Engaging Pastoral Leadership in Child Protection—

Sadly, I have seen it happen far too many times. The children’s ministry director attends a conference, signs up for a seminar on child protection, brings home some good resources, and starts to write child protection documents. They invest a lot of time in making church a safe place for children and the adults who work with them. But they can never get church leadership’s support for the effort. They don’t feel the leaders will back them if they need to enforce the policies and procedures.

We know most pastors and leaders want children to be safe. That may be why you are in that role. Your pastor is delegating this critical work to you. The demands on a pastor’s time and attention mean he cannot be actively engaged in everything. The problems or conflicts within the church often get his attention, along with writing sermons, pastoral care, session meetings, etc. Some pastors find it hard to give time and attention to prevention, especially if they trust you to be on top of it.

But in today’s world, it is imperative that church leadership be more attentive to protecting children.

Here are some suggestions that may help you to encourage your pastor and elders to engage more in these programs.

Ask for support. This may sound too simplistic, but why not start here? As I already said, you may be in this leadership position because you are competent and have the skills. Your pastor may assume you will ask for help when needed. Tell him if you feel the heaviness of the burden to protect children, the adults who work with them, and the church’s reputation and integrity in the community.

Be specific on how he can support you. Ask him to meet with you periodically and pray for you. Tell him you need to know he will have your back when you must enforce child protection procedures. Reassure your pastor you don’t need his constant attention, just the assurance he and the leaders support you.

Besides the biblical mandate to protect and nurture children, two current issues now demand church leadership engagement.

1) The number one reason Protestant churches have gone to court for the last decade is child sexual abuse. If financial fraud or personal injury on church property was the number one issue taking churches to court, church leadership would have stepped in and taken charge to create safeguards and protection. Why has the issue of child sexual abuse remained the number one issue in Protestant churches for so long? There are several reasons I could share if this post were longer, but I believe one reason is absence of pastoral leadership in the area of child safety. It is essential to understand the prevalence of abuse and that you cannot do children’s ministry today like it was done in the past. The “passive trust” approach is how we have done it for the last decade, and it obviously doesn’t work.

There is growing intolerance in the court of law and the court of public opinion for any organization that does not make keeping children safe the highest priority. This alone requires some consistent engagement of leadership. That is too much responsibility to put on the shoulders of the children’s ministry director. You need church leadership’s support to carry this responsibility.

2) The second reason leaders must engage is the silent audience attending church every Sunday. These are the people who were sexually abused as children. The American Cancer Society estimates there are 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S. They expect that number to rise to 19 million by 2024. The lowest estimate is that there are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S., and some put that number closer to 60 million. So, for every cancer survivor sitting in a pew or chair at church, there are potentially two, three, or more survivors of child sexual abuse, but we don’t know who they are because they haven’t found a safe place or person to share their story. They haven’t seen the church as a safe place to speak about their trauma.

But they watch how the church addresses the issue of child protection, primarily how church leadership is engaged. Seeing church leaders committed to safeguarding every child may give them hope because, unlike their experience, the children in this church have caring adults who will protect them.

I recently worked with a church assisting them in rewriting their child protection documents. The children’s ministry director had full support for her efforts, even to the extent that the pastor and elders went through the child safety training required of all volunteers. Pray that your leaders will follow this example.

Mr. Steve Collins is the founder and Executive Director of Adults Protecting Children, Inc. Adults Protecting Children is a non-profit organization that works with faith-based organizations and schools to write and implement child protection policies. He has served as a regional prevention coordinator for the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. The Georgia Center for Child Advocacy’s prevention department is engaged in a statewide initiative to train Georgia adults in how to prevent the sexual abuse of children. Through this work over 31,000 adults in his region have been trained in child sexual abuse prevention. Steve also provides training on Georgia’s Mandated Reporting laws as well as trainings in subject matters such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), trauma and how relationships can prevent and mitigate the negative outcomes for victims.

Adults Protecting Children, Inc.