The #1 Thing a Church Can Do to Help DV Victims

OCTOBER 11, 2023 | Rachel

I want to tell you a story - a true story.

Two women from the same church lost their husbands the same week.

The first was a homeschooling mom. Her husband was the breadwinner. When it happened, the church leaders immediately made calls & sent emails to the church so everyone could jump in and help.

Those gifted in administration started forming teams. And in days, they had a childcare team, a yard care team, clothing for the kids team, meal team, home and car repair team, and an encouragement team - folks to just be with her.

They also had a fundraising team -- who in just a few days, raised a full year of living expenses for them. It was incredible. Everyone pitched in.

The second woman was also a homeschooling mom facing a very similar set of needs.

But when the church leaders found out about the loss of her husband, they didn’t pick up the phone or send an email.

They told her that for the sake of the gospel, they didn’t want her to tell anyone in the church about this. “You’re focused on your own ‘needs’, and not on your own soul. We can’t help you.”

That second woman went into deep poverty and years of additional hardship that could have been avoided, had the church leaders seen her widowhood as worthy of help.

You probably know where I’m going with this. What was the difference between the two women? 

The first woman’s husband died in a car accident. 

The second woman’s husband was abusing her and the kids.

The Difference

What was it that opened the doors to the church's help for the first woman & slammed them shut for the second?

It was the number one most important thing that you as a leader bring to the table. And it actually has nothing to do with money. It’s free.

As leaders, the #1 thing you can do to help domestic abuse survivors is to recognize them as worthy of help -- and to say so to your church. They did so for the woman whose husband died in the car accident, but they said nothing (or worse, downplayed the severity) about the second woman's crisis.

You see, if you're a church leader, everyone is looking to you to give your take. They’re waiting to jump into action. They’re waiting for permission. They're waiting to find out if this is a legit crisis. Why? Because they trust you for spiritual guidance: you’re the one who gives your “blessing” to various ministries in the church. 

They’re ready to share, ready to give, and ready to organize, but they’re waiting for the word.

If you could hear their conversations about women in the congregation who’ve left their abusive husbands, they often go like this: 

Did you hear about so and so? 

Yeah, I’m waiting to see what the elders say (or what the board president says / what the principal says) 

I don’t know what happened there.

Yeah, me neither, I’m going to defer to whatever leadership says, ‘cause they know more about it than I do. That’s above my paygrade. 

There is so much power in giving the word that this person is worthy of the church’s help. It opens the doors to resources beyond even what you personally have. Convincing the congregation opens the door to all their resources (and their friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc!).

Why don’t we give that word?

"A Family Matter"

So often, when we hear about someone in our church who was abused years ago, by an abuser “out there,” “in the world,” some "random person" she didn’t know or wasn’t related to, it’s easy to say “That was wrong! That demands justice! We stand with her against that in the name of Christ and will do whatever we have to!”

But when we hear about abuse within the family, suddenly all these theological walls go up. 

Wait! God hates divorce!

Children, honor your parents! 

God wants families to be intact! 

Surely there’s something that can be done, all things are possible!

Don’t you know the statistics about broken homes!

How will that be a good witness for Christ?!

Can’t this be resolved through Matthew 18? 

What about not suing fellow Christians?

What’s clear in other situations - what is a crime in other situations, becomes a “family matter” because of theological confusion.

And we get paralyzed. And the woman doesn't get any help.

(For wrestling through the theology of divorce for domestic abuse, we highly recommend the books written by Leslie Vernick, Darby Strickland, and Sheila Gregoire.)

When we can wrestle through those theological barriers and give the word to our people that this is legit ministry, we unlock the door to resources & congregational support.

She Often Has No Other Resources

We know that resources & community support can be the difference between a domestic abuse victim staying and leaving, and between surviving and not surviving.

Because with domestic abuse, it’s not just an isolated act; the abuse is part of a system of power and control.

  • She’s locked out of the bank account. 
  • She gets an allowance for groceries.
  • She’s not allowed to have a credit card.
  • All the financial accounts are in his name. If she leaves, she’s penniless. There’s no money for an apartment, an attorney, a phone, car repair, medical expenses, childcare, clothes. Maybe she never got to go to college, or was never allowed to work, and so has no recent work experience.
  • He monitors her phone, email & location. 
  • She’s isolated from family and friends - maybe he even moved her away from them so she’d have nowhere to turn.
  • He becomes friends with spiritual leaders in her life, so they’ll never believe her.
  • And using Scripture, he tells her that God gives him “the right” to do this.

She may literally have no other resources than what the church can offer her.

Practical Needs

So given these extra burdens, what does she need? She needs financial help & community support.


  • Housing: does your church or organization own houses or apartments? Empty parsonages, mission houses, AirBnBs? Somewhere she could stay temporarily for a very low cost or free while she considers next steps?
  • Trauma therapy: this woman may have PTSD, a physical brain injury from trauma that can cause difficulty functioning every day. And right now she needs full access to her mental resources more than ever. But therapy is expensive and often won’t go through insurance. What would it look like to develop a counseling fund?
  • A retainer for an attorney: she’ll probably need one - and a good one. It can be a long road, and often abusers use the legal system to further abuse their victims.
  • Jobs: what business owners in your network could possibly provide flexible hours, or even remote work, so she can be home with her kids?
  • Groceries. Meals. Gas cards. Car repairs. Clothing for the children. It may help to ask the question: if her husband had just died in a car accident, what would she need?
  • Does your church or organization have a benevolence fund? Is it set up to provide help for those in crisis?
  • Are you connected to your local domestic violence center? Your local child advocacy center

In terms of community support:

  • Childcare: a team of people help out periodically, to have the kids over occasionally,  to become emergency contacts; or even folks who can rotate providing childcare while she works.
  • People to sit with & help her call the authorities if needed.
  • To go with her to the court house
  • To take notes when she meets an attorney or applies for other emergency help.
  • To help her map out her options in a notebook
  • To pray with her
  • To give her a place to celebrate holidays
  • To have dinner together

If we considered her & her kids to be a “widow and orphans,” what would we do?

Our Work

In our work at Give Her Wings, we provide financial aid and spiritual encouragement to women who’ve lost support from the Christian community for leaving an abusive marriage. And for each, it’s this same story:

Not being considered worthy of help by the Christian community, 

led to not receiving any help,

which led to deeper poverty and isolation,

which led to deeper trauma for the mother,

which led to deeper trauma for the children,

and effects that may ripple for generations. 

But we the church have the opportunity to change course.

When ministry leaders believe these women are worthy of help, communicate that to the congregation regularly, and have systems of help ready, this keeps these women and children from developing deeper trauma.

And that opens the door to healing for both her and the children, for generations to come.

Let's put Give Her Wings out of business by nurturing these kinds of church communities all over the country 💜

If you'd like additional help thinking through these matters, check out our domestic abuse mini-courses designed just for you, or reserve your spot on our waitlist for our March 2024-25 Give Her Wings Academy cohort.

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