People You Don't Want in Your Ministry
How pedophiles exploit churches--and what to do about it.

Like a triple espresso on an empty stomach, some news stories make my hands shake.

In our paper yesterday, I read about a Boy Scout camp director recently arrested for possession of child pornography. The FBI raided the camp to confiscate his computers. This man also worked at a YMCA.

Get ready to tremble with me.

Leadership from both organizations described how he passed extensive criminal background checks. One group performs them periodically and requires annual youth protection training. The suspect worked there for seven years. A senior leader remarked that, unfortunately, no manual exists for them to see exactly what a pedophile looks like.

By now, you likely see the connection between this news story and your ministry. You perform criminal background checks (right?), you conduct child protection training (right?), and the potential still exists for the wrong people to make it into your ministry.

One reason is that background checks only reveal people caught by authorities; they don't reveal intentions or undiscovered activities. An estimate shows the number of registered sex offenders in the U.S. stands at 232 per 100,000. Experts tell us many more exist but have not yet encountered the legal system. All this to point out that the number of people you should worry about might be much higher than you imagine.

But you serve in a church. Why would any of these people try to serve in your ministry? Simple answer: because of the kids. People with perversions toward children tend to look for ways to hang out with kids, build relationships, and earn trust. Similar to what children's ministries encourage workers to do, right? Not easy to read; not easy to write about, either. But it's true—your ministry might serve as an easy target for someone who wants to harm children.

Or not.

Depends on the quality and integrity of your systems and on your commitment to those systems, regardless of their popularity with potential volunteers—even the deacon who decided to help on Sundays. Or the Boy Scout leader. No, not a cheap shot; more of a wake-up call for all. Remember, there is no manual that shows what a pedophile looks like. So ministries must implement systems that limit access and opportunity.

What do these systems look like? Let's start with the absolute basics and then steer toward even more robust ideas.

To start, every children's and youth ministry should put in place a volunteer assimilation program that includes a criminal background check, reference checks, and personal interviews for everyone. The deacon, the mother of four, the school teacher, the college student who's attended church his whole life, and that older guy who tells jokes that everyone around the church loves. Even the husband of the children's ministry pastor. Both organizations that employed the suspect mentioned above stressed their background check process. For good reason. It will scare away the people with a legal history of child and/or sex crimes and encourage them to go elsewhere. Without a policy of checking all, an organization will appear asleep at the wheel if the wheels start to fall off in a catastrophe. And what we're looking at today is potentially catastrophic.

Next, your ministry orientation should include child and youth protection training. If you currently do not have such training, visit to learn what's available. No need for you to create great materials, experts have done the hard work for you. When everyone in your ministry knows how to spot inappropriate behavior in co-workers, when everyone in your ministry shares commitment to ensuring a safe environment for children, when everyone in your ministry watches, then you've created a place where children thrive and a pedophile avoids. When you keep this information to yourself, when you remain quiet and avoid the topic, opportunities will exist everywhere you aren't. Child protection is a team effort.

Additionally, adopt and strictly enforce a two-adult rule. This means that you've taken the necessary steps to structure your ministry so an adult never has access to a child or group of children alone. Both organizations in the recent news story used the two-adult rule as solid footing to stand on amidst the allegations; guard that ground well. In doing so, you'll eliminate many potentially harmful situations for children and minimize the chance of wrongful allegations toward adults.

Obviously, many more elements exist for a quality protection program: identification systems, bathroom policies, room safety features, etc. (For more ideas, check out this download: Implement a Child Protection Program.)

Just as obviously, the days of "I know all my volunteers" have ended. That rationale puts you and your ministry at significant risk. How many people liked and trusted the Boy Scout leader? Tragically, similar stories appear everyday across the country.

Parents expect you to do all you can to protect the precious young ones they trust to your care. In fact, parents will help you put systems in place if you ask; a simple conversation over a cup of coffee will likely result in you finding a safety coordinator.

Just make sure to screen the person.

And don't order a triple espresso.

This article originally appeared on

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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