Safe Church Ministry: What Church Leaders Can Do

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“We don’t live in a perfect world. Our churches are full of sinful people. Many individuals in our churches have experienced abuse, as one who has been abused or who has abused others, or both. A 1992 study by the Calvin College Social Research Center found that 28 percent of respondents in the Christian Reformed Church had experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. And 15 percent had abused someone else.” – from Safe Church Ministry: A Church Leader’s Role

So what can a church leader do about abuse? The resource, Safe Church Ministry: A Church Leader’s Role, available on the Safe Church Ministry website, covers a wide range of information on this topic, including these topics:

An ounce of prevention
Stopping abuse before it happens is far better than dealing with devastating consequences after it happens. We cannot prevent all abuse. What we can do is reduce the risk of abuse taking place in our churches. Every church should have a safe church policy to protect children, youth, and the most vulnerable among us. A safe church policy also protects the church staff and volunteers from potentially damaging allegations of abuse.

Safe church committees
Appointing a committee with a mandate to develop such policies and procedures is a good place to start. A council member should serve on the committee and be a liaison to the council. Leadership at all levels must support and cooperate with the recommendations of the safe church committee. A safe church policy should include the ministry philosophy, definitions of abuse, general policies, and specific policies regarding discipline, supervision, transportation, screening, reporting, and response.

The safe church committee should provide training on a regular basis so that all staff, volunteers, and council members are aware of the policy and abide by it. The committee should also review the policy and training on an annual basis.

Education
Education is an excellent prevention tool. Curriculum components that teach about respect and healthy relationships should be included at all age levels. Asking these questions is a good place to start:
• Do children learn about respectful interaction with others by example as well as well as by explicit teaching?
• Is there relevant discussion of bullying and of techniques for peaceful conflict resolution?
• Does the youth group discuss teen dating violence?
• Do premarital counseling sessions involve learning the warning signs of abuse?
• Do adult classes discuss spouse abuse or elder abuse?
• If your church has a peer mentoring program, are the mentors aware of the dynamics of abuse?

Promote community resources
The church should also embrace local community resources. Dealing with abuse requires professional help, with the church in a supportive role of walking alongside the person experiencing abuse. Is your church able to refer someone who is involved in a violent or abusive relationship to local resources and agencies where he or she could find help?

Additional resources are available on the Safe Church Ministry website.

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