Barely a month goes by without a story of another church leader accused of sexual assault or harrassment. We are getting to the place where we are no longer shocked, but have become resigned to this new reality of sexual abuse in the church. Yet, each story represents a massive tragedy, with concentric circles of victims in its wake– those at the center of the storm who have been violated, but also family members, friends and a community of people who have been betrayed.

It’s time not only to be reactive, but also proactive. As we lament and care for sexual abuse victims, we must also move forward in ways that fight against patterns of abuse. What is the larger church’s responsibility in addressing sexual abuse and what steps should we take to prevent it? While this is a complex problem that requires many layers of intervention, I want to suggest five necessary shifts. 

 

Embrace Open Conversations on Sexuality.

To reclaim the territory of sexuality, we must first break the silence. Our church history has passed down traditions related to sex that are far from biblical. God was not ashamed to talk about sex, so why are we? While these conversations need to be handled with propriety and sensitivity, every church and Christian community needs to boldly step into the awkwardness of normalizing conversations about sexuality.

Whether it’s addressing questions on masturbation, marital challenges, abuse, or gender identity, churches need to normalize these conversations. By doing so, they give language and permission for people to recognize destructive patterns of behavior and to seek help when needed.

 

Recognize the Prevalence of Sexual Struggles.

We are all sexually broken.

How would you feel if you found out that your pastor has struggled with pornography since he was eight years old? Would you think differently about him if you learned that he had been sexually molested as a child? How would it impact you to learn that the majority of the elders of your church have significant issues of sexual struggle and pain?

Whether or not they are open to admit this, Christian leaders are not immune from every form of sexual struggle. Unfortunately, we often don’t usually discover how leaders battle sexually until it is too late.

While Christian leaders may have greater knowledge and may be called by God into ministry, they are human with wounds, temptations, and weaknesses waiting to be exploited by the enemy. Like King David and Solomon, they too face temptations and vulnerabilities. By acknowledging this reality, we foster a culture of transparency and accountability, preventing the perpetuation of secrecy and abuse.

 

Amplify Women’s Voices in Church Leadership.

This blog is not about whether or not your church should ordain women or invite them to teach in the pulpit. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, the lack of women’s voice in Christian leadership circles is a dynamic that feeds and perpetuates exploitation.

Every church needs visible women in leadership who can not only give insight, but also be identified as safe people to ask for help. 

Women listen to women. They understand what it feels like to be objectified and minimized. God has given women an intuition that often sees below the surface of events and words. Men in leadership would be wise to invite and elevate the voices of discerning women among them.

 

Activate the Entire Body of Christ.

The hierarchical model of church leadership needs reevaluation. Instead of centralized power, we must embrace the diversity of gifts within the body of Christ. 

Yes, the Bible affirms the roles of pastors, teachers, and other leaders. Yet God never intended for spiritual power to be entrusted to a few decision makers.

The Christian body is made up of a multitude of gifts, experiences, and personalities. The pastor is not the head of the body—Christ is. When a few hold the power of an organization, Christian or otherwise, they often naturally use their influence to protect that power rather than expose weaknesses. 

By involving individuals with various spiritual gifts and perspectives, we create a more resilient and accountable community, capable of addressing systemic issues effectively. The spiritual battle of reclaiming sexuality is not the work of a special committee within a denomination. It is all of our work.

 

Employ Spiritual Warfare.

There is no greater gain for evil than sexual abuse and exploitation within the sanctuary of God’s people. How many have walked away from our Lord Jesus Christ because of the failures of those who claimed to represent Him? What we are witnessing is not a cultural phenomenon, but a devastating spiritual defeat with the souls of men and women at stake.

Have we prayed about this tragedy as much as we’ve gossiped about it? Honestly, I am convicted by my own question. No amount of human wisdom, strategizing, or structure can defeat the powers of evil. God tells us how to fight and win this battle: Prayer, repentance, fasting, pressing into God’s Word, and the Spirit-filled courage to speak for those who have no voice.

Jesus said we are one body united by one spirit. What we are witnessing is not a specific church’s problem, but a cancer within our own body.  When one part suffers, we all suffer.

 

Will you join the battle to reclaim the territory of sexuality that God’s love and healing might invade this current darkness?

 

Additional Resources:

Blog: I Was Sexually Abused. Now, God Is Restoring My Identity

Java with Juli: #512 Friends Who Hurt Us: How To Recognize Unlikely Sources Of Abuse