Sexual abuse: training ministry staff to care well AND prevent
At the beginning of each new year, many of us make New Year’s Resolutions: evaluating our past year or present circumstances and resolving to improve on a particular matter (i.e., more time with the kids, less coffee, more exercise).
For the Southern Baptist Convention, the ‘new year’ comes each June, when the SBC, likewise, evaluates the year just past. In June 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention clearly understood that the largest issue crying out for attention related to sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse in ministry contexts is an issue that skips no paradigm or denomination. For Southern Baptists, the issue is front-and-center.
Resolution No. 2
In June 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention wrestled with the issue of child sexual abuse. That struggle gave rise to Resolution No. 2, which resolves (in part) as follows:
“RESOLVED, That we call on pastors and ministry leaders to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected; and be it further
RESOLVED, That church and ministry leaders have an obligation to implement policies and practices that protect against and confront any form of abuse.”
The first element of Resolution No. 2 calls on pastors and ministry leaders to care well. In Fall 2018, SBC President J. D. Greear commissioned a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and tasked the group to outline efforts to correctly respond to allegations of abuse.
As part of this initiative, Greear and the advisory group developed ChurchCares.com. ChurchCares provides resources to help ministry leaders understand how to care well, create ministry environments that receive well, and develop ministry cultures where victims and survivors are believed and protected. In addition, Greear and the advisory group outlined the Caring Well Challenge, inviting all Baptist ministries to embrace this call to action.
Caring well is critically important. Prevention is equally important.
The second element of Resolution No. 2 relates to prevention.
“Ministry leaders will never be accidentally excellent at sexual abuse prevention,” Gregory Love, co-founder and Director of MinistrySafe, said. “We cannot reduce a risk we don’t understand, and ministry leaders must first understand the risk. This is why we believe training and awareness must be a priority.”
When it comes to prevention, MinistrySafe is the nation’s leader in preventive tools and resources addressing the risk of child sexual abuse. In addition to working with various denominations, camps, mission organizations and Baptist state conventions, Love and his wife / law partner Kimberlee Norris serve as faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary. They are teaching the first seminary-level course specifically addressing sexual abuse in ministry contexts.
Four key concepts form the foundation of MinistrySafe preventive tools and trainings:
#1: The approach must be victim-centric.
Prevention isn’t simply the what (an effective safety system), but also the why (a ministry’s motivation). Preventive efforts must be child-centered.
“When we protect the child, we have protected the church,” Love said. “It does not work the other way around.”
Any response to child sexual abuse risk requires a victim-centric approach, rather than an approach that is organization- or abuser-centric.
Learn more about a victim-centric approach here: Lessons from the Ditch.
#2: What we believe shapes what we do.
Ministry leaders commonly hold inaccurate beliefs about child sexual abuse and how it might manifest in ministry environments. As a result, ministry leaders act in a wrong manner. If this known risk is to be properly addressed and children properly protected, ministry leaders must understand the common misconceptions about sexual abuse and sexual abusers. If not, the church will continue to repeat the errors of the past.
#3: Background checks are NOT a stand-alone solution.
Because less than 10 percent of sexual abusers will ever encounter the criminal justice system, more than 90 percent of those who sexually abuse children have no criminal record — and they know it. The criminal background check is the single largest “security blanket” churches hold onto, and this must change. Criminal background checks have become a standard of care, and must occur, but a background check alone does not provide an adequate safety system.
#4: Sexual abusers have no visual profile.
We cannot recognize the abuser visually; there is no visual profile. Instead, we must address this risk behaviorally. Abuser behavior is predictable and recognizable. The abuser’s grooming process and common grooming behaviors should be known by ministry staff members and addressed in ministry policies.
“Our mission at MinistrySafe is to equip ministry staff members and volunteers with an understanding of the grooming process: the behaviors an offender employs to prepare a child for inappropriate sexual interaction, then keep that child silent,” Norris said. “When staff members and volunteers have ‘eyes that see’ and the ‘ears that hear’ offender behaviors, prevention is possible.”
MinistrySafe addresses this through its foundational training: Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. Currently, MinistrySafe trains more than 35,000 ministry staff members and volunteers — live and online — each month. In April 2019, MinistrySafe issued its one millionth certificate of completion of training.
Five-part safety system
As an outgrowth of more than two decades of law practice addressing child sexual abuse risk, Love and Norris developed the MinistrySafe Five-Part Safety System, implemented through an online control panel. Every child-serving ministry should employ an effective safety system protecting children from sexual abuse, including:
- Sexual abuse awareness training
- Skillful screening processes
- Appropriate criminal background checks
- Tailored policies and procedures
- Systems for monitoring and oversight
The MinistrySafe Safety System is easily implemented and sustainable through the online control panel. It is being used by virtually every denomination in North America. Learn more about the MinistrySafe Five-Part Safety System and online tools and resources.
Progress requires investment and commitment
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is one of many Baptist state conventions taking the topic of child sexual abuse prevention seriously, committing to educating staff members and Baptist churches. Since 2013, GBMB has partnered with MinistrySafe to provide more than 40 regional Church Safety Workshops, trained more than 6,000 paid and volunteer Baptist leaders, provided live webinar training to Baptist Collegiate Ministry personnel, and invested more t han $250,000 in abuse prevention initiatives benefiting Georgia Baptist churches.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board efforts, for example, have included more than 40 regional Church Safety Workshops, a robust system to screen and train all staff and volunteers that participate in organization-related programs (camps, disaster relief, retreats, and more), live and online training to more than 6,000 paid and volunteer leaders, live webinar training by legal experts to Baptist Collegiate Ministry personnel in correctly understanding and following State of Georgia abuse reporting requirements, and a financial investment into abuse prevention approaching $250,000 since 2013.
“Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris are helping us change the mindset of Georgia Baptist church leaders,” Kevin Smith, COO of the GBMB, said. “Prevention first must be an organizational priority, and a cultural shift in focus. It is also an ongoing process of testing, refining and enforcing policy. MinistrySafe has provided invaluable training and guidance, keeping us abreast of the latest trends and legal developments.”
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) is another Baptist state convention committed to raising the bar. “The SBTC has been working with MinistrySafe for more than 10 years to educate and equip ministry leaders in Texas,” states Kenneth Priest, Director of Convention Strategies at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris have provided excellent leadership and guidance in a critical aspect of ministry; they continue to set the bar in the development of academic resources, as well as providing cutting-edge online tools and live instruction.” Since 2008, the SBTC has hosted more than 30 live Church Safety Workshops across the state; five more are planned before the end of 2020.
In addition to the Georgia Baptists and SBTC, MinistrySafe founders have provided live and online training for Baptist state conventions across the United States, including Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Montana, California, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas/Nebraska, South Carolina and Alaska. MinistrySafe also provides training and preventive resources to Southern Baptist seminaries and universities (SBTS, SWBTS, MBTS, NOBTS, Gateway, DBU, ETBU, Liberty and BJU), as well as other Southern Baptist entities and related organizations (NAMB, IMB, Lifeway, and GuideStone Resources).
In addition, MinistrySafe is a child abuse resource for The Church of the Nazarene, Grace International, Church Multiplication Network, Presbyterian Church (PCA), Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (FL/GA), United Methodist Church, Gateway Church, New Life Church, Covenant Church, Brooklyn Tabernacle, Reformed University Fellowship, Presbyterian Youth Workers Association, Christian Camp & Conference Association, Winshape Camps, Glorieta Camps, Anglican Church of North America, AME, AME Zion, Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC), Shocco Springs, Falls Creek, and more.
Upcoming Training Events
The following Southern Baptist Convention organizations are hosting MinistrySafe Church Safety Workshops and live training events open to all ministry leaders:
- July 18: First Baptist Church Trussville (Trussville, Alabama)
- Sponsors: GuideStone, ALBSOM
- September 10: First Baptist Church Georgetown (Georgetown, Texas)
- Sponsors: Baptist General Convention of Texas
- September 12: Hibernia Baptist Church (Fleming Island, Florida)
- Sponsors: Hibernia Baptist Church, Philadelphia Ins Co.
- September 17: Eastside Baptist Church (Marietta, Georgia)
- Sponsor: Georgia Baptist Mission Board
- September 17: GuideStone Employee Benefits Summit (Dallas, Texas)
- Sponsor: GuideStone
- September 19: Heartland Church Network (Omaha, Nebraska)
- Sponsor: Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists
- September 20: Pleasant Garden Baptist Church (Pleasant Garden, North Carolina)
- Sponsor: Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
- September 21: Pleasant Garden Baptist Church (Pleasant Garden, North Carolina)
- Sponsor: Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
- September 30: North Oxford Baptist Church (Oxford, Mississippi)
- Sponsor: Mississippi Baptist Convention Board
- October 1: Brandon Baptist Church (Brandon, Mississippi)
- Sponsor: Mississippi Baptist Convention Board
- October 17: Location TBA (Charlotte, North Carolina)
- Sponsor: Philadelphia Insurance Companies
- October 22: Shadow Mountain Community Church (El Cajon, California)
- Sponsor: California Southern Baptist Convention
- October 29: Second Baptist Church (Corpus Christi, Texas)
- Sponsor: Baptist General Convention of Texas
It is appropriate (and long overdue) that the Southern Baptist Convention resolve to correctly address and respond to child sexual abuse. All ministry leaders should take advantage of ChurchCares resources to compassionately care for child victims and adult survivors of abuse.
With respect to prevention, don’t miss the training opportunities made possible by Baptist state conventions and organizations, as well as preventative tools and resources created by MinistrySafe.
MinistrySafe was created by legal professionals who are sexual abuse experts. After decades of litigating sexual abuse cases, Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris founded MinistrySafe to help Christ-based ministries meet legal standards of care and reduce the risk of sexual abuse, creating preventive measures tailored to fit the needs of churches and ministry programs. With more than 50 years combined experience in sexual abuse litigation, consultation and crisis management, Love and Norris understand the risk of sexual abuse and how it unfolds in child-serving programs.
Since MinistrySafe’s inception, more than 20,000 ministries have trained more than 1 million staff members and volunteers on six continents in various languages.
On average, MinistrySafe trains around 35,000 people each month—live and online.
The mission at MinistrySafe is equip ministry leaders to prevent child sexual abuse in ministry contexts.
“At MinistrySafe, we help you protect children and those who serve them.”