Best practices for ensuring your church is a safe place
Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused
Edited By Brad Hambrick
Step One: Talk with an Abuse Victim—Without this conversation, many of the things we’ve discussed may feel theoretical. There may be nothing you can do to solidify what you’ve learned like having a conversation with a victim who needed a ministry leader equipped in these ways.
A simple way to cultivate this conversation would be: Print a copy of this packet, give it to a member of your church who experienced abuse, ask them to watch the training series, and then invite them to share their thoughts.
For them, it may be the first time they felt like their experience was understood by a church. For you, it will be a conversation that puts a face, name and story to the principles and practices we’ve covered.
Step Two: Talk with an Attorney about Your State’s Laws—You may have an attorney in your congregation who would do this for free. Even if not, it will be money well spent. Go to Appendix A, highlight the statutes for your state and ask them to translate the legal jargon into normal English. If their first attempt to translate is unclear, ask them to try again. Don’t leave until you can articulate your state’s laws in everyday language.
Before this meeting, create a list of questions. Having case examples, perhaps from your conversation with a victim, will help you gain a better understanding of the laws. If you have a hard time creating questions and case examples, skip to step three and have that conversation first.
Step Three: Talk with a Social Worker—Perhaps have a lunch conversation or invite a social worker to do a Q&A with your church staff. Here are several questions that should be part of the conversation:
1. What are the best resources in our community for victims of abuse?
2. What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen churches make in handling abuse?
3. What are the best ways you’ve seen churches be an asset in abuse or neglect cases?
4. Can you give us an anonymous abuse case study that we could think through together?
5. If we have a question about an abuse case, who would consult with us?
If you send these questions in advance, you are likely to get a written list of qualified counselors and community resources. Show yourself to be a church that genuinely cares about handling abuse cases well and the quality of consultation you will get on future abuse cases will increase.
Step Four: Review Key Church Policies—As a result of going through this study, you will read your existing policies differently. You may see gaps that need to be filled. Or, you may merely understand better why some of the “best practice” language you adopted from another church is worded the way that it is.
Here are several key policies you need to review, both written policy and execution review:
1. What is the background check policy for all church staff and volunteers? Is it being consistently put into practice?
2. Is this ChurchCares.com training a requirement for all staff at your church?
3. Do you have adequate policies for your children ministry to ensure the safety of children? When was the last time you did a quality control review of how these are being implemented?
4. Do you know how to create and effectively oversee a care team?
5. Do you have a policy to ensure proper reporting in cases of sexual abuse against a minor by a staff member or church volunteer?
6. Do you have a policy on the attendance and accountability expectations of a registered sex offender who wants to attend or become a member of your church?
7. Do you contact the prior church of those seeking to join your membership, asking questions about their character, causes for concern, reasons for leaving?
While the awareness that these reviews need to occur is fresh, go ahead and send an email to each person who would oversee the relevant area of ministry in your church.
Step Five: Read the Links in this Study Guide—We have provided supplemental study links in the follow up section at the end of each lesson. These are mostly free resources that delve deeper into certain aspects of each lesson’s subject.
Every ministry leader has a reading list. Add these articles to your list. That way, throughout the year, as you read some of these resources, you will reflect on the subject of abuse again. Part of staying sharp in any ministry area is repetition. By adding these links to your reading list, you will be making sure this video isn’t the last time you think about abuse until you are mid-crisis.
Step Six: Send Links to Specific Leaders—As a ministry leader, your calling is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). So, as you review the supplemental resources for each lesson, a primary question you should be asking is, “Who at our church needs to read this?”
Use this as an opportunity to encourage those leaders. Thank them for their faithful service. Pray for them and then tell them you prayed for them. This way an email with an article or video come across less as a “to-do list” from their ministry supervisor and more as a church leader investing in their contribution to God’s kingdom through your church. Also, as a means of helping them own the material even more, ask them the very same question I’m asking you: “Who else do you think needs to read this?” Chances are, someone in their small group or ministry area also needs to read these resources.
To know which lessons are most pertinent to certain leaders in your church, head to Appendix B, where the lessons are indexed according to ministry area. The churchcares.com website makes it easy and efficient to email these leaders the video lessons they need for training.
Step Seven: Post Resources on Abuse through the Church’s Social Media Accounts—We want this curriculum to do more than equip you, as a ministry leader. We want this resource to cultivate awareness that God loves the oppressed and wants to protect them through the church-at-large.
Here’s the reality: What a pastor talks about in the pulpit or through social media is what congregation members think it’s OK to struggle with at that church. If abuse is never mentioned, then “I must be the only one” is the belief of abuse victims in your church.
Here is one simple way to rectify that dilemma: Schedule to post abuse resources in your church’s social media accounts at a set interval. Reading an article or watching a video in the privacy of their home or phone feels safe. It becomes a way to realize that God cares, their church cares, and they don’t have to continue to navigate this difficult journey alone.
Excerpted with permission from Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. Copyright 2019, B&H Publishing Group.