[Clarification—The following author recommends that all adults working in nursery ministry should be a church member for at least three months. We recommend that all adults working in any ministry to children should be in church fellowship for at least one year.]
The church has an important responsibility to protect the children and youth underneath its care. Jesus said in Matthew 18:5-6 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened to his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (ESV). I’m aware this text has a variety of implications. But one that is surely in view (particularly in today’s culture) is the responsibility to protect children from abuse underneath the umbrella of the church ministries and program windows.
I’ve counseled and known far too many people who are broken, marred, angered, and scarred by abuse that they experienced. I’m sure you’ve counseled, comforted, and prayed with them as well. The grave sin of abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) from a caretaker, family member, or leader is a horrible blight on society. And in turn, the abused are the ones who suffer greatly—spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally.
For example, we should be angry at the abuses far too prevalent in the Catholic Church due to a complete misunderstanding of the idea of celibacy in Scripture. We should also be angry when a youth pastor or child molester finds a home in a careless church. Therefore, we should be vigilant to protect children when they are under our watch at the church. Below are some suggestions and practices we employ at Mud Creek Baptist Church:
1. Every worker from nursery through high school ministry has to undergo a background check before serving. This is the least any church should do. Just having to take a background check will discourage many child predators from viewing your church as an easy target. This practice will protect children and also can provide a legal safeguard in lieu of a lawsuit should your church be the location for abuse. [Editor’s note: LifeWay offers a special discounted service to churches needing background checks.]
2. Develop a check in and check out policy in your children/youth areas. At the least you should not allow elementary age children to leave their classroom/ministry area without a parent or guardian. Also, in our nursery rooms, we have cameras as one way to attempt to remain above reproach (I realize this may not be feasible for every church, but we also require each nursery room to have 2 adult leaders as a manner of accountability).
3. Be above reproach in all your leadership choices, especially regarding off campus trips and relationships with children/students. While this appears to be a no brainer, student leaders/pastors should not be alone with students. We pay for adults to go on camp trips particularly for this reason. More adults create more accountability. Again, these adults should be vetted.