Over the last few decades, preventing abuse in churches,
especially sexual abuse of children has taken a rightfully high priority.
Though the Roman Catholic Church in the US has received the greatest attention,
abuse physical, sexual, verbal, spiritual has scarred members in every
Christian denomination and tradition.
Our usual response? We hold seminars lecturing people Dont do it
and turned to background checks and careful scrutiny of every person around a child.
Everyone becomes guilty until proven innocent.
Because of the onerous strains this puts on our churches, some of us then throw up our
hands and just trust for the best.
In the end, these kinds of prevention programs have two consequences:
- We alienate or scare away potentially good child and teen ministry workers
- We instruct predators on the details of all of our safety features and even suggest to
them ways of abuse that may never have occurred to them.
There is a better way.
(At this point I need to give credit to
for his reflections on this issue. I would recommend anyone who wants to know more about this
approach to take one of his seminars on the
The problem is much like the insight Jesus gave about demons who are cast out. (Luke 11:
2426) If we do not fill the house with something good, the evil will come back
with a vengeance.
In that vein, we need to move beyond asking How do we prevent abuse and keep
abusers out? to How
do we want children and other vulnerable people to be treated in our ministries?
By focusing on making our churches places filled with love, safety, respect and
care we ignite our imaginations to create that sort of experience. Some of our
procedures may still be driven by insurance concerns (background checks, etc.)
Others will reflect distinctively Christian ways of holding each other accountable to creating
this Christlike environment. More importantly, in our training,
ministry design and behaviors we will express that this is not a safe environment for
Will this absolutely prevent abuse? No. Abuse has a demonic perseverance.
At the same time, as we call each other to live the life of Jesus and hold each other
accountable to a positive standard, we will be able to detect and question people who
do not live up to that standard.