Category: Blog

Do No Harm | Part 2

August 26, 2020

In Part 1, we looked at the intersection of pastoral care and victim care, uncovering potential dynamics for harm. We saw the value of naming and exposing darkness as pastors guide victims into the light of God’s truth. This post offers some recommendations for spiritual authorities as they seek to cultivate wisdom and skill for victim care.

Educate Yourself
It takes courage for a victim to share even a small part of his or her story. [1] It must be received with grace, reflection, and follow-up. It is not a victim’s job to educate the church on how to care for them. It is the pastor’s responsibility to be fully versed in Scripture, and in the unique sufferings of their congregation. Not because pastors must be “relevant,” but because Christians are called to welcome the vulnerable without putting obstacles in their way (Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42). If a pastor wants his people to see Jesus, he must not block their view.

Competent victim care usually requires a basic knowledge of trauma. [2] Jesus sympathizes perfectly (Heb. 4:15), but humans do not. We have to learn things. Growing in trauma-awareness will involve searching Scriptural narratives: how does God speak and act in the face of oppression? Understanding trauma’s impact will also require the common grace insights of secular researchers, scholars, and practitioners. It’s hard to learn in an echo chamber, bouncing ideas off people who look and speak like we do. In his review of three secular trauma resources, Ed Welch writes: “My goals are to understand and learn from experienced people, and to think Christianly about non-Christian literature.” [3] 

Wise pastors nurture a humble curiosity as they study Scripture and study people to meaningfully connect biblical hope to the real experiences of their congregation. [4] 

Practice Thoughtful Listening
Trauma isn’t pretty. Abuse is hard to hear about—imagine living it. A victim might say to him- or herself, “stay quiet, nobody wants to hear this.” Pastors have the chance to prove otherwise, as they listen to unfamiliar, un-pretty stories with a compassionate imagination (Heb. 13:3).

One way to practice thoughtful listening is by focusing on the sufferer, not yourself or other people. Love is not self-promoting (1 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 4:10)—so when a victim is meeting with a pastor, they do not need him to “relate.” Trauma is not a casual conversation topic, nor is it a cue for the listener’s personal anecdote.

Here are some things not to say:

  • “Sorry about your sexual abuse. My wife and I struggled with purity while dating, so we understand shame”
  • “Trauma is hard, isn’t it? We had an emergency C-section once, we get it”
  • “Nightmares will go away. At least your body’s in one piece—a buddy of mine lost a leg during his deployment”

People who say things like this might mean well—but good intentions do not absolve us of wrongdoing. [5] These self-referential responses show a lack of relational maturity, and they functionally diminish the sufferer’s pain. When pastors try to understand this person’s experience rather than linking it back their own, they gain passport into the victim’s world. They slowly earn trust to meaningfully minister Christ—with actions as much as with words.

Pastoral follow-up could look more like this:

  • “You have suffered so much. I hate it, and I know God hates the evil done to you.”
  • “What else would you like to share?”
  • “Thank you for trusting me with part of your story. I bet that was really difficult to do. May I ask – what are you thinking and feeling right now?”

Wise listening is characterized by mutuality and respect. Pastors must treat victims as equals (because they are). Christlike compassion doesn’t objectify people as ministry receptacles, nor does it elevate the helper as a hero. Rather, it comes alongside and literally suffers with others (Rom. 12:14-15). When we are with someone, we do not see them as inferior. They’re not beneath us. They’re not pitiably messy people for our superior selves to “help.” When we suffer with others, we are entering the sacred space of Jesus Christ Who got in our skin to feel our pain (Isa. 53:4-6; John 1:14; Phil. 2:1-11).

In Part 3, we will look at ways to be careful and Christlike in words and actions, and the appropriateness of building a care team that consists of more people than the pastor.


[1] Both men and women are victims of sexual abuse. At least 10 percent of rape victims are male, and some statistics show that close to 17 percent of men and boys have been sexually assaulted or abused. This is not a “women’s issue.” See “Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics” RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, and, (

[2] If you’re not sure how to define or understand trauma, consider “Post-Traumatic Stress,” a free video lecture series by biblical counselor and pastor Brad Hambrick, (September 25, 2015). Another fantastic resource is CCEF’s audio conference: “Trauma: Bearing the Unbearable” by Ed Welch and Darby Strickland ( ). Scott Harrower’s God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World is a brilliant scholarly-theological resource on how trauma shapes the way victims interpret Scripture and how God’s offer of shalom gives hope.

[3] “Trauma and the Body: An Introduction to Three Books,” by Edward T. Welch, The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 33 Number 2 (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation: Glenside, PA, 2019), 63.

[4] Church Cares is an immediately helpful curriculum for churches who want to love victims well.  ( Side by Side is another great resource for churches seeking to boost member care and discipleship (

[5] Thanks to Scott O’Malley, friend and fellow biblical counselor, for this truth.


  • IBCD

    The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship exists to strengthen churches in one another care by offering training, counseling resources, events, and free resources that are helpful to anyone interested in learning how to better help others.

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