Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep” (John 10:11-13). We all know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that we are all sheep, following our One Shepherd. But we who follow are also called to shepherd, leading others into the fold. Jesus says the hired hand flees when the wolf approaches because he “does not care for the sheep.” We who follow our LORD’s example are “called to care for the sheep,” especially the young and the vulnerable.
Many see the church as a safe place filled with people who trust and love each other, but the truth is that predators often target churches precisely because the people are so trusting. Let me assure you that both statistically and through my own personal experience, there are people masquerading as loving Christians who are victimizing the innocent all the time.
So what do we do about this to keep our children, youth and vulnerable adults safe? The United Methodist Church Discipline, the book that dictates how we are to operate as a loving and caring church for Jesus Christ, states that children’s ministry coordinators “will work with other leaders in the congregation to assure that policies and procedures are in place to help keep all children and the adults who care for and work with them safe” and that “these policies and procedures include such things as background checks and having at least two adults per group” (Paragraph 256.2.a). The problem is that most churches don’t take this seriously because they love and trust each other and don’t think it will happen to them.
Our Rio Texas Conference has recently mandated that every church adopt and implement a “Child, Youth and Vulnerable Adult Safety Policy” by June of 2018. This policy provides a set of common-sense rules based on time-proven national guidelines. Our own Administrative Council adopted this policy for our church at their last meeting and now it is the responsibility of all members to learn and abide by a policy designed to keep our children and those who care for them safe. So what is required of us?
First, everyone who works with children, youth must undergo a new background check and participate in five hours of safety training. Having already been through the training myself I can tell you it is easy, high quality and very informative. The first two hours can be done online at your convenience. The last three one-hour sessions can be completed through online live-streaming or classroom events being held all over the Conference.
Second, we will need many new people who don’t actually teach classes or currently work with children and youth to volunteer to go through the training and provide the “second” adult that all classes will require. We make a commitment when we join the church to support its ministries with our “prayers, presence, gifts and service.” This is your opportunity to support our children and youth with your “presence.” Regular teachers will still prepare lessons and lead the classes.
Many are worried that these new rules and requirements are going to hurt our church. Actually, this will help us because research polls have proven that people outside the church don’t feel safe in churches, but churches who take safety seriously are much more successful at attracting new families with children. May God bless our efforts to keep His sheep safe!
Your fellow servant in Christ,