Churches should be the safest place on earth. Churches, however, are full of imperfect people; and where there are imperfect people, things are often not as they should be. The result is that churches have to be extra diligent, and work hard, to be safe. One, often overlooked, area that churches need to focus on is bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
Recently, I conducted a training with our church staff. Here is what we covered:
Churches should be the safest place on earth. There are many things required to make this a reality, one of which is the screening of all volunteers. Unfortunately, not every church does their job. In fact, I recently spoke with a church that hadn’t even been doing basic background checks on their children and youth workers. That is a huge liability for the church. More egregious, it leaves people vulnerable and their trust misplaced.
There are a few steps that a church can take to ensure a safe place for everyone to worship. Here is what my church currently requires for everyone serving in ministry…
On a muggy night in September of 1751, a six story tenement in Edinburgh, Scotland, collapsed. What should have shocked many, shocked no one, as this was just one building among many made of rickety old boards. The likelihood of a building failing in Edinburgh was about as likely as rain on a cloudy day. Yet, people lived in them as there was no space for new neighborhoods to be built. The Nor’ Loch bordered the city to the north. The lake had been made for defense, which it kindly provided, but it was neglected and was now only stocked with sewage. When the people managed to dodge falling buildings and sewage filled waters, it was the fires, disease, and crime that caught them off guard. Edinburgh was a ghetto, and it needed help.
However, help would not come. Scotland hadn’t held royal court since 1603. Help from their federal government was about as likely as suddenly finding cell service when your car has broken down on a deserted mountain highway. People would also not get any assistance from their local city government. The city which had limited resources, was also led by a buffoonary of men. They often held their meetings in taverns, acting more like drunken frat boys than officials running a city. The possibility of the citizens of Edinburgh receiving help from anyone in government seemed bleak.
Many people love to share their experiences. They leave a review on Yelp sharing whether they would recommend a restaurant, or not, and why. They read a good book, and then go to work the next day and recommend it to a half dozen people. They post on Facebook about the latest home remedy they just tried and now swear by. They may overhear that someone needs a dentist and they are quick to recommend theirs in a heartbeat. Millions of people share their experiences, and reviews of those experiences, every day.
Although reviews come quickly for restaurants, vacation destinations, and good deals on getting a used car, when it comes to sharing about the most important recommendation we can ever give, our faith, many remain conspicuously quiet. If we found the perfect restaurant, that served the most delicious food, and was unbelievably cheap, we would recommend it to every person we knew. In fact, we would probably go into work the next day and literally rave about the spectacular service and fantastic Banoffee Pie. However, for those who believe and follow Christ, who have received the free gift of eternal life, who have literally had their life changed, and who have experienced something far greater than getting great meal at a great price, we rarely share about our experience.
There are not many seminars in New England geared towards helping pastors and church leaders grow their churches. This June, however, there is one conference designed to do just that. The New England Pastors Initiative is hosting it’s second annual conference, featuring guest speaker Dick Hardy. Dick is the founder of The Hardy Group (thehardygroup.org), an organization devoted to helping pastors navigate church growth challenges and remove obstacles to that growth.
This one day local conference, on Tuesday, June 13th, is designed to help pastors and church leaders create fresh momentum and energy in their ministries, promote and market their churches better within their communities, and so much more! In order to make the conference as accessible as possible, the cost is only $30, which includes a catered lunch.
If you are a pastor or church leader in New England you do not want to miss out on this special day! To register, or find out more information, simply go to nepastorsinitiative.org.
Pastors today face all sorts of challenges. They face the emotional strain of walking with people through the most difficult moments in their lives. They face the challenge of leading volunteers, who often have vastly different opinions on how things should be done. Pastors struggle with the tension of being trained in pastoral ministry, but being expected to operate the church with the savvy of a CEO. And of course, there is managing the multiple expectations of parishioners. No doubt, pastoral ministry comes with its unique set of difficulties and frustrations.
George Barna identified the top stressors pastors face several years ago, and I don’t believe the list has changed much at all. Here is what he discovered:
- Thirty percent of all pastors said the lack of commitment from the laity was their number one stressor in ministry. The number one challenge that pastors say they face is the feeling that they are expected to do it all on their own. Regarding the ministry at the church, they often hear verbally or through innuendo, “that’s what we pay you to do.”
God is not enough for you. He can’t care for you as much you need him to. He can’t support you as much as you need him to. Why? Because that it is the way he designed it.
In Genesis 2 we read, “The the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” Think about that verse for a minute. When God uttered those words, Adam was living in the Garden of Eden. His relationship with God was perfect. God wasn’t just nearby, but apparently even used to walk around the garden with Adam. Adam and God enjoyed an intimate relationship that is beyond something we have ever experienced. Yet, even in the midst of this perfect relationship, something was still missing, and this was not good from God’s point of view.
One of the most fundamental ministries that the church performs is visitation. A church, no matter how big or small, will have people who are sick, in the hospital, shut-in and in need of a visit. As a result, pastors spend a significant amount of time visiting people from their church and community. As the church grows the amount of visitation required can bury a pastor unless structures and systems are put in place to spread the load of visitation out. Developing systems ensure that the pastor does not burn out, but at the same time ensure people receive the care that they need. There are no doubt a variety of ways that a church could set up a visitation system but here is how one church takes on this need:
Visitation & On-Call Pastors – Every day there is one pastor that is assigned to do all the hospital visitation for that day. If the church is aware going into the day that someone is in the hospital, and in need of a visit, then this is the pastor that goes. Additionally, there is another pastor that is on-call each day. This pastor handles any pastoral care that cannot be planned ahead. This would include anyone who is rushed to the hospital or anyone who calls or walks in wanting to talk with a pastor.
We live in a world where people often struggle with various needs. As a result, most churches are presented with requests for financial assistance on a very regular basis. A church that does not have a plan for addressing these needs can easily find itself saying no to people who truly need and deserve help, or find themselves saying yes to people who are taking advantage of the churches good nature. So, it is important that churches have systems in place to fairly and adequately address the various needs they are presented. There are no doubt lots of ways to go about setting up a benevolence ministry in a church, but here is what my church does:
Funding – Every week my church transfers 1% of the general tithes and offerings to the church benevolence fund. This fund is then used to help provide financially for those that are a part of our church family and who are in need. We also provide free food through our churches food bank to anyone. The food bank is provided for through our church, but also through a partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank and grants from other agencies.
This week our church had our four summer interns arrive. We’re privileged to be near both a seminary and a Bible college, so we always have interns coming and going, but I especially love when the summer interns show up. What makes our summer interns extra special is that they are full-time, which means they are able to see nearly everything that goes on behind the scenes. It is an amazing time of mentoring and growing for every student that is able to participate. But how exactly do we set the summer up so that every intern is able to learn as much as possible?
First, we have a formal application process. We are only able to take on four paid summer interns, despite the fact that we always have far more apply. To help us decide who gets to spend the summer with us, we have them fill out a preliminary application that asks them about their ministry goals, where they are at in life, and where they see God leading them. We only allow individuals who are pursuing full-time vocational ministry to be a part of our summer intern ministry. (To see the application that we use feel free to check out https://lccc.wufoo.com/forms/calvary-christian-church-internship-application/.)