The angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
“Passing a background check doesn’t mean you’re not a child molester. It just means you’ve never been caught.” I drop this truth bomb on pretty much every volunteer that serves in our children’s ministry. I’ll tell it to parents as well. It’s a sobering bit of truth to hear and good for everyone to be reminded of.
We run background checks on every volunteer who comes into contact with minors. But I don’t consider it a safety net. Just because someone passes one doesn’t mean they are “safe,” it just protects the church in case of an incident or legal action. I heard once (was never able to verify though) that a church was sued for an abuse situation because they had never done a background check on the volunteer offender. The kicker: he had no criminal record. The moral of the story: the background check wouldn’t have prevented the situation, but the practice is good as it shows the ministry does its due diligence.
Understanding that my church and I are protected from a lawsuit, however, is not enough as I am a shepherd who would be troubled knowing that a sheep was attacked by a wolf under my watch. So here are the following practices I follow to ensure that doesn’t happen:
- Minimize (eliminate if possible) any places where adults are alone with children. We have a lot of wide open spaces. The few rooms that are more secluded have special rules enforced. Make sure all classrooms have windows.
- Always ensure two unrelated adults serve together. Ideally, even more than two adults, in the case that one adult calls in sick etc. you’re still covered.
- Don’t let men take kids to the bathroom. While it’s not PC, it protects your children and your men. Most sex offenders are male protect both the kids and men by making a policy that only allows women to escort kids to the bathroom. But even better…
- Do a bathroom “field trip.” If one of your four year olds has to use the bathroom, often you find a second or third does as well. If you’re shorthanded that day, rather than leave one person alone with ten kids while the other brings two to the bathroom, do a quick “field trip” and bring the whole group to the bathroom together.
- Float in and check on people often. The overriding principle I operate by is “make sure there’s never an opportunity for someone to be alone with a kid.” In order to make this happen I pop in and check on each classroom and children’s space frequently throughout a service. Honest volunteers appreciate this because I don’t say, “are you molesting a kid back here?” Instead, I check and see if they need anything or if I can serve them in anyway. Every honest volunteer likes feeling like their pastor has their back.
- Create a culture of suspicion. While this seems a little counterintuitive, I think it makes sense for those of us who believe in the depravity of man to give parents a practical fear of others. I don’t have anything to hide, therefore I respect parents who are overly cautious about leaving their kids with others. It sometimes scares me the number of parents who are willing to leave their kids with complete strangers without asking any questions. Consider sharing this post if you know someone who needs to be a little more cautious.
Check out Deepak Reju’s book, “On Guard,” for a more exhaustive and helpful way to guard your sheep from wolves.
What about your church? What do you do? Would you add anything to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!