Why this article:
Safe Church is working to get our safe church team-building resources together in one place that is easily accessible, a Safe Church Team Building Toolkit. We believe this would be especially helpful to our classis Safe Church Coordinators who are working to support safe church ministry among the churches in their classis. This article, with links to other Network articles, serves as one step along the way, until a full-fledged Safe Church Team Building Toolkit is ready.
Safe Church Ministry:
Safe Church Ministry equips congregations in abuse awareness, prevention and response. We help churches live into their gospel calling, to be salt and light, and to reflect the love of Christ in the way we interact with one another, granting dignity to each person uniquely created in God’s image. The primary work of safe church ministry happens at the congregational level, building communities where the value of each person is respected and protected; and wherever abuse occurs, the response of the church is compassion and justice that foster healing. This kind of community needs to be nurtured, it doesn’t happen automatically, Safe Church can help. Ideally, each congregation has a safe church team or committee that pays attention to creating a church environment that is safer for everyone. So, what does that look like in day-to-day practice? The answer is that it looks different in different places, however there are commonalities that we want to focus on here.
A mission focus. We may be quick to agree that churches should be safe places, with no abuse; yet we may not be so quick to ask why, why should the church care about abuse, why is this important? Part of the answer lies in our context. We live in a world, both within and outside of the church, where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before they reach adulthood. That’s a lot of people. Though the problem often remains hidden in a shroud of silence, the impacts of abuse are devastating, and our church communities are not immune. There are many organizations working in abuse prevention and response, but only the Church has the resources that our Lord provides. Our fight is not only against flesh and blood but against rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world,and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-13) The Church must stand against abuse.
Abuse prevention and response fit seamlessly into God’s greater mission for the Church. Throughout scripture we see that God is calling a people to be his own, to bear his name, and to participate in God’s mission of reconciling all things. God’s promise to the Israelites through Abraham has not ended; it continues through us, the Church. We are blessed, so that we can be a blessing to the nations. (Genesis 26:4, and Galatians 3:8) Likewise, the incarnation did not end when Jesus went up to heaven; the Spirit came down to empower us, the Church, to be his holy body in the world. Today, God is calling us, the Church, to be his holy people, a blessed community that bears his name, to be a blessing, reflecting his love, justice and grace. There is no place for abuse in the Church because abuse is the antithesis of the gospel of love. While abuse diminishes and destroys, it is the transforming power of God’s love that sets the captives free, and overcomes the devastation of abuse. When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done” we are praying for an end to abuse. The Church has a key role to play.
Read more about Safe Church Ministry and the mission of the church.
An empowerment model. Safe church models and promotes an empowerment philosophy, which means we take special note of power dynamics, and seek to empower those who lack power, creating a more just and equitable environment. Misuse of power is at the heart of every kind of abuse, therefore understanding power dynamics is an important part of effective abuse prevention and response. Key to our understanding is the picture that we are given in Philippians 2 about how Jesus used his power. Using power in Jesus’ way is being willing to make sacrifices in love and service to others. In Jesus we don’t see power over others used for selfish gain, or to diminish or push others down. Rather we see a power under others, lifting them up for their good, leading to the flourishing of his kingdom. Jesus shares power, empowering us by his Holy Spirit to follow him in all our ways, and especially in the way we use our own power.
Read more about understanding power.
Equipping and working alongside. Safe Church sees itself as an equipping ministry. Staff members are not the experts that come in to fix a problem or do the work directly. Rather, Safe Church offers resources and support so that classes and congregations are equipped to do the work of safe church ministry within their own context. It follows that our leadership model promotes working together with others in a walk-alongside, supportive role. We don’t take over in an authoritative way, we have no governing authority, and we don’t do for others what they are able to do for themselves.
Read more about leading with.
How it Works:
From the beginning, safe church ministry has embraced a team concept. A team concept fits well within the image of Christ’s body, the whole body grows as each part does it’s work. All parts are needed. (See 1 Corinthians 12) Classis safe church teams were originally formed with representatives from each church to offer support, education and the Advisory Panel Process (APP). The APP is a very specific process, for use in cases of church leader misconduct. Much of the team training over the years was focused on the APP, which was carefully developed between 1997 and 2010. In 2012, under a new Safe Church director, a gathering of safe church volunteers from across North America spent two days together exploring the question, what is a safe church? What are the characteristics or indicators? How can we know if we are being successful in our work of building safer churches? Out of this group process, five guiding goals were determined, which continue to guide safe church ministry. These have been affirmed at various synods, very clearly in 2014. (Acts of Synod p. 559-560)
Read more about Safe Church history.
A safe church team or committee at the congregational level works toward these five guiding goals in every congregation. They include an abuse prevention policy, age-appropriate education, a designated response to church leader abuse, increasing awareness of abuse issues, and a commitment to safe church ministry.
Read more about a congregational safe church team.
A classis safe church team has always been a part of the structure of Safe Church Ministry. Each classis is mandated by synod to have a safe church team. In some places, it’s working. Usually because a motivated person with passion for safe church ministry steps into the role of team leader and makes great progress, with good classis support. Other places lack an effective leader or support from classis. Sometimes things go well for a while, until a dynamic leader steps down, leaving a gap in leadership and a faltering team. In order to better assist a classis in forming a safe church team, the position of classis Safe Church Coordinator has been developed. Safe Church offers a grant, seed money, to help a classis establish this position with an annual stipend. This position integrates safe church ministry into the classis structure and helps ensure continuity in leadership. A strong classis safe church team can be invaluable in assisting churches as they work toward building safer communities. In addition, the classis team is able to offer confidential consultation in dealing with situations of abuse that might arise.
Additional information is planned to become a part of a Safe Church Team-building Toolkit, for example, effectively working together with various CRC structures, and with local community resources; building the character of a healthy team, and of course, understanding the dynamics and impacts of abuse. Our gathered abuse awareness resources offer help in gaining a deeper understanding of various abuse-related topics, including, child abuse, domestic violence, church leader abuse and more. Safe church ministry continues to grow and there is always more to learn. We believe that our efforts can be more worthwhile, effective, and satisfying when we share in the work; it takes all of us working together to make our communities safer places for everyone.
Read more about where to begin finding helpful resources to better understand issues surrounding abuse prevention and response as well as additional information about safe church ministry.