Q&A: Six-Month Rule Before Serving

Should the six-month rule apply to pastors’ spouses?

Our church implemented a child protection program based on Richard Hammar’s Reducing the Risk curriculum. We train everyone who serves in our children’s ministry using the RTR video. We also have volunteers fill out applications and reference information, and we do background checks on people who are just joining the team. Recently, one of our pastors married. His wife wants to serve in our children’s ministry. However, she has only been a member of the church for a couple of months. We require volunteers to be part of our church for at least six months before serving in children’s ministry. Should this rule apply to the pastor’s spouse?
In many cases, the six-month rule cannot be applied to employees (and their spouses) since they usually have not been members of the church for at least six months prior to their date of hire. It would be unreasonable in these circumstances to make the person become a member and then wait for six months in order to be qualified for service. In such cases the legal obligation remains the same—to exercise reasonable care in selecting the worker. All of the other precautions identified in the Reducing the Risk program would still apply, and implementing them would go a long way in establishing an exercise of reasonable care.
Another point is this—what does your local public school district do? They do not limit employment to persons whom they have closely observed for six months or more. They rely on references and a criminal records check. This would tend to support the use of the pastor’s spouse in your case despite the fact that she has not been a member for six months or longer, provided that the other precautions you mentioned are implemented. Aligning your practice to that of the public schools would demonstrate that you are meeting the standards of your state, which would help to establish the exercise of reasonable care.
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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