7 Ways to Stop a Predator
Here are the precautionary measures I still use today to protect
our children and our church from falling prey to offenders.
1. Set high qualification standards. You can
always settle for less. In desperation, we often do. But if you
want high-caliber volunteers, set your standards high. Today, I
have the greatest group of volunteers I've ever had, but I also
require more from my volunteers than I've ever required. All our
volunteers must've made a faith commitment to Jesus. Our volunteers
must be faithful, supportive church members in good standing. Our
volunteers must live what they profess. Our volunteers must support
our leadership and pastors.
We use a rigorous volunteer application to find out whether
potential volunteers meet our high standards. I've found that the
lengthy application itself has been an effective weeding- out tool
because candidates who have something to hide won't apply at all.
If someone won't complete a four-page application, believe me, they
won't make a very good volunteer. Our comprehensive application
also helps me match candidates' abilities and strengths to the most
2. Require references. We require three
references, at least one of which must be a former pastor or
ministry supervisor. We always contact references. We ask basic
questions such as, "How long have you known the candidate?" and
"What is the nature of your relationship?" We also ask whether the
reference would have any reservations leaving his or her children
with the candidate. I can't tell you how many times the reference
the candidate used revealed a problem -- and sang like a bird. A
pastoral reference once informed me that our potential volunteer
had molested two children in his church. When I confronted the
potential volunteer, he said he really didn't think I'd call his
references. I've uncovered hundreds of child abusers, sexual
deviants, and unqualified volunteers just from this one important
step. Require references, and always make contact.
3. Require a criminal history investigation.
This is the single most important screening process to have. A
nationwide search is more effective than a state search, and your
perfect scenario is to search in every state candidates have
resided in. Ask for previous addresses so you can establish whether
candidates are who they say they are. If someone withholds
information about a previous address, that's a red flag.
Make sure that the background service you use also verifies
Social Security information. I've discovered people who weren't who
they said they were and people with multiple Social Security
numbers. I've even discovered people who were a part of the witness
protection program. If the mob is looking for a potential
volunteer, I believe that's something I need to know. I don't want
that person to be found in the middle of my preschool classroom. A
great background check resource is Church
Have your service search the department of corrections records.
I've found people who did time in prison, but because they were
arrested by the county police, it didn't show up on their criminal
history. I had an applicant who'd just been arrested and released
for exposing himself to an undercover officer in a gay bar. Search
the FBI's known sex offenders list. Several candidates have turned
up with multiple outstanding warrants for abuse-related crimes.
Some churches say they can't spend the funds for criminal
history investigations. You can't afford not to make this
investment -- it's a lot cheaper than a lawsuit and broken lives.
The negativity and damage an investigation or trial generates are
more costly than your church could ever afford.
4. Ask lifestyle information. It's always
amazed me that people will answer straightforward questions. Over
the years people have said yes to questions such as, "Have you ever
been accused of or convicted of spousal abuse in any form?" "Have
you ever been accused of or convicted of child abuse or a crime
involving actual or attempted sexual molestation of a minor?" "Do
you view pornography?"
I've had numerous people answer yes to these questions right on
the application. Case closed.
5. Contact previous churches. Did this person
leave the previous church in good graces? There have been
volunteers I've disciplined or dismissed who went to serve in other
churches. Those churches never contacted us about why the person
left. I could've saved those churches some trouble if they'd only
asked a few simple questions. I ask candidates to list all churches
they've been a part of in the past five years, and I contact those
churches. Sometimes you find people never attended a church they
listed, they only wanted to impress you. But they never thought
you'd check them out.
6. Conduct personal interviews. We meet with
candidates, review their applications, and discuss their
references. I ask key questions that help reveal the candidate's
motives. It's vital to have someone who's spiritually keen and
gifted in discernment present in the interview because our need for
volunteers shouldn't override spiritual discernment. I've learned
that God's voice and the voice of wisdom are the same. Listen to
your heart. Don't override the voice of wisdom.
7. Develop policies to keep children safe and adults
free from accusations. Once volunteers are in place,
they're assigned a master teacher to mentor them. All volunteers
are required to know and follow our procedures. Two volunteers are
always present with kids, never one alone. Teenagers and males
aren't allowed to change diapers or take children to the restroom.
We've also placed surveillance cameras in hallways and other key
areas to keep our classrooms and facilities safe.
These seven steps have stopped more than 400 accused or
convicted offenders from entering my ministries. Use them yourself
to transform your church from an easy target to a fortress of
safety and spiritual growth for children.
Jim Wideman is author of Volunteers That Stick (Group
Publishing, Inc.). Visit his Web site at www.jimwideman.com. Please
keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject