6 Ways to Serve Survivors of Abuse

Can I ask you something, friend to friend? 

What if after church next Sunday, a godly longtime member of your church approached you with tears burning in her eyes, and in a voice barely above a whisper, squeezed out the words, “I’ve been abused.” Would you know what to do . . . what to say?

If your honest answer is “no,” you’re not alone. Abuse is an ugly and prevalent sin in our broken world. When we’re faced with this awful reality, we can find ourselves reeling, unsure of what to do or say. I don’t write these words as some sort of specialist. No impressive degree hangs on my wall as evidence that I know how to handle this horrendous sin. Rather, I am approaching this gut-wrenching topic alongside you as a friend, one who has walked the path of abuse myself and found some things that fellow Christ-followers have done to be helpful, and some things not so much. Also, I’m not suggesting that these are the only things that you should do to care for survivors of abuse. Let this post be a starting point to help you think through how you can practically care for those in your life who are hurting. My prayer is that you can begin to make a difference in your church and world as you seek to care for the vulnerable in a Christlike way.

One final disclaimer: safety matters. If someone you know is in a dangerous, abusive situation please, first and foremost, work with them to get them to safety before doing anything else.

1. Listen and Learn

Abuse has an uncanny ability to take away the voice of the abused. A survivor who is telling you about their experience is likely standing in a hurricane of fear, shame, and a swirl of other thoughts and emotions but choosing to bravely talk to you about their abuse anyway. This is no small feat.

Listening and learning are not small feats either. Both dignify the individual brave enough to share their experience with you. As you seek to do so, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Silently pray. As the survivor begins to share, silently say a quick prayer asking the Lord for wisdom and discernment. Ask Him to help you listen well and respond with love and grace.
  • Actively listen. It may be tempting to try to figure out what you’re going to say next. When you do this, you risk missing what is being shared. Plus, you are not being fully present. It may take a few minutes longer for you to respond when your friend is finished, but a brief pause here and there is much better than being an absent listener. 
  • Avoid assumptions. Abuse is not a one-size-fits-all issue to grapple with, so make sure that you’re listening to the specific individual in front of you. Assuming that you know how they feel or what they’re going to say because you’ve talked with other survivors is unhelpful. But using knowledge you’ve gained from talking with other survivors can help prepare you better for what you might hear or how to respond.
  • Withhold judgment. Your role is not to determine the validity of what is being shared with you. Your friend has come to you for a listening ear; lovingly provide help and comfort.
  • Be honest. Abuse is a hard thing to respond to. It shakes us to the very core. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know what to say. I am so sorry for what you are going through, and I want you to know that I am here for you.” 

2. Pray First

It’s easy to think that prayer doesn’t help as much as meeting a survivor’s physical and practical needs, but your prayers for survivors of abuse matter. You are praying to the all-powerful God for whom nothing is too hard. He can give supernatural peace and comfort. He can give courage and clarity of thought. He can give grace upon grace for every minute that a survivor walks through the valley of the shadow of death. He can give healing and hope beyond what our human minds think possible. So, pray. Pray for the survivors in your church and in your life. Go boldly before the throne of grace for them, knowing that our God, the comforter of the broken-hearted, is listening. 

3. Be a Conduit

The church is often the first place that survivors turn to for help. This is because they trust the church. As the body of Christ, we must steward their trust well.1 One way to do so is knowing how to connect survivors with the help that they need. 

Many churches maintain lists of local law enforcement, social workers, counselors, church elders, attorneys, and parachurch ministries, as well as other critical contacts useful in a variety of situations. Consider asking someone on your church staff if you could have a copy of your church’s list. It is likely a wonderful starting point. If your church does not have a list like this, encourage them to make one or offer to put one together.

It may take time for survivors to be ready to receive additional help and care, but knowing how to connect them to these resources when they are ready is critical. Perhaps you could give them a small list of resources to keep so that when they feel ready to take the next step, they don’t have to be overwhelmed by looking for contacts and resources in the never-ending recesses of the internet.

4. Be Practical

No doubt, you’ve seen your church start a meal train for someone who is in need. Maybe they’ve just had surgery or a new baby is on the way. I love serving in meal trains because it’s a practical way to meet a physical need while showing someone that you care. The survivors of abuse in your church (and in your life) have physical needs too, and when coping with trauma, it can be hard to perform even the most basic functions of everyday living. Here are a few ideas to help you meet these physical needs:

  • Start a meal train. Ask the survivor if they would be okay with you starting a meal train for them. If they are okay with it, ask if they have any dietary restrictions and how many people need to be fed. Be sure to include this information in the meal train announcement. Assure them that you won’t share any personal details that they do not want shared. You could simply say, “We as a church are blessing so-and-so with a meal train for the next few weeks.” You could also give them the option to pick up the meals from the church if they are uncomfortable with people dropping off meals at their home or wherever they may be staying.  
  • Offer a place to stay. Sometimes survivors (and their children) may need a safe place to stay for a while. Prayerfully consider opening your home. Even if you can only host them for a few nights, this will be incredibly helpful in easing the survivor’s burden of trying to figure out where to stay. Also, they will likely feel much more at ease staying in the comfort of a home with someone familiar than somewhere surrounded by strangers. If several families within the church are willing to share this responsibility, the survivor will have longer access to a safe place to stay while they are searching for a more permanent solution.
  • Provide transportation. Offering a ride to church, work, appointments, or other places they may need to go is another very practical way that you can serve survivors of abuse. Getting them from point A to point B is more meaningful than you might think.
  • Be by their side. Do they have a court date coming up? Maybe their first counseling appointment? Perhaps they just want someone to go grocery shopping with them. Offer to simply go with them to places they need to be. Sometimes survivors may want to be alone. Other times they may feel much more comfortable having someone along to support them. Be willing to go, even if you just wait in the car while they run an errand.

5. Follow Up 

For the first few weeks and months, some survivors of abuse are bombarded with support. Yet in the months and years to come, when the “newness” of what happened has worn off, they may begin to feel isolated and alone. Be the one who reaches out as time goes by. Ask if there are things that they still need or would benefit from. Send notes of Scripture and encouragement as the Lord lays them on your heart. Let them know you are there for them for the long haul.

6. Speak Truth

As you go about listening, serving, and praying, ask the Lord to show you opportunities to share the truth of God’s Word with the survivors in your life. In the Revive Our Hearts podcast episode, “How to Help the Suffering,” Colleen Chao does a wonderful job explaining how to navigate this well. She says,

Sometimes the best thing to do before we share Scripture . . . sounds weird to say, but we sit with someone in their “ashes and their boils.”

Job was sitting there in excruciating suffering and loss! And his friends said some right things, they had some great truths, but wrong timing! So, until we can sit in the grief and mix our tears with our friend’s tears and figure out where they’re at, I am very slow to share a verse. But eventually there’s a beautiful time to do so, after we’ve been with them in their grief.

The verses [have] been hurtful over time because it’s not been Spirit-led; it’s [been] just this verse thrown out. Scripture is powerful, it changes our hearts, and I love it with all my heart. It’s my life! But there’s a sensitivity to the Spirit that we need when we do that.

So please, give the Word of God to the hurting. It carries powerful truth that heals. Just be mindful and sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you do. 

Pushing Back the Darkness

My prayer is that this post would be a practical resource that helps equip you to bear the burdens of others (Gal. 6) and that it would be a starting point to help you think about how to care for those around you who may be silently suffering. May Jesus be glorified and represented well as the Church works to push back the darkness. 

If this article has been helpful to you, would you consider partnering with us to provide more resources like this to women desperately in need of finding freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ? Revive Partners are part of a team of faithful monthly contributors whose gifts make it possible for Revive Our Hearts to produce biblically rich content for women in every season. Learn more by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com/partner

1Brad Hambrick, Becoming a Church that Cares Well for The Abused (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2019), 14. 

About the Author

Ashley Gibson

Ashley Gibson

Ashley Gibson is a native of the mountains of Maryland, lover of flowers, and an ardent believer in writing letters. She always has a song in her heart—and usually one on her lips. Ashley loves encouraging others to know and … read more …

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