On December 9th, I called my daughter, Jessica, who all of you know is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach, Florida. We discussed our upcoming Christmas vacation plans, her mid-terms, and me picking her up the following week. During our conversation, we both received a text message from ERAU’s automated alert system that there had been a police incident on campus and that the suspect had been arrested. We joked around about the alert but didn’t think much about it.
It wasn’t until later we found out the ERAU alert was about a student arrested for comments he had made on social media about how he was going to do his own Columbine massacre at ERAU. Daytona Beach Police (DBPD) stated the student made statements on Snapchat about his plans. Several students who were concerned about his online statements notified the DBPD, and they arrested the suspected shooter before he could implement his plans. DBPD’s explained the suspect had a backpack with a folding rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition when they apprehended him. The suspect discussed how busy the campus would be because of students taking end-of-semester tests. Something as close to home as this causes us, as a parent, to stop and reflect on just how dangerous this world is. We get those morbid thoughts that plague us throughout the day.
Knowing that Jessica was fine, I started to push those thoughts out of my mind. There are too many of them to list, but as they come back into my mind as I write this, I will tell you I thanked God for those students that saw something and said something. I thanked God for the DBPD’s quick action and that I had had that phone call with Jessica that morning. Even though I knew she was safe, I couldn’t shake my thoughts, so I knew that I had to turn to God to help me get through this day and not do something foolish. These thoughts reminded me of a previous phone call I had with Wendy almost nine years ago to the day.
We all have those dates in history where we remember exactly where we were at that moment. I am old enough to remember where I was on November 22, 1963, the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Most of us can remember where we were on 9-11, and the shock of watching the Towers go down and the Pentagon on fire. December 14, 2012, I was with the Belleair Police Department. I was at a Christmas luncheon when I got a text from Wendy asking me if I was watching the news. From my phone, I immediately jumped on Fox News and saw the horror unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I stepped out of the luncheon and called Wendy. She was crying about how young the victims were. Because of their ages, she told me that she wanted to go and get Jaycee, who was only five at the time, take her out of school, and just hold her. I explained to her that was a rational move and if it made her feel better to go and do it. It took her a minute, and then she stated that all the schools in the area were on lockdown because of the shooting and the girls were in a safe place. I told her that it was only natural to want to go and get the girls, and if she still felt that way in a few minutes, just go and get them. These were the same thoughts I was having on December 9th. I wanted to drive over to ERAU and pick up Jessica so I could protect and hold her.
This Christmas, I want all of you to gather around your loved ones and cherish the moments that you have together. Remember the past celebrations, remember those that have gone before us. Don’t let an angry word stand between you and a loved one. Life on this planet is short, and we need to remember the reason for the season. Christ came to earth to teach us about love and forgiveness. He came here to give us a gift of eternal life, and because of this promise, we know that we will see those not with us again. This is the season for promises and hope. Wendy, Jessica, Jaycee, and I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a safe New Year.
Jim, Wendy, Jessica and Jaycee Howard
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mathew 28:18-20
Saturday, October 16, 2021, we held our 5th Annual Church Safety & Liability Conference. Every year we are blessed with the most outstanding speakers from around the country, and this year was no exception. It was our largest attended conference ever. Thanks to all those that spoke and those that participated in attending the conference.
The reviews are in, and even though most were positive, we know we can do better. I was taken aback by two of the negative thoughts expressed to me during the conference. They commented that most of those attending was over the age of 55. In our church, you would be considered a part of our Prime-Time ministry. I started to ponder as to why this was. Why do we have an older population of safety team members, and who will replace us that are heading into our Prime-Time years. Thinking this through, it dawned on me that we, as the older generation need to start thinking about church safety differently.
One of the things I write about in my policy and procedures is that this position is not a position of power but a position of serving others. I recently attended some training and was surprised at how quickly Team Members resorted to physical reaction instead of verbal de-escalation. It wasn’t that the situation didn’t require some use of force. While you played out the problem, it was apparent it was more reactive instead of proactive. The scenario they played out emphasized the need for more “What If” and “Verbal De-escalation” training. I see it all the time, guys walking around acting like they are security guards at a concert or the ones that have a full-time job as an accountant, but for a couple of hours a week, they are wannabee police officers. Safety Team Leaders, if you know of someone like this in your group, you need to pull them aside and advise them. They are neither one. We need to refocus on who we are and what our assignment acutely is.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ gives us the Great Commission, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV). Isn’t this the first job of all Safety Team Members the expansion of the Kingdom of God? So, are we doing that, or are we telling ourselves this is someone else’s job? We, as the Safety Team, are here to protect the flock. As Doctor Mark Jones said at our conference, “This is God’s commandment, not a suggestion.” Doctor Jones went on to say, “Our assignment is all about the glory of God.”
This assignment does not mean we all become preachers and forget about the safety of the church. Doctor Jones also went on to say, “Where there is an assignment, there will always be a threat.” Rest assured your job as a Safety Team Member is safe. There are a lot of threats in this fallen world. But how do we connect to the next generation of Safety Team Members? I will answer the question with a question.
Safety Team Leaders, are you a leader, or are you a mentor? Do you pass out assignments and send your Team on their way or meet and pray over the Team and the church before services? Do you talk to your Team Members about the importance of our assignment of glorifying Christ, or do you talk about what caliber of weapon they carry? I understand that some of you will feel they are both critical questions, but one is for eternity, and the other isn’t. Team Leaders are you making disciples out of your Team Members? If not, then you are not following God’s commandment.
So how do we get the next generation into the Safety Team? Let’s look at three simple steps.
First, we must understand that our assignment is to glorify and expand the Kingdom of God. Matthew 28:18-20 explains it all. Without understanding the importance of this assignment, we are lost sheep ourselves. How can we protect the flock unless we know what the assignment is? Remember, “Where there is an assignment, there will always be a threat.”
The second step is found in Mark 12:30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” There is no way to show the Good News unless we love everyone that walks through our church’s doors. That doesn’t mean we let our guard down. We must always be prepared but never assume.
Finally, when Nehemiah saw the danger that was approaching those who were building the wall, he stationed them by families, “Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” Nehemiah 4:13. Every person who joins your church is family, and we, as Safety Team Members, must make them feel that way. It is our responsibility to know as many church members as possible and become family with all of them. I know that this sounds like a difficult task, but you have God on your side, and nothing is impossible through Him.
So, if we can follow these three simple steps, you will have members of the church lining up to be a part of the Safety Team because they will see the importance of serving and protecting the flock. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,” Matthew 5:16.
Every parent will become eyes for the Team to help protect the children. Every greeter will start to watch for possible concerns that walk into the building. The ushers will now begin to see those hurting and serve them better, helping the kingdom grow. Because we have become mentors instead of security in the congregation, younger members of your church will be wanting to join the Safety Ministry because you understand the assignment of expanding the kingdom of God, and in all assignments, there will be threats. Thank you, Doctor Mark Jones.
Most of you heard I recently got certified as a chaplain. I was then asked if I would be interested in becoming a Certified Mental Health Coach (CMHC). I was honored at the offer and am now working through the CMHC class offered by the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). We are never too old to learn something.
During the Covid-19 lockdown I became aware of the increase of mental health issues. Pubmed did an article “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates”. It stated “Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has profound psychological and social effects. The psychological consequence of the pandemic will probably persist for months and years to come. Studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population and among healthcare professionals.” BMJ, a global healthcare knowledge provider stated that “Widely reported studies modelling the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases ranging from 1% to 145%.” “Trends in suicide during the covid-19 pandemic”.
John Hopkins reported in “COVID-19 and Suicide: A Crisis Within a Crisis”, “From February to March, there was a 45% increase in calls to the Maryland Helpline, the state’s crisis hotline. Compared to March 2019, March 2020 had an 842% increase in texts to the same service.”. When churches re-opened their doors to members I warned about three different types of people that were coming back to the church. There would be those that felt the virus was a government conspiracy. Others, Covid radicals, who accused churches of being super spreaders. Then there would be those that lost a loved one or their business and were looking for answers. We are still feeling the effects of all three in our churches. In fact with all the confusion on the recent facts of Covid-19 the church has been even more divided.
What causes me concern from a church safety provider is the safety teams at the churches will probably be the first contact of persons with mental health concerns. Let me begin with this statement, this is not a safety team issue, it is a whole church issue and everyone from the top-down needs to start paying attention. One case handled the wrong way could cause a church to be sued or even worse someone getting hurt because they were not properly trained on how to deal with a person with mental illness.
In the CMHC course it states how the church is no stranger to helping others with mental health issues. Churches work with the homeless, those with addictions, human trafficking, and prison ministries. Some may say that all of these conditions do not create mental health issues. I would disagree, it has a mental effect on all persons involved in these situations. Don’t believe me sit down and talk with a anyone listed in the ministries above and you will see a mental health issue. Talk to the families of those that are homeless or involved in human trafficking. There will be some hurts, habits and hang ups in everyone you talk with. So if you plan on doing any of these ministries be prepared because it will either break you or bless you. It will truly depend on your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Yet even though, we the church, appear to be ready to help those in need we must first look at some statistics. CMHC states that “Sixty-six percent of pastors say they never talk about mental health issues from the pulpit. Twenty-five percent of pastors say they don’t want to work with the mentally ill because it takes too much time and thirty to forty percent of individuals with a mental illness encounter a negative interaction in a church. They report their illness is over-spiritualized and categorized as a spiritual issue like a personal sin. Yet most mentally ill patients go to the church first to seek help because seeking professional help cost too much”. With statistics like these we need to be better prepared.
So how do we handle the storm that is on the church’s horizon? We train. We teach our staff, safety team members and volunteers that want to learn what to look for and what would be the appropriate response to people that are just looking for help. Isn’t that something we should be doing as Christians, administering to those in need? I think Christ had a story about that. Now I am not saying that we all become Christian Consolers but we need to know what we are looking at so we can get those the proper help they need.
In season one, episode one of “The Chosen”, we meet Mary Madeline. In Dallas Jenkins, the producer’s version of the New Testament, Mary is a troubled person with questionable living habits. Even when a holy man (Nicodemus) shows up to attempt to help her, he decides she is far too gone in her mental illness or as we hear his reaction, she is possessed with demons, and there is no hope for her. Contemplating ending her life she has an encounter with Jesus Christ which you need to watch the series to find out what happened.
In Light University’s course “Introduction to Mental Health Coaching” they teach you the four Rs’ on what to look for when you feel like a person might have a mental health issue. First we must Recognize. If you have been a Safety Team Member long enough you know immediately when you have someone that just doesn’t seem all together. Once you recognize there might be an issue you need to Evaluate. Does this person have a mental health care problem or are they distracted, disorientated, or requiring medical attention? It gets hot here in Florida, someone coming out of the sun might have a medical issue instead of a mental health issue. Once we decide it is a mental health issue we look for possible signs of how serious is the condition. Is this person going to disrupt your church service, we need to start thinking what our next step should be.
During the Recognize phase we also have to assess for the possibility of danger, thoughts of suicide or injuring others. We need to assess for the level of distress which may require the church to contact local law enforcement. Assess for level of functioning. We talked this could be a medical condition or the possibility of a person with dementia that is lost and in the need of professional care beyond that of the Safety Team Member and the church.
The second R is to Refer. Once again Safety Team Member should only be involved in the initial contact. We are not trained as mental health coaches, but if we recognize a mental health issue we need to know who to refer to. Churches need to have a next step of what to do when an issue like this is presented to them. Do they have a list of professionals they can recommend to the person in need. If not a list needs to be developed and updated every so often. Letting someone with issues walk out your door without helping them as much as possible or giving them some sort of hope that we care will one day come back on us. We really need to look at what Christ says about helping other and follow those truths.
The next R is the going to be the hardest for any Safety Team Member and this is to Relate. I can honestly tell you that there are multiple people that come to our church that has some sort of mental health issue. There is a member in our church that the Lord has laid on my heart to be there for him anytime he needs someone to talk to. I have spoken to him candidly about his condition, I know where the boundaries lay and have on several occasions told him this was something that I felt he needed to talk to a professional about because it is beyond my expertise to help him. He knows when I say that to him, he needs to make that call and he always has. I feel that because of God’s guidance and me being honest with him on some of his issues we have a healthy relationship. I have broken bread with this brother, socialized with him and talked the Gospel with him on many occasions. I have always felt that my friend has a special relationship with God that I will never understand. I remind him all the time that he is a son of God and an heir to the throne. His relationship blesses me more than he will ever know. Mental disorders are not the result of personal sin. I look at him as the beautiful creation God made and we as the church need to never forget our brothers, sisters, and their families. They must have the support of the church.
The last thing we must do is Restore. But restore does not only have to do with those with mental health issues. We must be the lighthouse to all. In times of need and we must provide spiritual direction. We must love them, provide a healing environment with grace and reassurance. We need to show how Christ loves all, not just the chosen but all and that there is hope, peace, comfort, and strength in Him.
We need to encourage the church to get back to what Christ said was the greatest commandment of the law, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” Matthew 22:36-40. If we follow the greatest commandments, the four Rs’ will fall into place for everyone that walks into your church. You never know, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2. Doing this will make your church a safer place and the rewards will outweigh the time you took to love on those in need.
When you ask a man what the biggest obstacle of giving their lives to Christ, most respond with the fear of surrendering. I have found that most men just hate the word surrender. A wise ex-military friend told me that you never say “Surrender to God” to men. Instead, you say, “Submit to a Higher Authority.” Military personnel will tell you to surrender is not in their vocabulary. They fight until all resources are exhausted, and it is the enemy’s decision to what happens next. I found his statement interesting, causing me to ponder my decision to use the phrase surrender instead of submitting. I felt they were the same.
So turning to the Bible, I did a word search for “surrender.” Using the King James Version, I didn’t find the word surrender one time. When I looked at the New King James Version, I found “surrender” eight times in the Old Testament and nowhere in the New Testament. Comparing verses in both versions of the Bible, I discovered that the word surrender or words equal to surrender like “let us fall unto the host” were used in reference to surrendering to someone that was going to either kill you or make you a slave. I am starting to see why my friends and brother don’t like the word surrender.
When I did an Internet search on submit in the Bible, I found a paper written by John W. Ritenbaugh. In his document “What the Bible says about Submit,” he states that in the King James Version, the word submit is listed twelve times, submitted, three times and submitting only once. But he goes on to say that “In Greek, the word is hupotasso, which means “to arrange in order under.” It is actually a military term, and in the military, this is a strong sense of submitting to someone of higher rank.”
I turned to the Merriam-Webster dictionary to look at the definitions of surrender and submit. I found that surrender means “to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand,” and the word submit means “to yield to governance or authority.” I am starting to see a difference here. I can understand while a military person would cringe at the statement “surrender to God.” Look, I am no Bible scholar, but I like to think I understand the Word. I have never seen a passage where God looks at man and demands that he loves Him.
If that was the case, what happened to free will? God calls us to have a relationship with Him by submitting to His will, which as my friend said, “submitting to a higher authority.”
In fact, the more I look at this, I feel that using the word surrender to Christ is almost an injustice to our relationship with Christ. Hear me out before you delete the page. We are given a choice. Where does our relationship with Christ fit into surrender? Christ wants us to submit. But He also wants us to be who He designed and bring our talents and treasures to Him so that He can use them to expand the Kingdom of God. Just as the military person changes from being a person of one to a person who belongs to a larger body. As Christians, we are part of God’s larger plan. God wants us to talk to Him with confidence and joy. These things are not in the word surrender. Surrender means to be a prisoner, and we are not prisoners; we are children of God.
Military personnel submit to a higher authority to receive commands. When we submit to a higher authority, our boss, or our customers, we usually trust what that person brings to the table. Still, this authority is not perfect in any way. Sometimes they make mistakes in their decisions. Yet when we submit to the higher authority of God, He never gives us a command that is not a part of His perfect plan. God does not make mistakes, sometimes we might not understand the design, but we know that there is always a reason for His plans through our faith. Jesus tells us about submitting to Him in Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This does not sound like someone who is demanding. This sounds like one who is loving and wanting us to submit to Him for rest for our souls.
God wants a relationship with us. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7. He wants us to boldly approach Him with respect, humility and not graveling and scared of Him. Remember He sent His only Son to die for us. We must not hide anything from Him. First, He knows all, and second, if you can’t trust your loving Father, who do you turn to? Human authorities are just as flawed as you and I. God wants us to feel secure around Him because when we feel safe, we will reveal our deepest thoughts with Him. He promises to help us through all things.
So what does all of this have to do with church safety? All safety team members must submit to our Lord to follow His perfect plan for us. We are Ambassadors for Christ. Being a safety team member is not a position of power. It is a position of serving. With God leading the charge, He opens our eyes to what we need to see and protects us from the schemes of the devil.
I will leave you with part of a speech from former Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered to the House of Commons on June 4th, 1940. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…….” During the time of this speech, Nazi Germany was demanding that England surrender to them or they would destroy England. We know that Satan is alive and using all his power to destroy this country.
He would love to destroy the churches we attend. Still, we must submit and put on the whole armor of God and fight against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Thanks Marcel, for helping me see the light.
When I was assigned the detective position for the Belleair Police Department (BPD), I went to a regional burglary meeting. I met Largo Police Department Detective Brenden Arlington. You need to understand that police officers and detectives from different agencies sometimes aren’t the most open and friendly people, not till they get to know you. The first time, most don’t share a lot of their investigative information. They first want to check you out and make sure you were one of them. I have found this a common practice with agencies around the country.
This wasn’t Brendan’s way of operation. He immediately invited me into his inner circle and shared everything with me. Being that we were neighboring jurisdictions, he understood the importance of being on the same team. Every time I had something on the Largo, Belleair border, I would call Brendan. We worked so many cases together I felt like he was my partner. While sitting in his little work cubicle, I would talk with him about cases and suspects. I would look at the happy pictures he had on the walls of his family. I remember the day he got transferred out of burglary and went to Robbery/Homicide. Brendan appeared to be the guy that had it all.
But as in so many of these situations, we find out later that the ones that seem to have it most together are those that are battling the biggest demons. This appears to have been true in Brendan’s case. While reaching out to him about something we had going on in our church last month, I found out that he had committed suicide.
I was rocked to my core.
My family will tell you I don’t have a heart because I don’t cry at sappy movies. That night after finding out about Brendan’s death, I went into my closet and cried. I cried for his family and for his friends. Not that there would have been a different outcome if I had reached out to him sooner, but I cried because I had not talked to my friend one more time. Over the next couple of days, I got information from two of the detectives that were close to Brendan. Talking with them, I got the same “didn’t see it coming” conversation that I have heard from other friends and family members of suicide victims. The last time they saw him, he was upbeat and positive, only to later receive the shocking news that he had taken his life. Friends always feel like they might have done more, but unfortunately, most of those that had decided to take their own lives are on a mission until it is over, and that seems to be what happened to Brendan.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), Police Officers rate number three out of ten in occupations with the highest suicide rate. They list all sorts of reasons, depression, stress, and unable to get adequate sleep. Add to that the type of people that officers constantly deal with every day. These are not the nice people in the world. They are the ones that live in a culture that most don’t want to understand, live in, or deal with. Let law enforcement do that. When you add all the reasons, then throw in divorce, and substance abuse, it feels like the world is against you. I really don’t understand why most law enforcement officers (LEO) would do this occupation. I can add one more thing to this equation, without Christ in their life, I don’t see how they can do this job at all.
I said this once before, but we as the church need to step up our game and really start to adopt LEO. The next time you see an LEO, you need to tell them how much you appreciate them and then invite them to your church. If you are brave enough, tell them you will pray for them and is there anything specific they would like you to pray for. I asked four police officers what I could pray for them, and three of them said, “that I make it home tonight.” Let that one sink in. Do you pray that every time you are leaving or going to work? They do, their wives do, and now we need to.
It is a dark world out there that most people will never see or have to deal with, yet LEOs deal with it every day. They are the thin blue line that protects you and your family from total chaos. The world we live in is not getting any better, and officers on the street need to know that we support them. The other day, I heard a person say that we need to remember they are one of God’s children when a person gets arrested. I responded to that person with, “are you saying the police are not God’s children?”
They are also God’s children, and they desperately need our prayers and our fellowship. We need to be that beacon of light for the officers and their families. We need to make sure that we support them and have their backs when walking through this world. If we don’t support them, who will? In the world of sinners and saints, we need to make sure our doors are open for both. As they say, “if you think you found the perfect church, don’t go in because it won’t be perfect anymore.”
I remember talking to Brendan about God. He said he was a believer, yet I never got too personal about his salvation. Maybe I should have. In those last moments, I pray that God wrapped His arms around Brendan while he was in his pain where he felt all alone, and there were no answers, and he decided to take his own life. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV. I pray that God gave Brendan peace and called him home.
I pray that one day I get to talk to my friend again.
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.