In a few hours, the ERLC’s much anticipated National Conference “Caring Well: Equipping Churches to Confront the Abuse Crisis” will begin. I am thankful for the ERLC choosing this timely subject for their conference this year – enough so that I am attending my first one and have brought a small group from my church with me. I attend a fair number of conferences and have participated in many of the SBC’s denomination wide emphases over the years, but this one seems different and I am hopeful that it will make a lasting impact as we focus on ministering well to those around us. In a previous post, I highlighted some concerns with the #CaringWell initiative and conference. Despite these concerns, I remain hopeful.
Let me share a few thoughts here on why I think this initiative is important, why I am here at the conference.
The #CaringWell challenge and this ERLC conference puts a needed spotlight on the issues related to sexual abuse – both making churches safe places and ministering well to those who have experienced the trauma of abuse. Southern Baptists are known for our denomination-wide emphases—Bold Mission Thrust, Experiencing Kingdom Growth (EKG), Great Commission Resurgence, Who’s Your One?—usually emphasizing evangelism and missions. I am thankful that our president formed his Caring Well Advisory Group and for the resulting #CaringWell challenge, conference, and materials that have been developed as a result. The SBC has faced a number of important challenges and issues in recent years. Though I am often frustrated by the slowness of our response in the denomination and the sharp learning curve that we have that impedes progress on these issues, I am thankful that we have put this issue front and center and invited our institutions, churches, and pastors to take it seriously and address it quickly and fully. While this is only a first step, it is a needed one. Time will tell if Southern Baptists are truly serious about confronting the sexual abuse crisis, but this initiative is a positive first step.
This particular emphasis is important personally, because it has given me the opportunity and support to go back to my church and say “This is important. We need to take this issue seriously and do so now.” My church and its leaders are in full support, we have adopted the Caring Well challenge and formed a team, we are sending four to the conference, and are making plans to share what we learn not only with our congregation, but with others in our region. The Caring Well initiative has been effective for at least my church in making this issue a priority among the myriad of things we could be addressing. For small church settings where resources are limited and leaders are pulled in many different directions, the Caring Well initiative is helping give legs to an issue that might otherwise not receive attention—not because it’s not important, but because there is always more to do than we have the time and resources to do. That leads to a second benefit, especially for my smaller membership church.
The initiative has provided a conference and accompanying materials (free of charge) that are accessible for smaller churches. These materials will help pastors and churches be equipped to take the first steps toward making their churches safe places and caring well for others. In consultation with leading experts, the advisory group has put together quality materials to help implement change in our local congregations. Start with the 52-page Caring Well Report. This report was delivered by the Caring Well Advisory group at #SBC19 and outlines beginning step for addressing this issue both on a denominational and local church level. For a more detailed study, pick up the book study Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, available free on Amazon Kindle or pdf and has a free accompanying video training as well.
One other note: Though some have speculated about profiteering, I don’t see any evidence of that here. All the materials are free. The cost of attending the conference in person is quite low compared to others I have attended and, for the many many churches that cannot afford to send people in person, the conference is being live streamed as well as allowing churches to simulcast the conference at their own venue free of charge.
I expect the conference itself to be powerful and helpful. The ERLC has invited leading experts on this issue and given them free rein to address the issues in a forthright manner. While there are denominational leaders on the platform, their role seems secondary and limited to appropriate issues. In addition to many important survivor stories, the main keynote and panel discussions are being delivered by people who have led out on this issue.
While I could go into detail about each of the speakers, let me note a few:
- Beth Moore has shown tremendous courage in recent months as she has spoken openly about issues related to abuse and the culture of our churches and denomination in its treatment of women. I am eager to hear her challenge tonight, calling on pastors and church leaders to “The Courage to Confront the Crisis of Abuse in the Church.”
- Boz Tchividjian will give the keynote address in the Friday evening session, “Winter Inside the Church and Hope for Spring.” I am thankful to hear that he has been given free rein to speak without restrictions. Boz Tchividjian is expected to speak pointedly and candidly to us on this issue, and I welcome that.
- Diane Langberg will be giving an address in the closing session “Suffering and the Heart of God.” I commend to you her book by the same title which is the best thing I’ve read on ministering to those who have experienced significant trauma. I’ve read every book she has written and this one twice. In my own ministry, her materials have been extremely helpful in both understanding the trauma of abuse and ministering to survivors of abuse.
- Mary DeMuth will also give a practical address on Saturday morning entitled “We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis.” While I am not as familiar with her ministry, her book by the same title is an excellent practical resource for any church desiring to minister well.
Many other survivors, advocates, and leaders will be speaking as well and the entire lineup, including a number of breakouts and panel discussions, looks valuable. Overall, I am anticipating a great conference.
Thanks for reading some of my thoughts here and why I am optimistic about the direction of the Convention and about the future of the church in which I pastor. Again, this is a positive first step. Initiatives give focus, materials and conferences are helpful, but these events pass and the real impact will be seen if and when we take real action. My hope is that this will not be a “one and done” conference that merely checks a box to show that we care or yet another SBC initiative that is soon forgotten as soon as another issue or news cycle comes along. My prayer is that it is a first phase in turning our denomination to truly address this issue. My prayer is that it results in pastors and lay leaders going back and making real changes in their local congregations. May God work in us.