The reports of influential religious leaders who have been accused and even convicted of being sexual predators are making the news almost every day. These nauseating accounts seem to be more prevalent, and perhaps, even more heinous than ever before. Of course, these perpetrators are not just priests from faraway places; nor are they just clergy members, coaches, or teachers from other denominations that have nothing to do with us personally. The reports are too numerous to explain away or ignore. Kids are at risk today and we must build policies and procedures of protection into our ministries.
It’s true that evil is out there. Sin is rampant – and sinful adults with wicked motives abound. But, readers, please hear me. God is still on the throne and we must trust Him to keep our kids safe from the evils of sinfully corrupt predators and abusers. God is in control – and yet, we must follow His Word in developing protections within the church to keep our kids (our own children, if we are parents; and our church kids, if we are church leaders or workers) safe. Christian parents and church leaders alike must do everything possible to put safeguards in place that will protect our kids!
I understand that this brief blog post can never be the final or definitive word on developing child protection policies within the fabric of our church’s ministries. But, since I recently wrote an article and published a book about mentoring (Godly adults taking the initiative to develop growing, healthy relationships with younger people), I felt it was important to write a follow up post on some of the practical things we can do to develop and implement precautions and protections into our ministries.
Here are 5 possible safeguards to think through for your family and for your church:
- Adult mentors should always minister with the blessing of the young person’s parents and family.
It is admirable, wise, and even Biblical for Godly adults to want to build personal relationships with kids. The histories of children’s ministry and youth ministry are lined with caring adults who cared enough to develop connections with the younger generations. However, these relationships should always be developed with the permission and understanding of the young person’s parents or guardians. It should always be a danger sign for an adult mentor to seek to build a relationship with a minor without the consent of their parents.
I have noticed a scenario recently that may deserve some attention in our ministries. Often it is true that the kids from the most dysfunctional families are the ones maybe the most at risk. Children and teenagers who do not have close relationships with their own parents may be especially susceptible to the impure motives and advances of predatory, evil adults.
Friends, I believe that the best adult mentors are caring, Godly adults who work in harmony with the young person’s parents and family members to reinforce how God is already working. Of course, God can and will use other Godly adults to impact kids from weak or dysfunctional families. However, it is imperative for church leaders to see this as a likely issue or concern.
2. Adult mentors should always minister under the authority, accountability, and communication of a local church
The local church itself creates several layers of safety that should be built intentionally into a mentoring ministry. Mentoring must never be adults just hanging out with kids. That would be incredibly dangerous. The structure, programs, authority, and accountability that exist within a local church must be honored and enforced. This includes the role of the pastor, elders, deacons, or other positions of leadership. This also includes the church’s membership procedure; and its policies for how people are recruited, screened, and trained for any type of service within the church. In other words, mentoring should be a church-based program that operates within clear lines of communication throughout the entire church.
I’ll be as blunt and honest here as I can. Be very careful of adult volunteers – those people who seem too eager to jump in (especially in a ministry with minors) without going through your church’s established practices for involving people in positions of ministry. Plus, there is a real level of safety and accountability that exists in any local church. Faithful church members who have demonstrated Godliness, authenticity, and dependability over the long haul are probably the best mentors.
3. Adult mentors should always minister within the structure and procedures of the church’s existing child protection policy – and should never go around it.
I am definitely not the authority on this subject, but I highly recommend that every church find experts – people who know the law, and who can implement and enforce “best practices” of an effective child protection policy. This might include lawyers, police officers, or representatives from your church’s liability insurance company. The important thing is to do it right and develop your policies based upon the laws in your state and with the motive to do everything you can to protect the kids in your church from evil predators. (Plus, it is imperative for your church to put these policies into place as soon as possible!)
By the way, it should always be a danger sign if any adult is not readily willing to submit to your church’s policies, such as background checks.
4. Adult mentors should always connect with students in public places – and should never engage in a practice of private communication with minors.
Mentoring should always be a public ministry. That’s why I always say that the best personal, inter-generational connections are made in the church foyer – in a very public place, that is almost-literately, the hub of church life. I understand the importance of developing confidential relationships, but secrecy and private meetings must be avoided. I believe that it is possible to build strong personal relationships in very public places. In fact, I think it is a wise thing to do. There is real wisdom in the Biblical methodologies of both Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Much of their work with others took place in group settings (sometimes large groups and sometimes small groups), and often their ministry took place in very public places.
Here’s another danger sign: adult mentors should avoid a pattern of private and exclusive methods of communication with minors. In this culture of electronic and digital communication, adults must be careful of on-going, private “conversations” with young people. Please – keep your ministry public.
5. Adult mentors should avoid any suspicion or doubt of their concern for what is best for the younger person.
The Bible’s characterization of the importance of an elder being “above reproach” is imperative. Mentors, likewise, should have nothing that others could accuse them of doing wrong. The genuine motive of a mentor will be quite visible. Godly mentors must want what is best for the young people in their churches – and that is that they want the kids to grow up and go on for God! Good mentors should never do anything that might cause others to question why they would be doing this. Never.
Friends, as I mentioned briefly above, I am NOT an expert on this matter. However, I have observed what other churches are doing and I have written about the importance of implementing principles and best practices of child protection policies. This information is included in my recent works, Going On For God and Mentoring the Next Generation.