Tis the Season: Is Your Church Ready?
I was thinking about what I would write about for the December blog and three things came to mind. So your December present from us is you get three blogs in one.
First, it is the Season. With all the Christmas joy that is already being spread, we as the watchmen/watchwomen have no rest. We cannot take this season for granted and let our guard down. Our church has something on campus every night until Christmas. Please don’t overextend your volunteers. Remember they are volunteers and have another life. So I recommend that you put out an email with the schedule of events. Ask your Team if they are out and about, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties or just out to make a quick stop by your church. This not only gives the people that are at the church a warm feeling that we as Safety Team Members really care but it also may stop someone that is on your campus thinking the shepherds are away. It is really easy to give someone the impression that you are watching over the flock. Take a flashlight with you and walk around the campus shining your light on cars in the parking lot and the dark nooks and crannies. Our church will give you a cup of hot chocolate if you take a couple of minutes out of your busy schedule to do a spot check (old police term). Remember: “2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4 (NIV). One last tip, make sure that you let someone in the church know you are going to be doing a quick patrol around the church or they may contact local law enforcement on you.
Second topic. I received a text from another Safety Team Leader, “South Carolina megachurch camera caught man performing sex act on 3-year-old”. His text was “How in the hell do we prevent this? This guy was background checked and all normal precautions taken. I’m frustrated.” Back in June I did a blog called “Are You Watching for the Wolves Inside Your Church?” where I discussed the wolves that are already in your church. I talked about how in so many of the sexual abuse cases I read about in 2017 the offender was somebody known to the church. A pastor, youth pastor or someone that worked with children and nobody noticed the signs or worse, ignored the signs until it was too late.
Searching the internet I found other stories on this suspect. One article reported they reviewed the surveillance cameras from the children’s ministry and found this offender sexually molested at least 14 different children from the ages of 3 to 5. In a Post and Courier article “Lawsuit: At least 14 kids abused at hands of North Charleston church volunteer” I found several disturbing parts in the story. The suspect did this over a three month period. In the church’s official statement they reported the suspect “completed a “detailed training” and passed a screening process that included searches of criminal and nation sex offender databases.” Here is where the church is in trouble. How did this guy commit 14 different sexual attacks on 3 to 5 year-olds in a three month time period without someone seeing something? The second issue the church has is they had surveillance cameras, and nobody was monitoring them. If you have surveillance cameras in your children’s ministry someone had better be monitoring them. Three months, 14 different children.
How can this happen? Another good article on sexual offenders explains that sometimes sexual offenders not only groom the victim they also groom the church. In a Christianity Today article by Kimi Harris “Sex Offenders Groom Churches Too” the author states “The predators that are statistically likely to be in the pews, volunteering, and even behind the pulpit aren’t just grooming their victims, they are grooming their community to view them as trustworthy and even as spiritual leaders.” That many of the offenders “They endeavor to build a good reputation and to create a strong social perception of themselves as being an upstanding member of the local church or community, as a nice man.” Or as we say a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Shepherds, train your volunteers that if they see or hear something they must say something to a leader and then if there is proof of an assault, local law enforcement must be called in. This is not negotiable, period.
So this leads to the last topic. Notifying local law enforcement and networking. Brothers and Sisters if you think that your church is on an island and nobody is experiencing the same issues you are having then you have your head buried in the sand. Two weeks ago we had a person that was a walking anomaly come into our church. After one of the services he grabbed one of the worship team members and started telling him about how great he was and that birds were talking to him about coming to church and that he just loved watching him on stage. During this whole time he had a grip on the worship team member’s hand and wouldn’t let go. After several seconds of uncomfortableness the subject finally let the worship team member go. Unknown to the worship team member the Safety Team Members witnessed the incident between the two and were in close proximity in case they needed to move in. We identified the subject as one of our locals that has a history of mental illness and likes to make statements of fear.
A little history about this subject. Right after the shooting at Sutherland Springs this subject started asking a lot of questions to another church’s Safety Team in the area if the church had security and was wondering how they would stop an active shooter. The way he asked the questions caused the Safety Team at that church so much concern that they called the sheriff’s office. The subject had already left the church when the deputies arrived, so the deputies put out an alert on this subject. An off duty deputy that was at our church heard the alert over his radio and observed the subject now walking into our church. He spoke to the subject about the incident at the other church and the subject said he didn’t meant anything with his questions he was just a concerned member.
Now back to our earlier story about the incident with the worship team member at our church. I recognized the subject, but it wasn’t until two days later that I found out that this subject had again made statements of concern at this other church. The subject had parked in a no parking spot at this other church. Church volunteers told him he had to move and after an exchange of words the subject made a statement that they didn’t want him to go back to his truck and get his AK-47. Once again the subject left their church and headed right to ours.
Is this a threat? Maybe not, but in today’s world do you want to take that chance? How many times after every active shooter incident have we heard someone that knew the shooter say, “That is just old Buddy, he was always saying something like that and we never took him serious”. This is serious folks. No rational person should make any statement in today’s world about going back to his vehicle and getting his assault rifle. No one. So in a situation like this I would have contacted local law enforcement again and made another report on this subject. Law enforcement might say there is no crime committed here but tell them you want to make a “miscellaneous or information only” report. This is a catch all report. This is information that comes from the street that really has no reporting designation, but this incident is now on file in case this person makes another threat. Then law enforcement can start watching and talking to this person of interest. Looking at the Parkland shooting, the shooter had multiple domestic violent incidents reported to the police, a web posting where the shooter stated he wanted to be the next school shooter and these signs were overlooked. When we look at the Pittsburgh Jewish synagogue shooting, this shooter was posting anti-Jewish rants on-line and to coworkers for a while. No one said anything to local law enforcement and we now have this terrible tragedy in Pittsburg. Brothers and Sisters we live in a time if you hear or see something we have to say something. In our training I tell you we in law enforcement would rather get a call that was nothing than to respond to a scenario like the one in Parkland or Pittsburg. When you have someone in your church make a threat or what sounds like a possible threat we need to start making phone calls. I will be the first in this phone tree. My number is 727-267-0590 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember:
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV).
After you get finished here go and re-read my October blog “The Heart of the Watchmen on the Wall.”. Brothers and Sister if you take this role as the shepherd of the flock until the Chief Shepherd comes home I would take it as serious as we do our faith in Christ. Remember we work for Him.
My oldest daughter who reviews my blogs said I forgot something, and she is right. Let us not forget what this season is all about. It is about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If you don’t know the story I recommend you go out and watch this short YouTube video. I can’t say it any better that this video. Have a Safe and Merry Christmas from Jim, Wendy, Jessica and Jaycee.
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.