Not all crises are created equal. Many factors can complicate a crisis. But one of the most devastating complications for a crisis is resistance. We can usually be resilient during hard times when everyone is pulling in the same direction, but when someone who was supposed to be “for” us in the midst of hard times turns “against” us, it is devastating. That is what we want to look at in this reflection.
Examples of Crises with Resistance
Think about the abusive husband who won’t own his actions, claiming his wife is exaggerating and that his stalking behavior is just an expression of “concern.” Think about the wife who is having an affair, saying that no one with a happy marriage could possibly understand her choice or speak into her life. Think about the person hooked on pain pills, claiming that family and friends are being cruel by expecting him to live in chronic pain. Think of the person experiencing a manic episode who thinks life is great as they make destructive, sinful, and impulsive choices but then feels overwhelming shame when the manic high is over.
In these situations, you are usually creating a care team for a group of people rather than an individual. The problem is various people in this group want distinct things and view the problem (if they acknowledge it exists) differently. Because of this, it becomes incredibly difficult to define what “helping” means. It is easy for a care team to get exasperated and exhausted in this environment.
Context for a Crisis Care Team with Resistance
Themes like tough love, being long suffering, believing the best, remaining objective, patience is a form of faith, maintaining hope, being real, and leaving room for God to work crash into one another when there is a crisis with resistance. People will pick sides based on which theme they believe is most relevant. Similarly, people will divide along personality lines: conflict avoiders and truth tellers.
When the initial crisis becomes known, people will rally to help. But, after that, no one can agree on what it means to “help.” That is why we need to understand the dynamics of a crisis with resistance if we are going to minister effectively in this context.
- Multiple People and Teams: The perspective and needs of the people receiving care may be so distinct that multiple care teams are necessary. But, if so and the care recipients are in the same household, communication between care teams becomes difficult to manage (more on this below).
- Multiple Narratives: From the examples above, the difference between concern and stalking or addiction and pain management result in radically different perspectives. It is not that one is biblical and the other unbiblical. Either could be accurate. Which is chosen results in diametrically opposed responses to the same “facts.”
- Teaming and Triangulation: Within respective friend groups, teams form. The “nice” thing one person did is pitted against the “hard” thing someone else said. Statements like, “You really understand. I don’t think they do,” begin to create the teams within the team. The effectiveness of a care team will be dependent on their ability to navigate these dynamics.
- Logistics and Listening Still Primary: Complexity of the situation does not change the primary functions of a care team – to listen with compassion and help with logistics so that the person receiving care to focus needed growth. The care team is not meant to “fix” the situation. Instead, they create a context where the person receiving care is more free to take healthy steps.
These four points comprise the basic outline of the initial pastoral conversation with each person invited to serve on a crisis care team. Naming these challenges before a care team member gets in an uncomfortable situation is a major step towards preventing these situations from being mishandled.
Forming a Crisis Care Team with Resistance
The same steps should be taken to form a care team with resistance as were taken to create a crisis care team (see previous section). However, there are two primary differences that emerge in a context of resistance.
- Forming Two Care Teams: It is likely you will be forming at least two care teams, perhaps more if children are involved. When orienting people to the situation, you need to educate team members on how the two teams will relate to one another.
- Care teams are not fact checkers. Relevant information will be kept in one document (more on that in a moment). The liaison for a care team shares relevant information with the pastor updating this document.
- Care teams are not carrier pigeons. Passing information between care teams inevitably hurts the oppressed/offended person.
- Care teams are not lobbying groups. Care teams care for their person and do not try to change how another care team is caring for their person.
- Care teams are not counselors or treaty writers. The professionals and pastors involved serve this role. Having a dozen good things to do is a distraction from the 2-3 main things that are most important to change.
- The care team focuses on listening and helping with logistics. The care team’s role is to remove distractions and alleviate discouragement that interferes with progress.
- Differentiating Caring from Advocating: Care teams do not “plead the case” of the person for whom they are caring.
- Advocacy is good and needed. It is not what a care team does. A care team is not the lay equivalent of an attorney pleading the case for their client. The extent to which a care team advocates is helping the person summarize their concerns and identify who needs to hear those concerns.
- Relevant professionals set the health and safety agenda. Social workers, addiction counselor, marriage therapists, or comparable professionals provide an assessment of and response plan to the safety and health concerns.
- Pastoral staff set the character formation agenda. Guidance on how to avoid sin, pursue virtue, and endure suffering is provided by the pastoral team.
- The order of the previous two points is intentional and important. When safety or health concerns are involved, these are primary.
- The care team provides support for implementing the safety, health, and character agendas. Care teams are supportive in nature. Care teams need to understand the overall care plan, so their efforts are “pulling in the same direction” as those who are providing counsel and guidance.
In a crisis with resistance, there needs to be a pastoral plan of action that involves the relevant professionals. How this plan is created and communicated is the topic of the next section.
Communication on a Crisis Care Team with Resistance
Where there is resistance multiple narratives emerge. This is why there needs to be greater clarity. Hence, a document like the one found at bradhambrick.com/churchdiscipline is recommended for situations involving a care team with resistance.
This document provides a release of information for the church to speak with any relevant professionals and provides guidance for recording key events in a way that is accessible to everyone on the care team. When a care team only has partial information provided by the resistant person, they are more susceptible to manipulation. Individuals receiving care are most likely to commit to this procedure early in the crisis, before teaming and triangulation begins.
If the resistant individual(s) will not commit to receiving help from the relevant professionals and allowing the care process to be formalized, then church discipline would be enacted for resistance to the care process. Resistance reveals an ingrained disposition that is more committed to sin and dysfunction than to health and holiness. It is unreasonable to expect the church to be involved “on the resistant person’s terms” and without proper advisement. The warning of church discipline is an act of protection for those being harmed by the resistant individual(s) actions.
If there are separate care teams for a husband and wife, then each spouse should have their own care plan document. Information that gives one spouse leverage over the other should not be shared with the other spouse or the spouse’s care team. For example:
- In an abusive marriage, the new residence of a spouse should not be shared with the abusive partner.
- In a situation involving child abuse or neglect, if one spouse is not adhering to CPS prescribed protocols, that fact that an additional report is being made should not be shared until the concern is vetted by CPS.
- If one spouse has a panic attack because of the stress of the disruption, that vulnerability should not be shared with their partner.
The care team for each spouse exists to help that spouse enact their care plan. When one spouse’s care team begins to offer advice to the other spouse’s care team, the social dynamic will become chaotic and part of the unhealthy dynamic. Factual information relevant to the other spouse’s care team should be communicated by the pastor over the care teams (who has access to both documents) only when it allows for more effective implementation of that spouse’s care plan. Until the resistant spouse becomes cooperative and the other spouse feels safe, this protocol should remain in place.
If a care team member disagrees with the care plan, that individual should talk to the pastor over the team. The concern should be heard. If the concern is about the health and safety aspects of the situation, the pastor should vet the concern with the relevant professional at his next interaction with them. If the concern is about the character formation aspect of the case, the pastor should work with the care team to develop consensus about which part of that spouse’s hardship are the derivative of suffering (i.e., “hard”) and which are the result of sin (i.e., “bad”). More guidance on these distinctions can be found at bradhambrick.com/pastorascounselor3.
The more broken life becomes, the more complex helping is. A crisis care team with resistance is the most broken context with which a care team will be involved. During the crisis phase, communication from the pastor to the care team(s) will need to be frequent. If safety or health concerns are involved, advisement from relevant professionals will be of immense benefit for the pastor.
Crises both resist and benefit from structure. Left to their own rhythms and reactions, crises tend towards further degeneration. The structures provided do not “fix” the crisis, but they do create a context where those who are trying to help can stay on the same page and the individuals who desire health and holiness can be identified. If all individuals involved desire health and holiness, then the structure should create a context where relational restoration can occur.
 For more explanation on this point, see bradhambrick.com/why-is-it-inappropriate-and-dangerous-to-alert-an-alleged-offender-of-abuse-before-calling-cps-and-or-the-police.