Predator-Proof Your Flock

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Protect your children and your church from wolves in
sheep’s clothing

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It’s the universal cry of the children’s ministry leader: “We
need volunteers, we need volunteers, we need volunteers, we need
volunteers, WE NEED VOLUNTEERS!”

No matter the ministry size, it seems churches are desperate for
volunteers to effectively minister to kids. And because we’re so
desperate, we can get careless, sometimes even sloppy, and we leave
ourselves open for the wrong person to infiltrate the ranks of the
faithful.

“Oh, this would never happen at my church,” I’ve heard many
leaders say. But the reality is that it happens all the time.

An Eye-Opening Experience

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Let me tell you my story. It was a January in the mid-1980s, and
I was attending a Children’s Pastor’s Conference in Denver,
Colorado. One of the featured speakers was an FBI investigator
who’d worked the McMartin Daycare case, which was in every headline
in the early 80s. He talked about Virginia McMartin’s small
preschool that started as a pride-piece of the community and ended
as possibly the most notorious child-abuse accusation debacle in
American history. In August of 1983 the preschool was all over the
news. Accusations led to investigations. Investi­gations led to
arrests and a trial. And ultimately it all led to the accused
abusers’ exoneration. But the case brought child abuse to the front
of everyone’s mind, especially those working with children. We all
knew child abuse was an issue, we just didn’t talk about it.

As I listened to the FBI investigator talk about necessary
safeguards, I have to admit that I, too, was desperate for
volunteers. I’d had the mind-set that finding good children’s
ministry volunteers was like a game of Red Rover. I thought the
best way to find volunteers was to call out to God, “Red Rover, Red
Rover, send volunteers right over!” God would hear my cry, and
whoever came my way and said he or she wanted to volunteer was
God’s answer to my prayer. And if that person said the magic words:
“I volunteered in children’s ministry at Brother So-and-So’s
church” — man, oh man! I’d hit the mother lode — willingness and
experience!

What was wrong with that thinking? Doesn’t it say in the Bible
somewhere, “Whosoever comes and is willing, let them help in
children’s ministry?”

It never dawned on me to pick up the phone, make a call, and
find out if that person had been a blessing or a curse at the last
church. But as the FBI investigator continued speaking, alarms were
flipping on in my mind left and right. And I started to
wonder…What had I been thinking? How could I have been so hard up
for volunteers that I’d thrown all wisdom and sound judgment out
the window? There in the middle of that conference, I started
rethinking the vulnerability of my church and children’s ministry.
I made up my mind to not only provide children and families with a
doctrinally safe environment but a physically safe one as well.

At the next break in the conference, other children’s pastors
and I brainstormed ideas and steps we could take to safeguard our
ministries. One pastor, who was also a workshop presenter and had a
resource table right next to mine, said he thought the FBI
investigator was just too harsh, not forgiving or understanding at
all. Several of us thought his reaction was odd — I guess being of
good redneck breeding, to me it was perfectly acceptable to hang
all child abusers…in a Christian way, of course. But I discovered
shortly after the conference that the children’s pastor who’d been
so negative about guarding our ministries had been arrested on
multiple counts of child abuse and molestation. He was sentenced to
prison. The church was devastated. His wife and family were
devastated. And the children and families involved were hurt and
victimized. It was a huge mess.

That single experience was a pivotal part of my growth as a
children’s ministry leader. I knew then that I had to do whatever
was needed to make it next to impossible for child abusers to get
into my church.

The Birds, the Bees, and the Freaks of
Nature

Why are churches such vulnerable targets? First, factor in our
desperation for volunteers. Then factor in our expectation that
everyone has good intentions — especially when it comes to
children. First Corinthians 12:27 says, “All of you together
are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” That Scripture
is talking about believers, but it’s easy to forget that not
everyone who volunteers follows Jesus. We often don’t ask very
important questions because we assume we know the person’s
intentions. Sometimes because we think we know someone, we don’t
ask sticky questions or do a criminal history investigation. We’re
not only desperate, we’re just too plain trusting.

The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy that church leaders should be
blameless and tested. There’s nothing wrong with knowing those who
serve among you — it’s your responsibility.

We must overcome personal discomfort when it comes to asking
questions of potential volunteers. God warned us that in the last
days perversions would be found even in the church. Still we resist
asking questions of applicants to find out their lifestyle. In my
opinion, if you have to have references to flip burgers at
McDonald’s, you have to have references to work with precious
children in the house of faith.

Until recently we as the church didn’t walk in wisdom when it
came to classroom security and policies. And it might surprise you
to hear me say that child molesters know that. Think about it: If I
were going to rob a bank — I’m not, by the way — I’d look for the
target that was least pre­pared to stop me. Most churches I know
are easy targets because we just don’t believe such a thing will
ever happen to us. Besides…we need volunteers!

     

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