Preventing Sexual Abuse in Churches

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On February 3, 2019 the Houston Chronicle newspaper began a 3-part series on sexual abuse issues in Southern Baptist churches. Over a period of 20 years they have identified approximately 220 convicted perpetrators in 47,000 churches — including four from the Northwest — and 700 victims. That number will grow, and has grown, as others have come forward with their stories of abuse.

The damage done to victims of sexual abuse lasts a lifetime, often affecting multiple generations within a family or community, including church communities. Because of this, I want to provide a brief synopsis of the procedures we have in place to assure care for victims and families when it is appropriate, protect our convention, as well as the ways we try to help our churches protect their children and their ministries. This explanation is not exhaustive, but hopefully you will find it helpful.

First, the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) does national criminal background checks on all of our staff. Furthermore, national criminal background checks are performed on all volunteers who work with minors. Every church must do the same. If your church has not done national criminal background checks on every person working with those under age 18, children are placed at risk. Furthermore, the church is at great risk should abuse ever occur. Background checks must be performed on all paid staff and every volunteer who has access to children. You can download from our convention website a document containing links to multiple resources that will help your church become more fully aware and prevent opportunities for abuse to occur. Find it here under the “Safety & Security” heading:

https://www.nwbaptist.org/nwbc-ministries/church-health/children/

Second, the NWBC offers training to our churches multiple times a year on how to protect children and prevent abuse from occurring. Included in this training is a list of resources for conducting criminal background checks, etc. Policy and procedure guidelines are available to all of our churches regarding these matters, upon request. Ashley Seuell, an attorney with the Northwest Baptist Foundation, is available to review a church’s policies and recommend policies and methods that churches can use to protect their children and their church at large.

Third, when moral failure occurs, even if it does not involve criminal behavior, we state publically the reason for termination or resignation (not necessarily the details of the offense, just that it was an issue of moral failure), and we urge that churches do the same. This makes it much more difficult for a sexual offender to move to a new town, or a new state, and resume ministry.

Fourth, we offer to provide Christian counseling to those hurt and injured by sexual immorality and/or abuse.

Fifth, we never suppress or “cover up” information regarding sexual abuse. We have not and will not enter into nondisclosure agreements with any person who separates from the NWBC because of a moral failure (we haven’t entered into nondisclosure agreements for any other reason, either).

I hope you find this information helpful. We live and serve in a broken world populated with broken people. We too have been damaged by sin, most often damaged by our own sin. But those who serve Jesus Christ with integrity of heart make a difference now … and forever. You matter and what you do matters. The church matters. May God help us and protect us as we strive to love Him and love our neighbors.

Ministry Guaranteed to Bless Your City

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A sanitation worker in our town was crushed when he was hit by a car and pinned up against the garbage truck. He was horribly injured and our church prayed for him and his family. Following the prayer, a church deacon asked a simple question that ultimately transformed our ministry. Here’s the question: “I wonder if that man has a church that is ministering to him and his family?” We learned that he did have a church and they were doing well by him. But this led to a second question: What about others in our community, who in time of crisis, have no church family? What of those who have no pastor, no Bible class, no ministry and no living testimony of God’s love and care in their life? What about them?

This tragic situation and the subsequent questions resulted in a profound commitment by our church. We determined that we would pray for, and serve as best we could, every family in town touched by tragedy. House fires, car wrecks, crime victims, accidents of various kinds, horrible medical diagnoses; these happened with some frequency in our ministry area of 25,000 people. And when they did, we sent two or three to the home with the simple message, “We’re from First Baptist. We heard what happened. We’re so sorry. We want to pray for you and see if there is any way we can help.”
Sometimes our involvement ended after the prayer and words of love and concern. Other times clothing or food was provided, biblical counseling was provided, a wheel chair ramp was built, among other things. The results included some coming to faith in Christ, goodwill built with the family and friends, and some actually joined our church so that they could be involved in this ministry of care. Our church was known for several things, one of which became, “They’re the church that serves everybody and anybody in time of crisis.”

So here’s a goal that will bless your city: commit to visiting and praying for every person stricken by tragedy. The tragedy doesn’t have to be physical injury. In our local newspaper I read weekly, if not daily, of hardships in families. A local mayor’s portrait was on the front page because he was accused of soliciting sex for money. A grandmother went to prison because she embezzled from her employer. A family was ripped apart when a grandson murdered his grandmother. The list goes on. But questions that a local church needs to ask are, “Does this family have a church? Do they have a pastor? Let’s visit them and pray for them and see how we might show them God’s love.”

When I surrendered to ministry leadership a pastor told me that if I would minister to hurting people I would never lack for ministry opportunities. He was right. But I also learned that I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed to lead our church to organize and to do this in our ministry field.

Often when we discuss ministry goals we talk budgets and baptisms and attendance in public worship and Bible study. These are important matters to consider. But mostly they are the byproduct of other things. Things like leading a church to pray for Kingdom concerns and mobilizing outreach ministries of various kinds. Through ministries like http://www.Pray4EveryHome.org every member of your church can pray for their 100 closest neighbors. Through My316 and God Space you can teach your church how to share the Gospel and minister to people (these are provided to every NWBC church without cost thanks to the generous Cooperative Program missions giving of our churches).

How about this as a goal: We will pray for missionaries, the lost in our community, city and school leaders, and all of the children in town, in every public gathering of our church. That is Kingdom praying –praying for the city, unbelievers, and the missionaries we send and support. If we don’t pray for Kingdom concerns when we gather as church, Kingdom praying won’t happen in the homes of most church members.

Things like this make me excited for the spiritual possibility present in every church. Whether you gather with 20 or 200 on Sunday, these are the kinds of things you can do that will touch heaven and human hearts and will make a difference in your city. God told the people in Jeremiah’s day, living as exiles in Babylon, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jere. 29:7). That is a good word for us, living in a 21st Century Babylon.