When I visit a church for the first time I always ask to be shown the children’s ministry. As I walk through where their children meet every time they are on the property I have this mental checklist I go down. I ask myself is the children’s ministry away from church traffic or is it located in a common area that people without children can walk through while trying to get to the worship center. Is there an exit door nearby, especially one that is in a hidden area where one could come in and go out without being detected? How do they check in and check out children when they come to church? One of the big things I check is whether the classroom doors are lockable? I cannot tell you how many times I go into a church that the children’s ministry doors will not lock, yet the musical equipment is behind a locked door that Fort Knox would be proud of. When I see this I always ask the church what is wrong with this picture; we have locks on doors of things that can be replaced but our most precious treasures meet every weekend behind doors that give no protection in case there needs to be a lockdown.
Over the last year I have come to realize that most of the monsters to our children’s ministry are not from the outside of the church but rather right here in our own congregations. These are the monsters that we really need to worry about. Demented people that feel these precious few are easy prey because they are attending a church and everyone is friendly and even relatives are trusted. It appears to volunteers and church staff who have fallen, there may not be the checks and balances on what they do with your children and they start to take advantage of the freedom and relaxed atmosphere they have with our young ones. The next thing you know you are reading stories like these “4-year-old sexually assaulted during church service”, “Church youth pastor arrested on rape, kidnapping charges” and “Pennsylvania youth pastor charged with sexual assault after allegedly getting 15-year-old girl pregnant”. Then today I got an email from Larry Booth from Bethel Baptist Church that ripped a hole in my soul. Larry had sent me a blog post from Carl Chinn that stated “Think About it….”. The blog told the story of a church in East Texas where a 10-year-old girl had disappeared after a Tuesday night Bible study. When the parents got ready to leave they could not find their daughter anywhere on the premises. An extensive police search of the area was done and an Amber alert went out, yet still no sign of their daughter. The people of the town cancelled its annual parade and over 1,000 volunteers with FBI guidance showed up and searched for the missing child. Around 6:00 that evening the search came to a halt with the discovery of the little girl’s body in a well.
Where did these churches go wrong? The suspect that sexually assaulted the 4-year-old had been going to the church for years. Statements like the suspect seemed very genuine, very sincere. The article went on to say that the suspect had been homeless before joining the church several years ago and had played an important part in helping in church events, he even drove the bus which picked up children for the church. The 35-year-old suspect that kidnapped and raped the victim who was under 12 was trusted by the parents of the victim. The suspect had stopped by to pick up the victim to take her to a youth group gathering but instead he took her to a residence where he drugged and raped the child. Then he threatened her stating if she told anyone that “the result would not be good for her”. In the case with the youth pastor sexually assaulting the 15-year-old, this was a 35-year-old father of 5, a man that members from the church said he “was once the pastor that everyone thought they could turn to for guidance and support” and that he had known the victim since she was 8-years-old. Not sure what happened here except Satan got a hold of this 35-year-old father of 5 and twisted his mind to the point he went home and told his wife he had found someone else who turned out to be this 15-year-old child. In these cases, were there warning signs that were just ignored or did people point out some issues and concerns and nobody listened till it was too late.
Then the case in Texas hits too close to home. The victim was a 10-year-old, the same age as my youngest. The suspect was listed as being married to one of the victim’s cousins. He had been seen leaving the church with the victim and another little girl after the service was over. It appears as you read the story that the suspect did not get permission or tell the parents that he had taken the little girls. It is not stated whether he was at the Bible study or not. The only thing we can gather from these articles is that we must always be aware of where our children are at all times, even when they are at church.
Church leaders, safety team members, parents and volunteers must always be on alert for things that just don’t look right (DLR) in the children’s ministry. As we gather our children to go home, what is the relationship with the children and the ones that work in the children’s ministry. If there a person that is a little too friendly with one of the children, do you see adults alone with a child that makes you feel uncomfortable. Parents of older children need to be aware of the way church staff interacts with their child. Have they been asked to go somewhere with a staff member of the opposite sex alone? Are they getting an unusual amount of attention from an older staff member or volunteer that doesn’t look right or makes you feel uncomfortable? Talk to your children about these concerns; they may open right up to you and tell you they are uncomfortable but didn’t know how to bring it to your attention. And as I always say look at your children’s Facebook page and phone. Look at text messages, emails and other websites to see who are they following or who is following them. Sorry this is not an invasion of privacy but protecting our loved ones.
We must thoroughly check out our volunteers that want to work in our children’s ministry and I am not just saying a criminal history check. All staff and volunteers in our children’s ministry must be vetted. I know this rule is practiced in many churches of not letting those that are living together out of wedlock to become members of their church but do you allow volunteers in this same category watch your children? Have you looked at the Facebook page of some of your volunteers lately? If every picture you see of them is in a bar or consist of them holding alcohol in their hand is that the type of image you want your children to see? If you find out that one of your staff members or volunteers is having domestic issues maybe they should take a break for a little while until things are reconciled so it does not bleed over into the children’s ministry. You should talk to someone from the church about your fears just to comfort yourself if nothing else. Everyone in the children’s ministry must have a pure heart, a servant’s heart and be willing to give it all for our children. We should hold those that work with our children at the same high standard of staff members of the church. The ones that work in the children’s ministry must be beyond approach, they must live a godly life. If they are not, what are these volunteers teaching our children about God or about a fallen world?
We cannot EVER allow a situation that seems to be an epidemic across the country like these happen at our church. We must turn out attention to the children’s ministry first - the rest of the church second. If you have this backwards you are looking at church safety in the wrong light. Our most precious possession is not the pastor or the congregation of the church but rather our children. They are our future and they are the weakest in our protection and we must do everything in our power to protect them first and then all others second. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.
Please do not read anything into this, I am not saying that all lives are not important but think about what happens if parents do not feel their children are safe at your church; they won’t come back. That is just the beginning; I remember how I felt after our family tragedy. I was mad at God for years. It took me a long time before I could understand that man was the problem, not God. Regarding this family in Texas - I know how I would feel if something like this happened to my one of my girls. They will feel the pain of the loss for the rest of their lives. We all feel the pain for them right now. They will turn to God for answers and I know they may or may not get the answer they are looking for however they will remember that He is still in charge. The loss and the sorrow at times will feel unbearable for this family, however we must always understand that He is there for them and is the only true answer. One day they will see their daughter again. He promises us that; but until that time, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to protect the children or our church – EVERYTHING.
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.