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5 Clear Reasons Pastors Must Preach on Domestic Violence

Mike Leake

Borrowed Light
Updated May 10, 2024
5 Clear Reasons Pastors Must Preach on Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse often isn’t on our radar. And because it’s not something we assume is happening in our congregations, we do not make application points about it. We preach a sermon on anger from Ephesians 4:26-27 and talk about getting cut off in traffic, but we don’t even think about how it might relate to domestic abuse.

The CDC reports that more than 1 in 3 women and about 1 in 4 men in the US will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. 1 in 3 teenagers experience dating violence. And yet over 40% of pastors “rarely” or “never” speak about domestic violence. Another 22 percent do speak about the issue at least once per year. That means that two-thirds of pastors are not addressing the issue of domestic violence.

Why are we not dealing with this? 

Today we will talk about why pastors aren’t dealing with this, and then give five reasons why they should. 

Why Pastors Don’t Preach on Domestic Violence

Many pastors do not believe this is an issue within their church. That is partially due to our tendency to bury our heads in the sand on some of these uncomfortable issues. We like to think that our preaching is impacting the homes of our congregants (and it likely is). But we put far too much confidence in that once-per-week encounter. This blindness might also be attributed to the manipulation skills of abusers. Nobody “seems” like an abuser, so we assume nobody is. 

Another reality is that pastors are simply not trained in the issue, which means it’s likely not on our radar. When we are confronted with the reality of abuse within our midst, we tend to do one of two things. First, we can assume that with Bible in hand, we have all the answers we need to counsel. We administer what we do know: prayer, forgiveness, endurance, Bible reading, marital roles, etc. Because we are ignorant to the complexities of abuse, we can end up doing more harm than help, such as counseling a wife to go back to her “repentant” husband, or boldly confronting in ways that aren’t safe for the victim. 

The other response is to bow out entirely. We assume that these things ought to be entirely outsourced to authorities or to professional marriage counselors. While it is noble to “stay in your lane,” it’s pastoral malpractice to pretend as if you don’t have any lane on these issues. The Scriptures do speak to care for the vulnerable. We are able to offer some measure of help to those who are hurting — perhaps opening the door for substantial help.

There is one other reason why many pastors rarely preach on domestic violence; it doesn’t come up in the text. Or at least we think that is the case. Many pastors today preach book by book and verse by verse. That’s a good practice which I’d recommend. But it also means that if you aren’t truly preaching expository sermons (but only giving a running commentary on the text), you’ll seldom if ever come to a text on domestic violence. 

This reality merges with the previous one — domestic abuse isn’t on our radar. And because it’s not something on the forefront of our minds, and not something we assume is happening in our congregations, we do not make application points about it. We preach a sermon on anger from Ephesians 4:26-27 and talk about getting cut off in traffic, but we don’t even think about how it might relate to domestic abuse. 

These are some of the reasons we don’t preach on domestic abuse. But we need to. And here are five reasons why. 

1. It Breaks the Silence

Let’s consider a sermon illustration you’re likely familiar with. Remember the one where these daughters lop off the ends of a ham and none of them really knows why? They end up going to great-grandma and find out that she did it because her pan was too short for a regular sized ham. We like to use this story about the nature of tradition. But it also shows the power of information. These ladies had been wasting perfectly good ham because of misinformation. 

Now let’s think about some of the folks stuck in North Korea under the wicked regime of Kim Jong Un. He has isolated them in such a way that they believe they live in the greatest country in the world. That’s what abusers do. They isolate. Wouldn’t you just love to break into that powerful regime and tell those inside that things are so much better than their conditions? Wouldn’t you love to give them hope? 

Pastor, you have that opportunity with those who are suffering from abuse. Many of those who are living with abuse believe “this is just the way it is.” Many of these men and women might have lived with the abuse as a child. They don’t know any different. Can you imagine what could happen if you shared about what is unhealthy in relationships? What would happen if you talked about patterns of abuse? 

Many victims of domestic abuse suffer alone, thinking their situation is unique and inevitable. By speaking openly about domestic violence, you can signal to victims that they aren’t alone. You can point to resources for help.

Why would you not want to take this opportunity? 

But it also breaks the silence for those who might be abusing a spouse. By sharing God’s Word as well as the hope of the gospel, you are giving the Spirit one more opportunity to bring powerful conviction and hope and healing in Jesus. This could be the means that God uses to change the heart of an abuser. 

2. It’s Likely Happening

Looking at the statistics from earlier, it’s likely that 1/3 of your congregation has either faced this, is presently facing it, or is going to face it. Let’s say for a moment that statistics in the church are better. (Though, sadly, the statistics don’t actually seem to prove that). Let’s lower it to 20% instead of 33%. If you knew that 20% of your congregation was consuming black tar heroin, would you address it? 

I’ll be blunt. Do you think 20% of your congregation identifies as LGBTQ+? If they do, you’d be well over the national average. Today around 7% of the US population identifies as LGBTQ+. And yet, pastors seem to have no problem addressing this issue. Why are we suddenly shy to address and issue that is likely impacting 1 out of 5 people in your congregation. It’s happening. Why not address it? 

And can you imagine what benefit it could be to get out in front of these things? What would it look like if we could train our young men and women to notice these red flags? Information is healing in these things. Why not give it early? 

3. It’s Your Duty

Pastors are called to be shepherds of the flock of God. One of the primary roles of a shepherd is to protect the flock from harm. We are entrusted with the well-being of our congregations — that includes addressing issues of both sin and suffering. That includes addressing domestic abuse. Proverbs 31:8-9 calls us to “speak up” for the vulnerable. Preaching on domestic abuse is part of fulfilling this calling. 

In addressing domestic abuse, pastors also echo the teachings of Christ. Jesus called upon His followers to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). Part of loving others is confrontation. This means confronting those who are harming others as well as confronting the issues broadly. Our job is to lead others into the love of Christ. When we turn a blind eye to abuse, we’re neglecting our duty. 

4. It Helps Create a Healthy Culture

Issues like domestic abuse (as well as sexual abuse) are really culture issues. I do not mean secular culture but the culture within a church. Let’s think for a moment about two different church cultures. 

In the first church, the pastor “preaches hard on sin,” but only certain sins. He never addresses abuse. He calls the idea of abusive systems, “nothing more than woke Marxism.” Which means that anytime someone brings up an issue of being abused his first instinct is to play defense attorney. His posture is that of making victims “prove it.” If he is satisfied that something “might” have happened, he’ll encourage the victim to forgive the perpetrator, warning against bitterness. When asked about confronting the abuser, he’ll talk about the need to not give the church a black eye. “If you’re able to forgive, then we can just let this issue die right here,” he’ll say. 

Now in the second church, the pastor talks about things like grooming practices. He talks about cycles of abuse. He preaches about domestic abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, etc. He trains the church in how to keep their eyes open. If someone comes to him, his posture is to have a posture of belief. He will immediately call the authorities and if a minor is involved, he’ll also involve child services. Every instance is taken seriously, and the church knows this. Rather than immediately encouraging “forgiveness” and warning about “bitterness,” this pastor will allow the victim to tell their story. He’ll listen. And he’ll take appropriate action, involving others within the community as necessary. 

If you were an abuser, which of these churches would you prefer? 

Preaching on domestic abuse is part of creating that second culture. We want a culture where the vulnerable feel safe and the abusive feel uncomfortable. Far too often it’s the other way around. But when it comes to Jesus, He stands with the vulnerable and His back is against the abusive temple system. Every time. 

5. It Will Make You Healthier

Lastly, doing this is good for you too. For one, it’s always good to do the right thing. It’s good to stand with Jesus on these issues. But I mean something a little different here. I’m going to assume that you want to be a good pastor. I assume that you wouldn’t feel comfortable standing before the people and spouting off your opinions. This means that if you commit to preaching on this topic, you’ll like dig into learning about domestic abuse.

This isn’t an issue where we should be ill-equipped or bury our head in the sand. It’s impacting people in our congregation. We pastors need to know about abuse dynamics. We need to know how to spot the signs. We need to know how to listen well. We need to be equipped to bring help instead of cause harm to the vulnerable in our congregation. Commit to diving into this topic, and it will not only make your congregation healthier, but you too.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sveta Zi

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.