piggy-bankOn one of our first Sundays this year, a small group leader approached me after service with a look of 50% frazzle and 50% despair. Her group had given her the “stone-cold” treatment. She felt defeated because the girls just wouldn’t engage in the discussion.

Have you ever felt that way when working with preteens?

We all have moments when we question our sanity for leading a children’s or preteen group. There are moments when they act out, moments when they’re rude, and moments when they just sit and stare. What are we supposed to do in those moments?

The answer: I don’t know. I really don’t know a tried and true solution that will fix those problems. There is always something we can do to be better and get better involvement, so you just have to keep working at it. But in those moments, there is one for sure thing that you should never do: Give Up.

That’s right. Don’t give up. Leading a group of preteens is like putting money into a piggy bank, a relational piggy bank.

Every Sunday, you’re making an investment that may not seem to be worth much. However, over time those investments add up. After years of steady investment, the relational piggy bank is stocked like Fort Knox!

With each investment, you are gaining trust and the privilege to speak Truth into that preteen. Your relational investments show them that they matter. When the time comes for them to need someone to trust and talk with, they will come to you because you’ve invested in them. This is why we encourage our small group leaders to move with their group. We want them to spend several years investing so that they can have the greatest influence.

When that preteen burps in your face this Sunday and it reeks of donuts and Mountain Dew, just remember that you’re making an investment and it will pay off.

Young man reading small Bible

I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time–20+ years, but I’ve recently hit a growth spurt. Over the last four or five years, the power of Scripture has captured me. As I’ve dug into the word, It has sparked an interest in theology, doctrine, Christian disciplines, and more. It has also sparked an interest to memorize Scripture and “hide it in my heart.” Psalm 119:9-16 is a reminder of the power of God’s written word:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules[c] of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

In this process of storing Scripture in my heart, I’ve discovered that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s really, really hard! I’ve used several Scripture memorization methods to try to help me in this quest. Then I discovered a tried and true method. The easiest way to memorize Scripture is to teach it and memorize it with your kids.

A few weeks ago, my wife, Dana, and I started thinking about teaching some verses to our 2 1/2-year-old, Maggie. We picked a verse and read it each night for a week, and we would practice saying the verse together with Maggie. I was utterly shocked when she began to repeat it back to me with ease after just a few days. Then we moved on to a second verse, and she did the same thing. I felt challenged to keep up with my toddler! Seeing her excitement and joy after saying the verse reminds me to delight in the Word of God. I can’t wait until we look back a few months from now and have 5 or 6 verses that we’ve hidden in our hearts!

She was trying not to look at me or the camera, but here is Maggie reciting her verses before bed last night:

gate-locked-zoomedMonday, I posted some startling facts about sexual abuse. Those statistics led me to ask the question, “Is Your Church Safe?”

Many schools and non-profit organizations are heightening their security in light of recent sexual abuse scandals. As they raise the barriers that prevent sexual abusers from entering their organization, the lower barriers around our churches become the prime target for offenders.

Many churches rely on background checks and secure check-in procedures to keep their kids safe. While those things are certainly necessities, there is more that a church can and should do to protect themselves.

Here are some keys to guarding against sexual abuse in your ministry:

1. Background Checks

“But you said background checks don’t protect against sexual abuse!” No, they alone don’t protect against sexual abuse because only 10% of offenders enter the criminal system. However, background checks are still a necessary part of a complex security plan. Don’t stop doing background checks!

2. Interview/Screen Volunteers

After the background check returns, schedule an interview with the potential volunteer regardless of what the check reveals. Ask key questions about their past, their reasons for serving, and how they would respond to certain scenarios. An interview with every potential volunteer creates another level of security because it allows a trained staff member an opportunity to look for warning signs of possible issues.

3. Sexual Abuse Awareness Training

Provide sexual abuse awareness training for all potential volunteers. When you train volunteers for the new ministry year, include this element in your training event. Awareness Training gives every volunteer the appropriate definitions of sexual abuse and the “red flags” to look for while serving in your ministry. The training also tells a would-be offender that you are intent on protecting the children in your ministry.

By providing training, you’ve know created a community of eyes that can watch and protect against sexual abuse. They are well-informed and know to report suspect behaviors before an incident. The people at MinistrySafe.com provide tons of information about sexual abuse awareness training, and they even offer the training online for churches.

4. Create Policies and Procedures

Does your ministry have a policy and procedure manual? Does it include anything about sexual abuse and how to report? This is a tricky one. You definitely need to have some instructions on sexual abuse reporting for volunteers. In our state, any church staff member or volunteer is a mandatory reporter. We must report suspected abuse.

I say it’s tricky because you must do what you say you’re going to do! If you’re policy and procedure manual says that you will train volunteers, provide report forms for suspected abuse, and have a staff member on-call at all services—you must do all o those things or be found liable! If an incident should occur, the court will judge the church based on the policies and procedures they have in place, so they better be followed.

5. Regularly Evaluate Activities and Facilities

Peer-to-Peer sexual abuse has seen a 300% increase in recent years. Regular evaluation of your facility means that you look for possible locations—bathrooms, closets, isolated classrooms, etc.—where sexual abuse might occur. Even if you know a volunteer would not take a kid to that area, it does not mean that peer-to-peer abuse won’t happen. You should also evaluate the activities of your ministry to be sure that no children or volunteers are being put into risky situations.

6. Connect with MinistrySafe

I am not an employee of MinistrySafe. I am not getting any kickback from them. I’m just a student in a class that heard Attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe talk about all these issues and even more. As a father to 2 girls, my heart burned for more protection in our church. I was impressed with their passion to help churches. The MinistrySafe System is $100/year. It includes sexual abuse awareness training, tracking for background checks and interviews, screening forms for interviews, and sample policies and procedures. Even if you can’t sign up for the system, I encourage you to check out www.ministrysafe.com and see how they can help protect your ministry.

church-liability-insurance

If a parent asked you, “What are you doing to provide a safe environment for my child?” Do you know what you would tell them?

Most churches would tell that parents that their ministry is safe because they 1) background check every volunteer, and 2) provide a secure check-in procedure with parent security tags. Those are necessities for every ministry. If you’re not already doing those two things, stop what you’re doing and get on the ball. But is that enough?

These facts about sexual abuse suggest that we might ought to do more:

The Victims:

  • 60 million survivors of sexual abuse in the US
  • 1 in 3 females will be sexually abused by age 18
  • 1 in 6 males will be sexually abused by age 18
  • 66% of victims do not report the abuse until adulthood (if ever)

The Abusers

  • Only 10% of sexual abusers ever enter the criminal system. The other 90% will never be found through a background check.
  • Sexual Abusers are rarely strangers. 90% of victims know and trust their abuser.
  • Secure Check-in procedures best protect against psychotic sexual abusers, those that will abduct, or “snatch and run,” with children. The “Psychotic Offender” represents only 4% of sexual abuse.
  • The majority of sexual abuse is done by a “Preferential Offender,” who has a preferred gender and age for victims.
  • 85% of sexual abusers are men. Many of them are “unidentifiable” based upon outward appearance. They look much like others in your church.
  • Average male abuser begins victimizing at age 13 or 14.
  • Prior to being caught and prosecuted, male abusers who choose boys will molest an average of 150 victims. Those who choose girls will molest an average of 52 victims.
*Data provided by MinistrySafe.com

These statistics are scary. Sexual abuse happens in many venues, but the church is becoming a target as other organizations raise their fences to protect children. The church must follow suit. Our background checks and secure check-in procedures are not enough to keep this horror from entering our ministries. We must do more.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting some details on the process an abuser goes through to select victims. This information is important because there are tell-tale signs that can help you guard against abuse in your ministry. I will also post some ideas for how to better protect against the sexual abuse.