Our youth and children’s ministers recently said, “This is one of the most spiritually transformational events that we do.” We were discussing a camp for elementary age kids where our youth serve as counselors. It is a bold statement and emphasizes what we are supposed to be about—spiritual transformation. When they said this, my mind went to the possible exposure of our kids to a predator.
Making disciples of our children is of paramount importance. How do we weigh the call to make disciples against making sure that our young ones are safe? The threat comes not just from outside our church but sometimes from within. With this challenge, our church has taken serious steps to prevent the possibility of children being horrifyingly damaged by predators. This includes background checks and references for volunteers, along with training and policies that stress no adult is ever alone with a child. Some churches have banned all overnight events for kids.
As the Executive Pastor, I weigh the risk to our kids versus their spiritual growth. This involves risk. When you are a leader in a church that has been called to go and make disciples—and at the same time being charged with keeping watch over the flock—you encounter this tension. We are told to be not afraid but also to be as wise as serpents.
The youth staff routinely say that camps, retreats and mission trips are the most transformational times. These all have overnight stays. Our ministers know it is vital to get kids away so they can see Christ more clearly—away from phones, school, media and the busyness of life. It makes sense. In the transfiguration of Jesus, He “led them up a high mountain by themselves” so He could reveal more about Himself. He got three disciples away so they could see more clearly.
We have a yearly Family Camp at a beautiful site in the Hill Country of Texas. Families spend time together playing, visiting, and in worship. The impact is heightened because they are away from the things that scream for their attention. People can hear the gentle whisper of God. This year some from our prison ministry asked to attend Family Camp! These ex-felons have come to Christ through the teaching and discipleship of our members. When they were baptized we told them, “We are your new family.” Should an ex-felon come to Family Camp? There is that tension again!
How do we make decisions and manage risk? First, we pray and pray again. Then, I ask our staff three questions when considering an event:
- What is the spiritual impact?
- How vulnerable will our people be?
- Can we be as vigilant as needed?
This begins a balancing act. If an event is determined to be spiritually impactful, then we are willing to be more vulnerable. As the vulnerability goes up, I want to see a plan for a higher level of vigilance. We have a child protection policy from MinistrySafe for background checks and training. We require references and a waiting period before anyone can volunteer with our kids. For a camp or retreat, we increase the due diligence to include cooks, junior counselors and all others on property. We go over the schedule to make sure that no planned or unforeseen event would allow an adult or teen to be alone with a child. This added watchfulness brings challenges, especially in the number of qualified volunteers needed. If it is impossible to raise the vigilance to where it needs to be, or if the level of attentiveness necessary negates the spiritual impact, then we don’t do the event.
One of the worst parts of my job is when I have to look at an event and assume a predator may slip in. It is a depressing thought, but I know that our enemy prowls around looking to devour us. It is sobering that while we try to be fishers of men, there are scary things in the water. Despite these things, we do not proceed in fear but with sober and deliberate action.
Can we be certain that nothing will happen? The only way to be absolutely sure is to shut down ministry and give up on our mission. Since we aren’t going to do that, we live in the tension. We embrace the gray areas as places where we turn to God for wisdom and to the life of Christ for His example. This is the time to explore the seriousness of shepherding the flock and of going to the world. We have found that God waits for us in that place of tension.
For those who live in this tension, for those of you who carry the burden of leading your church to transformation while keeping watch over the flock, may the peace of Jesus Christ be with you.
This is a Tool from the Book and Workshop on
Predators in the Church
About the Book
5 E-Books with 38 Tools
Predators bring devastation to your church and the lives of your congregants. The Predator in the Church series has over 300 total pages and will help you change your thinking about predators and take steps to prevent them:
- The Introduction to Wolf Thinking presents an overview of the working concepts and the prevalence of predators.
- The Case of the Wolf at WheatFields is an insider’s perspective as Executive Pastor Dan Black at WheatFields discovers a predator.
- The Case of the Active Shooter walks through national news about the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, along with tools for church safety.
- The Case of the Child Molester presents national news about an incident at NewSpring Church of South Carolina with tools to avert child predators.
- The Case of the Church Embezzler documents national news stories from six churches of all sizes along with tools to prevent fraud.
May this material help avoid the painful tragedy of a predator in your church. Do all that you can to protect your people from the wolf. Author of the series is David Fletcher. For 35 years, Fletch led churches from 1,000-8,000 members, single and multisite, churches with camps, schools, apartments and cafés. His other books include People Patterns and Smart Money for Church Salaries.