Our Statement on Abuse & Pastoral Malpractice
It’s been a year since we published our Statement on Abuse & Pastoral Malpractice, encouraging churches and their leaders in FIEC to be above reproach in their ministry and practice. We said in 2020 that the Statement would be reviewed annually, and in February the Trust Board adopted a revised version which we’ve now published.
We’re conscious that we’re still learning about abuse and pastoral malpractice, its impact on the victims, and how to respond when issues are raised with us. We are trying to listen and learn, and hope the revisions reflect our heart to serve Independent churches in this important area.
Our prayer is that FIEC churches will be led by godly, servant-hearted leaders, who follow the pattern of the Lord Jesus as they serve him and his people.
We’ve been helping leaders to do that over the last year in several ways:
Our 2020 Local Conferences included a section about abusive leadership. Our National Director, John Stevens, outlined a biblical response to this difficult topic, before discussion questions encouraged church leaders to think about when pastoral counselling is in danger of becoming controlling. This is now available on our website for leadership teams to use together.
Sadly, there are times when we receive accusations about abuse and pastoral malpractice in an FIEC church. In cases of serious or systemic abuse we will investigate and, where necessary, take action. However, the FIEC cannot and should not intervene every time we receive a complaint or allegation, but only where these fall under the remit of the Statement. We cannot be an arbitrator for all questions and concerns about a particular local church and its decision or practice as an independent church.
We have investigated five allegations of abuse and pastoral malpractice during the year, prompted by the Statement. In four of the five cases we concluded that while mistakes might have been made, the church leaders were not acting abusively.
In the one case where there was evidence of systemic spiritual abuse by a lead pastor, senior leaders at FIEC were invited to help the local church think through the appropriate response. It was our privilege to walk alongside this church and help them to respond properly and carefully.
We have also been helping churches to get proper governing documents in place. Having good policies and procedures in place can help to prevent abusive behaviour occurring. While it’s impossible to prevent sinful actions, good governance can help to protect both churches and individuals.
Alongside all this, we have also revised and reshaped our own internal policies, to make sure we can properly deal with complaints and grievances if and when they come to us.
The steps outlined above reflect the action we’ve taken so far, but we know that there’s more to do.
In the months to come, we’re planning a series of articles and resources for churches and church leaders to help us think through healthy church leadership.
Above all, we must pray for the Lord’s help. I’m mindful of David’s words at the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Chair of the FIEC Trust Board
Monday 22 March, 2021