Deepak Reju|12:01 AM CT

Predators in the Pew: Protecting Against Child Abuse in Your Church

Jonathan was sick to his stomach. No pastor ever wants to see a child hurt. Yet his church was facing a lawsuit over sexual abuse that recently occurred in their children's ministry. He was bogged down with conversations with a lawyer, shepherding the distraught families in his congregation, feeling guiltt over his failed leadership, and trying to hold things together. In his own words, Jonathan said, "It felt like a bomb just went off and I'm cleaning up the mess."

"Jimmy" was a friendly man who had joined First Baptist Church about a year ago. He was kind, and the members of First Baptist took a quick liking to him. He volunteered to teach a Sunday school class and got to know "Peter," an 8-year-old boy. Things started innocently. A hug at the end of class. Gifts for Peter. Lots of extra attention.

And then it happened. Jimmy took advantage of Peter. He made Peter keep it a secret. Peter cried a lot over the next few days (which was not like him), and eventually his mother got the secret out of him. She contacted the pastor immediately, but the church made excuses. She was so outraged that she sued the church.

When Churches Fail Our Kids

Sadly this is an all-too-familiar story. If you pay any attention to the news, you know that sexual offenders show up in churches. Like predators hurting defenseless prey, they do unspeakably horrible things to our children. Much could be prevented, but many churches do not know how to protect their children and how to respond when child sex abuse happens. It all adds up to being irresponsible with the littlest ones that God has entrusted to our care.

Why do churches fail our kids?

  • Because churches are so desperate for volunteers, sexual offenders know they can get easy access to kids.
  • Because churches are so informal, they don't bother checking on someone's past or screening volunteers.
  • Because Christians make too many assumptions about sexual abuse, they think things like, It will never happen to us or We know everyone at church and none of our friends would do something like this.
  • Because Christians make too many assumptions about sexual offenders. They assume they are not anything like us, when in fact sexual offenders come in all types—white collar or blue collar, single or married, male or female, educated or uneducated, rich or poor.
  • Because church members get offended when the children's ministry director starts implementing protective measures in children's ministry, like asking members to be screened. Long-standing members think, How dare you ask me? I've been here for 20 years. Or others think, We're a small church. We're like a family. Why do we need this?
  • Because sexual offenders are smart. They know Christians are naive, so they take advantage of their trust. Some will cultivate a double life, appearing like the nicest guy in the world. They do this in order to get easy access to children.
  • Because when child sex abuse happens at church, there are often no policies in place for how to handle it. When pastors try to handle this internally without a response plan and without involving authorities, children are victimized yet again—but this time by church authorities.

More reasons can be listed, but these scenarios give you a sense of what could go wrong.

Protecting Our Church Kids

What can be done about this problem? How can pastors and churches be more responsible in protecting our children? Let me suggest 10 best practices. None of these practices by themselves can completely eliminate the possibility of a sexual offender hurting your church kids. But together (if followed) they can reduce the risk and increase the likelihood that our kids will be safe.

1. Create and implement a Child Protection Policy.

A Child Protection Policy (CPP) is a set of self-imposed guidelines that describe how a church intends to protect the children under its care. A church with no policy is a recipe for disaster because it creates a culture of false assumptions that sexual offenders prey on, like, "We are a small church so we know everyone."

2. Enforce a check-in and check-out process. 

Clearly defined check-in and check-out procedures create a "fence" around the children, allowing them to reside safely in the care of the church until they are returned to their parents.

3: Emphasize membership.

A big front door to your church is obvious to sexual offenders. Membership is a self-conscious commitment to the congregation that allows the church to define who is "in" and who is "out." No membership process (or a minimal process) means people too easily flow in and out of the congregation without any clear definition of who is the church. Think for a moment. Where do you think a sexual offender is going to go—a church with a ten-week membership class plus an interview, or a church where you can join right away without any questions? The lower the membership hurdle, the more likely they will jump over it.

4. Train your volunteers.  

Training volunteers to do their jobs well is an important part of equipping the church to be responsible stewards of children. Two types of training are important—entry level training (for the new volunteer) and ongoing training (for the veterans). How do you  answer the question, "What do our staff and volunteers need to know to do their job faithfully, in a way that keeps children safe?"

5. Screen and verify.

Most sexual offenders assume you won't check up on them, because most churches don't do any form of background check. One of the most important steps in protecting against predators is implementing screening and verification procedures that will detect when sexual offenders are in your church. Do not assume that because a volunteer is a self-professing Christian that therefore he or she can be trusted with your kids. Asking about their backgrounds and employing professional screening services help verify that there are no skeletons in the closet.

6. Design your building deliberately.  

Have you ever thought about how you can adjust your building design to guard against sexual offenders infiltrating your church? Building layout, and the structural set-up of your children's ministry wing, may not be the most obvious strategy in dealing with sexual offenders. It's probably the last thing you can change in your church. Yet there may be simple adjustments (or larger ones) that you can make to help the children in your church be more secure.

7. Develop a response plan. 

If a sexual offender arrived in the building, would your staff and volunteers know what to do? If a child were abused in your children's ministry, do you know how you would treat the offender? Do you know how to care for the family of the victim? Do you understand the regulations for reporting abuse? Do you know what to say to media requests? Response plans give you a set of procedures that guide the church's response to abuse. A church with a response plan shows that the leadership and staff have proactively thought about these things. If there are no plans in place, it means the pastor is going to figure out what to do when something comes up. Which church would you prefer to bring your kids to—one with a well-planned children's ministry, or one that takes a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach?

8. Get to know your community. 

Get to know the resources in your community before the problem occurs. Find good doctors and counselors. Take a local Child Protective Services (CPS) worker out to lunch so that when the time comes, you can make a phone call to someone you know rather than an anonymous call to a hotline.

9. Secure the support of all church leaders.  

One notably wise lady in our church says, "Preach good sermons and they will come. Run an excellent children's ministry, and they will stay." Protecting kids starts at the top—if the church leadership takes this task seriously then the church will see the difference. If children's ministry desperately needs volunteers, or if the children's ministry director faces overwhelming resistance to these practices, the leadership may need to be more supportive.

10. Equip parents.

For several weeks after the Jerry Sandusky trial, I was regularly answering parents who asked, "How do we speak about sexual abuse to our kids?" Train your parents to take seriously their responsibility to be the primary disciplers of their kids. Teach them to be invested in the lives of their kids, so predators can't hold secrets with their kids. Encourage parents to not avoid conversations about sex, but to talk openly with their kids about sex so that kids can ask honest questions. Remind parents about the importance of instructing children on decorum, modesty, and respectful boundaries with other kids. Encourage them to talk with their children about what to do if a Sunday school teacher or neighbor or relative tries to cross a forbidden line.

Don't Live in Fear 

We fight to protect our kids because we love them and want to preserve the gospel witness of our churches. As Christians, we don't want to live in fear, so we trust that the God of grace will equip us to walk in his wisdom and strength.

Deepak Reju is the pastor of biblical counseling and families at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (Washington, DC). He is married to his best friend, Sarah, and father of five adorable children. He is a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD) and author of the forthcoming On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church (New Growth Press, 2014).

Categories: Ministry
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  • http://www.bradhambrick.com Brad Hambrick

    Great post! Thank you for continuing to bring this issue to the church's attention. Here are a couple of resources for churches to consider as they address this subject:



  • Joe

    11. LOVE "predators" as though Christ died for them, too - because He did.

    • Mel

      No the very word predator shows an unrepentant sinner. You don't ever sacrifice children to someone like that because you want to think big of yourself.

      • Anonymous

        There are many men in this country who wear the label "sex offender"--which many consider synonymous with "predator"--who are fully repentent. There are 750,000 registered sex offenders in this country, and the number rises daily. Increasingly, those arrested are juveniles or young adults. These men--nearly all are men--are often arrested not for violent assaults on children or forcible rape of women, but for statutory crimes involving willing post-pubescent teens a year or two under the age of consent, usually with less than a decade of age difference between the two participants.

        Many of these men will grow up, wise up, and realize they made a mistake VERY quickly after their arrest. Most will never commit another crime. Overall recidivism rates for sex offenders--for all crimes--vary between about 1.5 and 7%, depending on the study you look at. If a sex offender goes 10 years without committing another crime, there statistical probability of their committing another offense drops to zero.

        We live in a country where 18 and 19 year old males who have 14 or 15 year old girlfriends are routinely referred to as "pedophiles" and "predators," and often treated as such legally, rather than as young men who demonstrated bad judgement, immaturity, and a lack of strong sexual morals. There are hundreds of thousand of men who are publicly labelled sex offenders for decades or for life because, in their late teens or early/mid twenties, they committed a single sex offense involving a willing teen girl less than a year below the age of consent (or had conversations in an adult sex chat room or dating site with an undercover officer posing as such).

        Welcoming these men into the church a decade after their crime is not about thinking big of oneself; it's about grace and forgiveness and second chances. It's about not treating every single crime that has the word "sex" attached to it as if it were wholly different than any other crime. It's about being the one place in this society where these men can be treated--five years, a decade, two decades, 50 years--after a single big mistake they made when they were in their early 20s like a human being, not a monster.

        Yes, there are some--thankfully, a very small number--of dangerous, repeat, predatory pedophiles out there, who assault and molest children. They are unrepentent. They often suffer from serious psychological problems or mental impairments that leave them unable to really grasp the magnitude of their crimes. They should not be allowed access to children, and if they are using the church as a means to do so, they should not be welcome in the church.

        But most men who wear the label "sex offender" do not fit that category. They are not entering a church in the hopes of finding a child to assault or abuse. They made a single mistake, when they were young men, with a teen girl who they figured was old enough because she looked and talked like a woman and was willing, without thinking about whether she was actually mature enough to make those decisions. They are sorry. They have learned, they have matured, they would not do it again. They are entering a church in the hopes that maybe, in this place, they will be allowed a second chance. Maybe, in this place, they will be shown forgiveness. Maybe, in this place, they can be allowed to be something more than the label our U.S. legal system has placed on them. They might be entering alone, hoping to find the only friendships they can form because their community and family has shunned them entirely. They might be entering with their wife and children, hoping that in this place, they can sit together without worrying about death threats or stares or harassment. They are hoping that Christians will act like Christians, and treat then like human beings made in God's image.

        I am part of a group of women married to sex offenders. Many have husbands who were arrested in online sting operations. Others have husbands who had virtual contact with an actual teen girl. Some have been turned away from their churches. Others haven't. Recently, one woman talked about weeping when she disclosed her husband's situation to her pastor (her husband had been arrested two years ago in an online sting operation involving an undercover officer posting an ad in the adult dating section of a popular website posing as a teenager seeking out a hookup--he was in his 20s--this is a common story) and he told her that her husband was welcome to worship with them. The door was open to him. Praise God for that.

        • Well guess what

          Well my daughter was raped by a "sex offender". One that married a girl that he met in high school while he was a student teacher.
          When my daughter was raped she was in eighth grade. She had braces, a ponytail and her track team sweats on. She was not sexually active. She didn't wear makeup yet or even a real bra. She liked sports. She was polite and quiet. She thought she was showing someone from out of town where the payphone was in the building. To her, he was a stranger.
          When she got to ninth grade she discovered he wasn't a stranger. He was a teacher. It took a couple of years but we were able to force his resignation. We were not able to have him arrested even though after the investigation it was fairly obvious that there may be more victims. They and their parents were not willing to speak. The district attorney did not feel he could win the case because my daughter in her mental state could not even raise her head and speak up.
          We dealt with years of suicide attempts, cutting and anorexia. When she worked up the courage to testify to the school board, he resigned.

          The "sex offender" is NOT on any lists. He will pass all the back ground checks. I know this because despite the fact that it went onto his employment record the circumstances that he had to resign, he is now teaching at another high school. Coaching another football team.

          So I don't want to hear any of this accepting them into our bosom stuff. I don't want to hear any stats either. Stats mean absolutely NOTHING when it's your child whose life has been stolen from them.
          I have to forgive that man but my anger comes up again when I hear people talk like the chances of it happening are so small.

          While the 'sex offender' was on paid leave for a year, his steadfast wife told people that he was thinking of going to seminary and her rich parents paid for the most expensive criminal lawyer in the area.

          This is the type of person that is already working with people's children. I bet he would be welcomed into any church.

          • Tim M.

            Hey Mel,
            Do I think it's righteous to put all of "them" in a group of people who we should not accept? If you're a Christian, Christ accepted you.

            • Melody

              I have to forgive but I do not have to sacrifice children on the alter of perversion just so that some people can work their way to heaven. God understands my anger at you for not having a drop of compassion for my child. You don't even know the man but you defend what he did? He never repented. He didn't ask forgiveness. He immediately moved to another school.

              A person that is truly repentant does not demand rights. Someone that screws up should not even expect the right to ask forgiveness. Someone that truly comprehends the damage they have done to someone's core with their selfish perversion would not expect this life to be spent enjoying life happily ever after. A truly repentant person will be grateful that their soul is saved and pray PRAY that the pain they have caused will be healed by God no matter what the cost to themselves.

            • Tim M.

              Hey Mel,
              I'm not sure how you are interacting with my comment or see it as in any way defending the man you are speaking of. If he did what you say he did that is awful and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I wouldn't be so quick to say that God understands things that appear, on the surface at least, sinful. Perhaps you could interact with my actual words? You are publicly seeking to assert what should happen in churches and these statements need to be governed by truth not experience, or what we intuitively believe is a level of sin God will tolerate considering.

            • Tim M.

              My initial comment was in response to this statement:
              So I don't want to hear any of this accepting them into our bosom stuff. I don't want to hear any stats either. Stats mean absolutely NOTHING when it's your child whose life has been stolen from them.

              Hope that helps

          • Alicia M

            Forgiveness and acceptance does not mean we act as if the sin never took place. Sins have consequences on earth, even when they are forgiven. Part of loving someone is holding them accountable. If someone falls into the category of sex offender, they should be welcomed into the church and allowed to serve in many ministries, but as a consequence the children's ministry should be off limits. We don't place them in a tempting situation and we don't open up our children to possible victimization.

            • Tim M.

              What did I say that made you feel the need to add that qualification?

        • MikeS

          To: TIM M.
          Background checks are a non-negotiable in our consideration of child workers. If there are any sexual offenses, then , the answer is 'no' to working with minors but 'please stay, sit under the preaching and learn of Christ'. We have also put other measures in place such as no one adult alone with a child along with windows in every door and bathroom supervision. We cannot afford to live in a "That person is a Christian so..." because sometimes masks can be cleverly worn and as Mel has pointed out, sometimes "The "sex offender" is NOT on any lists. He will pass all the back ground checks.".

          • Tim M.

            Hey mike,
            Thanks. I'm not sure how what I said contradicts that. In my mind It's kind of strange that you felt the need to mention that.

            • Mel

              When you have to question several people why they are reacting the way they are then it is time to re-examine how you worded it Tim. I don't understand why you have a problem with me grouping predators together. Guys that sleep with their teenage girlfriends are not what we are talking about.

              People know they are sinning when they share a little gossip. Maybe they are surprised by how devastating the results of their behavior but they know. It's the thrill of getting to talk about someone else's business. Would you share someone else's business in front of them? You are making excuses in an area that deserves no excuses.
              I don't understand why you see people as so ignorant to their own motives. Yes the bible says that the heart is deceitful. It is not talking about this. If people were the way you talk then you could suddenly find yourself in the situation of raping someone tomorrow without any premeditation at all. Unless you have been thinking about doing that I really don't think that is possible, do you?

              The wife up above made plenty of excuses for predatory behavior even to the point of blaming a girl for looking and acting older than she does. Frankly she is not reliable source of wisdom in the area. Perhaps the verse about the heart being deceitful applies more to her.
              Online behavior is NOT victimless sin. What is more, as you engage a sin more and more in the sex area it takes even riskier behavior to get the same satisfaction.
              What is more, you do not get arrested for just talking to someone that is posing as a teenage girl. You get arrested for lewd behavior, meaning they can see who is doing it. And you get arrested for trying to meet-up with the supposed teenage girl. That takes a lot of forethought and planning. Those women are in serious denial if they think that man is not a predator. What is more, that man has presented himself a victim too. Hardly the way one repents of their sin.

              God takes purity very seriously. Purity of heart and body, they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Yes Jesus died for all sins. But to treat something so casually that God speaks of as precious is not recognizing that those who are abused are His children, made in His image. Yes everyone should be loved equally but you do not love the sex offender more. That is evil.

              What is more girls that may be acting and looking like whores are usually abused from a young age. Another thing that wives of predators cannot evaluate properly. People that have been abused respond in a couple of ways. They take on that image that has been thrust on them. Believing that they are only good for what someone else treated them as - a sexual object. The other half shut down.

              When people only value themselves and other people as objects then that is what happens. When pastors value the idea of forgiveness over the innocent made in the image of God then they become just like them. They end up valuing purity and innocence like the world, something disposable, not that big of a deal. It's what the church in Corinth was doing. This article is about not letting anything be hidden in the shadows. Some pastor that decides to handle things internally has way too big of an opinion of himself. God did not give him that authority.

              The really screwed up thing about our criminal system is that you only get punished for what you managed to accomplish. If you are trying to kill someone and by some miracle you get stopped then you are going to be charged with attempted murder. Not the same punishment as if you had been a success. That means that someday that person will be out again.

              Like Michael Klunder, who went through a faith based program. He was accepted in by Christians. He had a church, a small group, a new wife. Now there is a young girl dead. A girl that wore sweatshirts, ball caps, braces and no make-up. She didn't ask for it. That recidivism quote probably isn't much comfort to her parents.

              As for the recidivism rate, what is counted? People that have been caught and then caught again? What is the reporting rate? How do they prove that the person has never done it again? Self-reporting? Wives that testify for them? The fact that he has never gotten caught again? I say he even though women can be just as evil.

              Here are some more statistics and then I'm done with this subject:

              Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). This means there are more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.
              The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years. Some never disclose (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007).

              Of those identified by professionals, up to 25% of these are not reported.

              Police make arrests in about 29% of cases reported to them.

              More than 13% of sex offenses are not prosecuted. In a number of the cases prosecuted, the alleged perpetrator is acquitted.

              Of those convicted, a number of offenders are sentenced to probation rather than jail time.

              Assuming that all research and data presented is valid, logic suggests that substantially less than 3% of child sexual abuse perpetrators serve jail time for their offense.

              Of those that are incarcerated for child sexual abuse convictions in the 1990’s, the average time served by molesters of young children was 44.8 months. Molesters of underage teens served a mean sentence of 17.3 months (Ohio Department of Corrections, 1992).

            • Tim M.

              Hey Mel,
              It is fair to ask people why they are being reactive, if that is what they are being (your words not mine, I'm merely wondering about a common response). I think perhaps you mistake the intent of my questions. They are legitimate. I sincerly wish to know why me saying that we should accept repentant sinners leads people to feel the need to qualify that statement in the way that they have. Is it ok to request more information out of curiosity?

              In terms of your response. All sins do not happen in the same way, not even sins of a similar type. As a result, I am suspicious of generalizations.

              For example, murders do not happen in the same way. Yet all murders are sinful. It wouldn't be fair to assume for instance that all murderers commit murder in the same way as serial killers. Not all murders are premeditated for instance. Not all murders are "intentional." A person could kill someone out of anger and really not wish to kill him at all. It would be unfair to such a person to assume that they, in a predatory way set out to intentional murder the other person. There are different types of murder, there are different types of sexual sin.

              My point is not to excuse sin but to say that each person is different and their stories are different. One size fits all approaches to these problems simply will not do.

              I am a bit skeptical of the sort of reasoning that would say, never let an ex prostitute come to your small group after all she might seduce all the men. Or never let an ex murderer teach a small group because he might be tempted to write the majority of the new testament...

              That's not to say there is no place for wisdom, it's just to say, let's not broad brush. We all know the danger of assumptions... All situations are not the same.

              It may help for you to work through the New Testament passages on blindness.

      • TJ

        We are commanded to love even our enemies and that certainly includes predators. Loving them DOES NOT mean, however, that you allow them to endanger children. If they have hurt a child the loving thing to do is to call the police and put them in a position in which they can get help, repent and face the consequences of their actions.

  • Amy

    This is also an excellent resources for churches to have in place: http://www.bradhambrick.com/beyondprevention/

  • EMSoliDeoGloria

    It's really important to realize that background checks are not enough. That only makes it less likely that the person serving in your children's ministry has been CONVICTED of child molestation or a related crime. Many abusers are never convicted and those that are have often damaged 100s of children before they see the inside of a courtroom.

    Besides the listed items, it is important for church officials to realize that when they place a person in a position of church trust and leadership, others may look to him / her as trustworthy. Just because someone who is at risk to act out molestation fantasies isn't serving in children's ministry doesn't mean the church's responsibility is over. If you as a pastor publicly praise the person for their generosity from the pulpit... If you know s/he is spending time with church children (sleepovers at a private home or frequent offers to babysit for church families) and you do nothing to protect children, you could be putting kids at risk with your silence.

    And if something does go wrong, despite your best efforts, HOW you as a church leader respond is crucial.

  • anonymous

    I agree with EMsolioGloria. Predators are smart. I think we all need to become more aware of the issue to help prevent it, as well as talking with our children. Our church has a safety plan, but there are holes in it. Someone with a police check can still be a predator if they have never been caught. There was a request in our bulletin for hall monitors during the worship service. That would be a perfect place for predators to volunteer.

  • Lois

    I'm thankful for my church, because they do have these policies in place. In regard to what EMSoliDeoGloria and anonymous wrote, one of the additional policies we have at my church to protect the children even if someone slipped through the system is that no servant can be alone with any child or children. There must always be at least two servants in a room with any kid. This includes when we do potty breaks or when we're waiting for parents to pick up the last kid. It makes it hard when we don't have enough servants, but to follow this policy, if necessary, we will combine classes even if it means a lot of kids in one classroom.

  • Megan

    •Because churches are so desperate for volunteers, sexual offenders know they can get easy access to kids.

    Why is this? Why, in particular, do larger churches who spend so much on adult ministry seem so frugal when it comes to children?

    When our kids were young, my husband used to complain about how the pastor would stop the sermon and point out, "we do encourage you to use the nursery." As a result of such "hints," both my husband and I became convinced our ministers hated children, who might ruin their canned PowerPoint presentations and frequently deafening "worship". This is one reason we didn't raise our children in the church, and eventually left the church ourselves.

    On top of this, the disparity in many churches between the amount of money spent on entertaining the "adults" with sound systems and multiple ministers, compared to the pittance that's spent on an almost entirely volunteer staff to teach the kids speaks louder than words.

    In one church, I wasn't so much concerned about child molestation, but the lack of doctrinal oversight. One Sunday school teacher announced he'd be teaching a class on the Founding Fathers, apparently with nobody in a position of authority questioning whether the church was an appropriate place to be confusing children about the differences between faith and nationalism.

    Mainline churches I've visited--even tiny ones--encourage the family to worship together, and even have a special children's sermon given by the pastor. The rector at my childhood Episcopal Church took one Sunday morning a week to lead the children through the stations of the cross, explaining what they meant.

    God forbid that an evangelical church would "waste" even a fragment of the minister's precious time or salary on teaching children! "Family values" evangelical churches seem to want the brats out of there. One Southern Baptist house church planter, who had children the same age as mine, pointed out such practices were inconsistent with a family-centered view of religion.

    This attitude is important, too, because child molesters tend to target kids whose parents are in stressful life circumstances or who for other reasons are predisposed to relegate the care of their children to others. A church in which ministers devalue children, and where parents are led to believe they're "imposing" on others for wanting to spend Sunday morning with them, creates an ideal environment for child molestation.

    • Melody

      Small children can be very distracting when you are trying to learn. It wouldn't be so bad but most people do not show consideration by taking a noisy child out.

      Our church has classes for each age group. We require background checks for the lead teachers. No child is ever left alone with anyone including those that have a background check. Diaper changing is done in full view of other workers. Children escorted to the bathroom are done with multiple leaders, never a single adult.
      We also ask that parents volunteer once per quarter.

      Wouldn't it be wonderful to say that all parents are cheerful volunteers to help keep something that benefits their children going?
      Most people would rather complain, pout and act like passive-aggressive teenager being forced to do a chore instead of a mature adult with children that they need to be an example to on how to serve God and each other.

  • Tim M.

    I wonder if all "sexual predators" are really so self aware. There is such a thing as blindness. I have often thought the same thing about false prophets. I wonder why it's so easy to think of them as plotting their evil predatory plots, when many sins of a similar nature do not involve these elaborate plots? I doubt that most people who commit adultery really start out with this elaborate plan to steal another man's wife.

    • Melody

      Yes they do. They entertain the thought. They let it come in. They roll it through their thoughts. The next time the thought stays a little longer. Soon there are more "just friendly" conversations until something intimate emotionally is exchanged. A little flirtation here or there, some rationalization, a complete denial that anyone planned this. Then you have love that just happened, bigger than the two of us, too big to contain. Love that surely was meant to be otherwise why would God design us to feel this way?

      See how that works? It all starts with a lie that makes it sound like people can't help themselves. It started in the garden and continues today. Paul told us what to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ?

      Sexual Predators are not taken surprise by their sin.

      • Tim

        The meaning of words is determined by usage. The problem is that in common parlance, the phrase "sexual predator" is often used to describe a very broad group of people. In many cases "sexual predator" is thought of as synonymous with "sexual offender." As a result, you have people like anonymous pointing out that not all "sexual offenders" become "sexual offenders" in exactly the same way.

        As a result, no one is arguing that sexual sin is not sin and morally culpable. I myself, am simply stating that the Bible speaks of blindness. We are often blind to our motives. There is a reason why people gossip for instance. Most Christians do not intentionally set out to destroy a person's reputation by sharing negative information about them to others. Most of the time that is just what "comes out" of an evil heart. It's not something that happens at the level of awareness. Most of the time we do not come to some point where we are forced to decide whether or not we will destroy the reputation. If we become that self aware, the battle is almost over. Our hearts wish to deceive us, and part of that deception involves keeping us from actually examining what we are doing in a thoughtful manner.

        Most sin is like this.

  • Rachael Starke

    One other point I don't see here is the need to communicate your policies - what they are, how the gospel informs them, what happens when they're broken - often, and in a variety of formats. On your main website, any ministry materials you create, congregational meetings, etc. What are you policies for protecting and preventing? What are your policies and processes when, in spite of the previous, an accusation or a proven incident, happens on your church property, or in the homes of one of your members?

    When you do that, you help both parents and potential predators know what kind of environment you are building, and if it is a safe place for them, either to have children there, or to prey on children undetected and without fear of legal consequences.

    Not communicating in that way risks unintentionally communicating anyway.

  • Jena

    Our church also implements a STRICT policy of two adults in the room w/ kids at all times. Making a big deal out of this rule during training and then figuring out how to make it work goes a long way in protecting kids. If you expect every person to go through an orientation and training in order to serve with kids and make their safety the #1 priority - especially against child abuse, it will make it very difficult for these things to happen AND discourage offenders from serving in these roles.

    We also do a background check, no apologies! Nobody should complain about having a background check if it means keeping kids safe.

  • MrsCle725

    In addition to the importance of never leaving children supervised by less than 2 adults, I think it's also important to remember that adults aren't always the perpetrators of sexual abuse; sometimes it's an older kid. I know of a case on which the pastor's kids and the worship pastor's kids were often left to entertain themselves at the church while their parents were on meeting or worship practice; after a few years of this, the worship leader's 11-year old son ended up abusing the pastor's 6-year old daughter when they were left in rooms alone together - and this went on for a long time (until the pastor moved to a different church), and many more years passed before that girl confessed what had been done to her. It's easy to become complacent - especially in a small church where staff and volunteers are few - and to just trust our kids to play together, especially when some are older and, we assume, more capable of looking after our little ones.

  • Justin Lambert

    The smaller churches I have attended have strictly enforced children ministry rules. But, since anything sex (including boundaries) strikes a very Voldemort like fear into the hearts of good christian parents I have not heard #10 pushed in church growing up.

    That being said I'm confused about "instructing children on decorum, modesty, and respectful boundaries with other kids." Last I heard most predators have already hit puberty and even still how is teaching little kids modesty and good manners going to prevent rape.

  • DIahanne VanGulick

    I just wanted to chime in as one, who as a child, was "touched" in inappropriate ways by a man in the church I attended throughout my childhood. From that perspective I can really appreciate the efforts of those in leadership to enforce such policies as posted in this blog. My husband has served as a Children's Ministry Director, developing and implementing these type of policies. I have served several years in the kids ministry and have followed these protective policies legalistically. I love these kids and do not want what happened to me to happen to them. However, while a lack of discernment and complacency is at fault for sexual abuse in the church, the primary cause is we live in a fallen world, we cannot escape the brokenness of others, including the shortcomings of church leadership. I was terribly disappointed and disheartened, when my sexual abuse had been brought to light, that the leadership did not take it very seriously, to the point that it communicated they did not believe me. I have come realize through this that my hope cannot be in man, but in Christ alone. I also have come to understand better, that while having safeguards in place as roadblocks for sexual sins, they cannot suppress mankind's sinful desires. Anyone can climb over any man-made roadblock. So, while, having these safeguards in place, I believe that as a church is developing and enforcing them, they must stop and evaluate the heart motive....be very sure that their hope continues to be in the Lord and not in their self made rules. Be very sure they are not living in fear of man and minimizing the power of God to protect and redeem or sinful situations.
    It is important to take serious measures to protect children, but I believe it should be done through the motivation of obedience and love, and not driven by a paralyzing fear of man. All the while realizing that God is so big, that he can take what happened to me repeatedly as a child and turn it into something of beauty and redemption.
    The man who abused me had been in our church for years and years, this was back in the 70's. He was a door greeter that most considered "safe" and kind. Had I been in leadership, perhaps I too would not considered him a threat. This man, like the rest of us, needed Jesus. He needed to place his hope in Him.
    The leadership that "failed" me, also needed Jesus. They were not my rescuers. I should never consider them that. Only Christ is my rescuer. And he has rescued me thoroughly. To which I am thankful forever.

    • Melody

      Thank you DIahanne VanGulick I know that wasn't easy to share. I think the reason people don't believe is because they don't want to comprehend the evil or admit that it could happen to one of theirs. It's a self protection thing.

  • Nell

    Many predators are church members. They are smart and can parrot any doctrinal statement. There is a reason that they attract such trust.

    Also, it is important to understand that church leaders and pastors can also be predators. It is a dark sin and predators know how to hide it.

  • Anonymous

    I'm going to put an unpopular opinion out there: "predators" and "offenders" should not be marginalized and vilified as some kind of evil group of others.

    All kinds of people commit sexual offenses, and there are all kinds of sex offenses. In many states, the majority of men publicly labelled "sex offenders" are on for a single non-violent statutory offense, often committed when they themselves were in their late teens or early/mid 20s. We have hundreds of thousands of young men in this country who, when they were 19 or 20 or 22, made a single stupid, wrong mistake with a *willing* 15 year old. These men are labelled, in many states, "offenders" and "predators" for life. The church should not be another place that slams its doors in their face.

    I am married to a registered sex offender. When he was in his early 20s, he made a really stupid mistake involving an undercover officer who was posing as a sexually-experienced 15-year-old girl seeking out a hook up in an adult sex chat room. He was wrong. He had a problem with an internet sex addiction, and this was an example of the kind of incredibly poor judgement that these kinds of sex addictions can drive young men to. But he was not violent, he was not coercive, he was not seeking out teens. He was just too stupid and self-absorbed to not say no when the opportunity arose. (There was, for the record, obviously no contact, because the "girl" he was chatting with was an undercover officer.)

    My husband saw the immorality and bankruptcy of the path he had been on. He sought counselling. He sought forgiveness. He sought restoration. He turned from the behaviors that had gotten him into trouble--looking at internet pornography and chatting compulsively in sex chat rooms--completely.

    That was a decade ago. Today, he has three children, a doctorate, and a steady job. He is a good father, husband, and man, although he made a big mistake. And, he certainly understands that his mistake means that he would always be barred from leadership and certain volunteer positions in a church, and he is okay with that. He has no interest in volunteering with children or teens, anyway. (Honestly, the only reason I got him to go to church with me in the first place was because it had free childcare during the service and he could sit next to me without the kids between us for an hour a week!)

    But, too many churches would close their door to him entirely. That is not okay. My husband made a big mistake. And, he paid for it, through fines, probation, a felony on his record, and mandatory counselling. He pays for it every day, as he's listed on the public sex offender registry. He should not be seen as a "predator" when he attends a church service. He isn't, and he never was. He was, like many registered sex offenders, a young man who made a serious, immoral mistake involving a willing post-pubescent teen girl. He should be given the opportunity to live beyond that mistake. The rest of our culture would like to deny these men that chance: the church should be a place that doesn't.

    I'm not talking about those who are repeat, dangerous offenders (who often have mental health issues that do render them a threat) or those who have violently assaulted small children. I'm talking about the men who, in reality, make up the majority of those on the registry: the guy who, at 19, had sex with a 14yo girlfriend; the 23yo who took a picture of his topless 16yo girlfriend; the 25yo who exchanged racy texts with a 15yo he met online. Yes, these men are wrong. They made a big mistake. They deserved legal penalties. But, they also deserve second chances. And that doesn't mean giving them a free pass to volunteer with children or enter church leadership, but it does mean treating them like human beings no more or less in need of God's grace than any of the rest of us.

    One thing that has helped me get through this is remembering that, in the eyes of God, I'm a sex offender, too, no less than my husband. Yes, engaging in sexual conversations with an undercover officer posing as a wild teenager is wrong. But, I have lusted. I had sex before marriage. I offended against God's law regarding sex as much as my husband offended against the state's law. "Sex offender" is a label that would fit many of us, because I'd venture to guess that most people have committed an act that either violates the law of the state (such as an 18yo having sex with a 14yo or looking at a naked picture of a 17yo) or that violates the law of God (such as premarital sex).

    Yes, commonsense precautions need to be taken to protect children. But we need to be careful, I think, not to shun and "other" those who have committed sex crimes, especially because there is such a wide range of acts that are labelled as such and especially when it was a single-time, non-violent act that was far in a person's past, and that they have repented of.

    • Anonymous

      Again, I am NOT minimizing or justifying violent sexual assault or sexual abuse of children. Not at all.

      I'm simply saying that many of those labelled "offenders" and "predators" by our society have not committed violent assaults or offenses against children. They committed--often when they were in their late teens or early/mid 20s, often many years or decades ago--a single non-violent statutory offense, perhaps one that involved no actual physical contact.

      These men are, because of the public label they have to carry for decades or for life, effectively shut out of their communities. My husband cannot take his two toddler children to the playground. He cannot attend events at his oldest child's school. He will not be able to attend his youngest's high school graduation. He fears even playing in the yard with his kids, or going for a walk around the neighborhood, lest somebody see him and assume he's a threat. Our society had decided to define his entire life by the biggest mistake he ever made, and a decade of good behavior doesn't do anything to change that. There are hundreds of thousands of men like him.

      The church should be a refuge for these men, a place where they are treated as human beings, not monsters. It may, for many of them, be the only place where there's any possibility of that happening.

      • Tim M.

        Thanks! I had people in your situation in mind when I posted my comment above.

        • Anonymous

          Thank you for your comments. I'm troubled to see the assumption being made that all "offenders" are seeking out new victims. That is simply not the case. The recidivism rate for sex offenses is, contrary to popular belief, quite low, something like 5-7%, which is significantly lower than for most other types of crimes, and not all of those repeat offenses are sex crimes. The vast majority of sex offenders commit only one crime. And, as I noted, many times it's a non-violent statutory offense, committed by a man in his teens or early/mid-twenties with a willing teen girl a year or two below the age of consent. It's not right. It's not something to just overlook. But, given that men of that age aren't exactly known for having the best judgement when it comes to sex, I think it's probably wrong to assume that they are all calculating, predatory monsters, rather than really, really stupid young men who, when faced with a willing, eager 15-year-old girl, didn't have the good sense or moral fortitude to walk away like they should have. In most cases, they were not seeking out sex with teens, but just sex, period, with a willing woman, and didn't bother to consider whether the person with a woman's body and woman's desires was actually mature enough to be making responsible adult decisions. Again, they were wrong, and they were certainly abusing God's good gift of sex. But, they weren't calculating, serial predators, just stupid, immature guys who really, really, really messed up and paid a huge consequence for it.

          Yes, a very small minority of those labelled "sex offenders" are repeat, predatory offenders. And certainly ALL sexual abuse needs to be taken seriously, as well as all sex crimes. And, I am NOT saying that those with sex crimes on their record should be able to volunteer with children. It is completely reasonable to say they can't.

          But, don't exclude them from the church. If a man comes to a pastor with a sex crime in his past--say a non-violent statutory offense he committed a decade ago, when he was 24--do not turn him away. Do not discourage his membership. Do not treat him as a danger or threat. A person with a drug arrest in their past probably shouldn't be the youth pastor. A person with a DUI on their record probably shouldn't drive the church van. But that former drug dealer and that person with a DUI are not treated like pariahs within the body of Christ. So should the man who has a sex offense in his past, particularly if it is years or decades behind him, he has taken responsibility and repented, and he has turned his life around. He should be welcomed as a brother, and it really saddens me that people seem to want barriers in front of him becoming a church member, especially since the public stigma of the "sex offender" label probably means he faces shunning and ostracization (if not outright harassment--we have had to leave two homes because of death threats made against our family due to my husband's status), and the church can be the one place where God's grace and the reality of being a new creation can be demonstrated toward him and acted out by him.

          • Levi Boldt

            I am not aware of any church that routinely does background checks on prospective members. This article is not speaking to that -- God's grace is such that forgiveness is given to all who repent.

            However, a line must be drawn when it comes to working with children. It is true that not all sex offenses are created equal. No doubt there are some sex offenders who would never dream of abusing a child. But the leadership of any church would be recklessly irresponsible to take that chance with children -- and doubly so if they fail to inform the parents and allow them to make that choice.

            By all accounts your husband has paid his debt to society, and has repented and been forgiven by God. I would gladly break bread with him, study Scripture with him, and pray with him. But don't ask me to place my kids under his care.

            • Anonymous

              That's why I said that there is no problem with a church barring a person with a sex crime in their past from working with children or assuming leadership. I personally would hope that a church wouldn't allow somebody with a DUI on their record from driving the children around in the church van. Those are reasonable precautions, even if both have fully repented and changed their ways.

              But the comments--and I think the article itself--do make it pretty clear that "offenders" should be discouraged from church membership, either outright as some commenters have suggested or by making the membership process very arduous, as the article suggests. That is what I take issue with.

  • Sravan

    Here is one video where the same topic is being discussed. At the end of the show they have an activity for the children. This activity helps the children to report any such practices happening with them to their parents.
    I think parents can use this activity to explain the children about the importance of such issues.
    Hope this helps. It is in Hindi Language. If you are unable to unable to understand, please let me know I will document it in Eng for you.
    You can find the activity at 00:50:20

  • Tim

    We had a lawyer working at my old baptist church that did "legal but secret" background checks on all the members. In our small little church we had 6 sex offenders. If the lawyer didn't work at the church & didn't equip them with these steps above those 6 people could have easily slipped into a children's ministry. Everyone thought it ridiculous the hoops you had to jump through to volunteer but if they knew the truth they would be happy.

  • Colleen Isabell

    Great article, but the number one thing to do is call the police, then call in others, such as pastors, counselors and health care professionals.Too often in the church, that is the last call made and it is handled in-house.A crime has been committed and it starts there.Scripture is clear to have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Eph.5:11

  • http://www.dianascreen.com Dan Murray

    It is important to perform a proper background check on adults who will be working with children.

    However only 4% of Child Sexual Abusers have a criminal record that will show up on a criminal background checks.

    The CDC has developed Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures to assist youth-serving organizations as they begin to adopt prevention strategies for child sexual abuse.

    This along with psychological tests such as The Diana Screen (developed by Dr. Gene G. Abel) can reduce the risk of placing men and women who present sexual risks to children and teenagers into positions of trust.

  • Ronnie

    Another option is to find a family-integrated church, where children aren't segregated and herded off with other adults but instead they stay with their families together.

  • Levi Boldt

    I'm not seeing the most important, obvious, and legally mandated step (in most states): immediately report any reported or suspected incident of abuse to the civil authorities!

    Churches are neither competent nor equipped with legal authority to investigate abuse -- and when they attempt to do so, they all too often they taint an investigation by the people who do know what they're doing.

    I pray that it is not TGC's position that Romans 13:1-6 somehow doesn't apply here.

    • http://thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

      I guess you missed it, Levi, because it's there in point 8 and this statement:

      When pastors try to handle this internally without a response plan and without involving authorities, children are victimized yet again—but this time by church authorities.

      • Levi Boldt

        Yes, it's a good thing to have a "response plan." But the existence and even enforcement of a plan is meaningless unless the plan itself is a good one.

        There's little in this post that gives any guidance in that regard. Step #1 of any plan should be, "If any abuse involving any church member, attender, or volunteer is suspected or reported, must be reported to the police without delay."

        Merely "involving authorities" is insufficient. Too often, churches do involve the authorities, but only after they've "poisoned the well," lowering a victim or witness's willingness to cooperate with an investigation, lowering their willingness to testify, and lowering the value of the testimony in legal proceedings.

        • Jared

          Yes, Levi, I agree with you. Given all that has come to light recently, "go to the police" needs to be written in flashing neon lights.

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  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    This is helpful. You might also want to check out my piece on this site offering a profile of an abuser: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/18/profile-of-an-abuser/

  • TR

    I don't want to sound like we had it all together, because we didn't...we were a family with a bipolar dad and an overwhelmed mom, but we were well-advised early in parenthood by some good friends: keep your kids with you. We almost never used the nursery or Sunday school because our kids were in the pew with us, learning from infancy how to behave in church. When they got restless and had reached their limit (could be 5 minutes, could be 40 or more), we'd take them out and that would be the end of church for us that Sunday; no penalties, just positive reinforcement for behaving well and stretching their ability to sit still and occupy themselves quietly. I still feel gratitude for that early advice when our whole family (now grown) sits in one pew on the rare occasions when we are all together of a Sunday. :)

    • Lois


      Thanks for your comment. I have never heard of that method before, leaving the church with positive reinforcement whenever the kids have reached their limit. Just wondering, would that not encourage kids to act out more so they can get out of service if they don't want to sit there (or even in cases outside of church, act out so they can get out of whatever their parents are making them do)?

      I grew up in a church where there were no services for parents and kids together other than special Sundays here and there. We always went to a separate service for kids. I do believe that families should worship and dive in the Word together, but we did that with my mom at home. I still have mixed feelings about kids with the parents in the service, and I'm not saying anything to demean what you have with your family, but our family (kids all grown now) also will sit on one pew together on the rare occasions we are all together on a Sunday.

      • Melody

        Lois I'm going to try this again since it put the other comment in the wrong place. My church has classes for kids up until an age they can actually get something from the service. For me it is extremely distracting to have little kids whispering and scribbling. Even sitting all slouched looking bored is distracting.
        That said I understand better than anyone the fear of trusting the wrong place or wrong people. I just had to keep stepping out in faith and trusting God to heal my family. Then I volunteered.

        • Lois

          Melody, I did see what you wrote the first time, but I don't get what your response has to do with my question specifically regarding TR's comment. TR, I'd love to hear what you have to say on my previous question.

          But Melody, since you bring it up, I hope you don't mind when I throw in my 2 cents. I personally am very hesitant to say that one particular method for how a church should care for children during service is better than another. My church works similarly to yours; we have a children's ministry that has separate classes for infants up to 5th grade. But I have also been to churches where the style is for everyone to be in the sanctuary together, even the youngest of babies. One such service I remember fondly. It was a messy and wonderful gathering of God's people on His Day, where they embraced the fussiness and exuberance of children with grace and patience as they worshiped together.

          I do get distracted from time to time if there is a baby crying in the back or a child fussing in the pew in front of me. I think if a church offers ministry to directly focus on the children, it's a blessing that parents should take advantage of. We at our church also think of our children's ministry as a way to serve the mom and dads when they need a break from parenting to just sit in God's house with His people.

          However, I also have noticed that Satan likes to use small things to stir up irritation in my heart and ultimately distract me, like a little kid humming to himself a row behind me. Satan doesn't usually come in big, obvious ways, but uses the most subtle methods to get to us. So for me personally, each time I am in service and I start getting annoyed at the parent who isn't keeping their child quiet (or literally anything distracting, like a husband rubbing his wife's shoulders), I have to do a quick heart-check. Worship services aren't just for me to consume and take and get what I want out of it, but to love, show grace, and be in community as we worship and celebrate God. In churches where parents worship with their little children, I have to pray for extra patience and understanding and loving. I do have to hope and trust that parents will know the limits of when they should take their children out, but that is not for me to determine. If they don't when I think they should, then that's okay. The worst thing would be for me walk out that Sunday being angry that I got distracted from service and didn't get to worship and hear the message and be blessed. If anything, it was probably my heart that was refusing to be blessed.

          I'm not at all saying that this is your heart, I'm saying that it is mine. And even with that, I know God shows me Himself when I see my own ugliness and contrasts that with Himself. This is why even a church service with distracting children can be a blessing way for God to speak and why I don't say that one method is better than another. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

          In Christ,

          • Melody

            It didn't have anything to do with your post. It posted it in the wrong place. That was my point. I wanted to respond to yours but it had already stuck my response to another post behind yours.

            • Mel

              No it isn't my heart that is the problem, it is my mind. I'm ADHD and whether you believe it's real or not (some people don't) it is scientifically provable. To deal with it so that I can pay attention I sit in the front row. That minimizes the distractions for me. The few times I have sat in the balcony I have been amazed at how many people raise their hands while singing etc. that are completely non-existent for me when I'm in my regular seat. That is a good thing. Because obviously that behavior is not sinful but *oo what a pretty dress* because of how my brain works that is where my thoughts would go.

              My church has a section for the parents that insist on having their children sit with them. That way if a child is being a distraction and the parent is being oblivious to the pain of those around them an usher can quietly remind them.

              So when I get someone behind me kicking my seat, talking to the person next to them, or scribbling very loudly I can do a heart check. But those same people probably should ask themselves if Satan is using them, too. For me it is the same as if you put your hands over a deaf person's eyes while they are watching the signer.

              Scrolling upward I see that my comment is not after yours like it was on my phone? I'm very confused.

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  • Melody

    Lessons Learned from Unthinkable Sexual Abuse http://t.co/Gf2N93bF3s

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  • Gary Cummings

    I disagree profoundly at all levels about the "forgive and forget" attitude about welcoming sex offenders in church. Repentant ones only if they are closely monitored and stay away from young people, and are permanently banned from being youth workers or Sunday School teachers for anyone below high school age. The leadership should be aware. Trying to cover it up is a sign of non-repentance, as is blaming people for being judgemental about sex crimes.

    I disagree with the statistics. Sexual crimes have a high recidivism rate. It is not just "one mistake" in their youth. One young man I know has at least 8 children by several women, many of whom were under age. One young man I know, while a youth leader (volunteer and non paid), got a 14 year old girl pregnant, who was part of his youth group at the church. Long story short, the baby was born and he bailed. He signed over his parental right to avoid any trouble. Now is is in a different church, living on church property and is a salaried youth director. He is engaged to the pastor;s daughter, and they will be married soon. I know this person well and he has no conscience. The church never did a background check on this young man, now 22. His previous job was washing dishes. He plays the guitar and sings and makes people laugh. Now he has free access to more 14 year old girls.

    I have been a minister for over 40 years, and one incident of sexual abuse, rape (even statutory), or being a pedophile is enough for a permanent ban to the ministry. The children must be protected.