A Pastoral Response to Physical Abuse in the Family -- By: Heath Lambert

Journal: Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry
Volume: JDFM 01:2 (Spring 2011)
Article: A Pastoral Response to Physical Abuse in the Family
Author: Heath Lambert


A Pastoral Response to Physical Abuse in the Family

Heath Lambert

Heath Lambert (Ph.D.,The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College. He also serves as Pastor of Biblical Living at Crossing Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Heath is the author of The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams (Crossway) and the co-editor of Counseling the Hard Cases (B&H). Heath is married to Lauren. They have three children: Carson, Chloe, and Connor.

The statistics are staggering. Anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of women in the United States of America will be physically attacked by a man with whom they have a close relationship.1 As shocking as this is, however, those numbers are nearly worthless because many women will never report the abuse that they suffer. This means the scandal of abuse is much worse than these percentages. Furthermore, the real impact of physical abuse is seen in the stories of pain and brokenness from the people who experience it: Sue has been married for ten years and last night—for the very first time—her husband shoved her into the wall; Bridget lives in fear of her husband’s periodic explosions which have on occasion resulted in him slapping her repeatedly; Linda has quietly endured violent beatings from her husband every week for five years.2

These stories could be multiplied to include hundreds, thousands, millions of women who are experiencing the physical and spiritual pain of abuse from men who are called by God to protect them. These are situations that pastors, biblical counselors, and other Christian ministers will confront. The only question is whether there will be wisdom to engage both the abused and the abusers in ways that offer help and hope centered in Christ and based on his Word. The purpose of this article is to attempt to add to the wisdom of the church by answering three important questions about the nature of physical abuse in the home. First, what is abuse? Second, can abusers change? Third, how should ministers respond to issues of physical violence?

It may be helpful to observe at the beginning that I have experienced childhood physical abuse at the hands of my mother; she was addicted to alcohol until I was a teenager. I have also counseled many people in the aftermath of physical abuse at the hands of those to whom they are closest. Though my experience as both an abused person and a minister helping the abused has shaped my thinking, this article is not anchored in my experience. Instead, it is anchored in the pages of God’s Word which wisely, sufficiently, and relevantly addresses the theme of abuse and offers counsel ...

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