my children terrified me. I didn’t want to interact with this pain for fear of what could be. I know that parents who are reading this are thinking about their own children, maybe even who are youth group age and don’t want to consider that this could ever happen in your church. And I’m not trying to scare you or make you paranoid or afraid, but I want you to understand why I wanted to avoid this very difficult situation. I finally told my husband that we can do the work but only if he does the majority of it and that I didn’t want to know any details that he might hear.
The process of our work with the church surprised me. It turned out that while emotionally difficult at times, it became life-giving. Because what we were offering them was hope, a way forward. It also helped put things into perspective for me. While sin steals innocence, life, and relationships, hope redeems what has been taken.
This is the very heart of the gospel. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Our sin always leads to death but the hope we are offered is forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, when he becomes Lord of our lives. Hope. Hope in the face of death. So here are three ways you can offer hope, when your church is facing sin and death.
- Be available. When someone goes through something traumatic what they need is support. It will look different for every person, but no one will be upset if you offer to be with them, listen to them, and help with meals or errands. You don’t need to have gone through the same thing to be available. The whole idea of support is to find out what you can do for them and what they need. When offering help it’s important not to seek what you need from the person you are supporting. You may need to make yourself feel better or alleviate any uneasiness that you may feel because of what happened. If you need help, then seek help, but don’t seek it from those directly affected by the traumatic event. If you are in a church and don’t know what to do, seek out your leadership and ask them if there is anything you can do or offer to setup something that seems appropriate, but of course be open to the leadership if they have other ideas. If you are a leader at a church, it is important that you seek help from professionals.
- Share your story. Everyone has had difficulties in their own life. Everyone has experienced harm, pain, and death. If you have not yet experienced healing for your pain, seek out those with the same story and ask them to help you begin your healing process. When you have experienced healing remember, God can redeem the pain and death in your own life when you share about your healing with others who are going through similar situations. Your story will be helpful to others when you have taken the necessary steps to heal for yourself.
While this is not an example of sin in the church it is an example of something painful happening to me, I suffered 2 miscarriages. I was devastated and angry this happened. The thing that encouraged me the most was other women sharing their stories of miscarriage and knowing that I would get through this just as they had. It works the same way with other types of pain. If you have gone through something and you are aware of someone else who has, here are some simple steps you can take:
- Be prayerful
- Approach them
- Let them know you know what they are going through.
- Let them know you are available to talk if they’d like to.
- Give them the option to opt in and use you as a resource.
Now when I hear of other women who have miscarried, I always contact them and give them the option to talk. Sometimes they want to and other times they tell me it is comforting to know they are not alone. Your story is never wasted in an effort to support and comfort another person.
- Maintain and Attitude of Hope. As mentioned previously, sin pervades our world, and unfortunately our churches. When sin or pain occurs, know that our hope is in Jesus. It is absolutely imperative to not downplay, minimize, or tell people to “let go and let God” but you can still maintain hope while caring for our hurting brothers and sisters. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9-10) “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) God does not prevent people from sinning, God does not always stop death from occurring in our world, but he offers Himself to be present with us as we go through these things, and will encourage us, restore us, and use us to help others.
May you be an instrument of God’s hope to those around you.
Noelle Nightingale M.A., is the President of Nightingale Resolutions as well as a consultant, mediator, trainer, and facilitator. She has over 13 year’s experience in the field of Conflict Resolution and is located in Fresno, CA. To find out more check out NightingaleResolutions.com