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Preventing Misconduct, Harassment, and Abuse in Churches

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones (Conexiones Church) in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership. Author.

There is a need for churches to prevent misconduct, harassment, and abuse in their communities, and to properly respond when these occur.

In this article, I would like to recommend important steps churches must take to prevent misconduct, harassment, and abuse, whether verbal, emotional, mental, physical, or sexual.

The Need for Committee

Churches need to establish committees composed of male and female members who have been elected by the congregation.

These committees ought to be composed of male and female members so they can think about each case from different points of view. They also ought to be composed of members elected by the congregation so they can represent the congregation and answer to the congregation. Although this model will work best for congregational churches, churches that are not congregational can explore how to make this model work for them.

This committee ought to educate, plan, promote, hear, report, alert, and support.

The committee should first procure education and training for the church (for both clergy and laymen) about the kinds of misconduct, harassment, and abuse that exist, how to prevent them, and how to respond to them. What this means is that the committee will invite experts in the field to train their clergy and church members in regards to these issues.

The committee should plan (with the help of the experts) how to prevent and how to respond to these issues in their church. They can establish rules and procedures to prevent these issues, they can create a list of phone numbers to call in case of an incident, and they can determine who will take charge of the church in case a situation unfolds.

The committee should also promote said rules, procedures, phone list, and plan by facilitating literature, giving reminders, etc.

The committee should also hear people who have questions or concerns about any of these issues. Church members should know that, if they are feeling uneasy about their relationships with someone, they can approach the committee and discuss their concerns.

The committee should know how to report any misconduct, harassment, or abuse. For example, when the situation involves a minor, your state may require you to report any concerns or suspicion immediately, and leave the investigation to social services. But when the situation involves an adult, that adult may need to do the reporting himself/herself, but need emotional support from you to do the reporting.

As legally permissible, the committee should alert the members of the church on the situation so all can take precautions.

The committee can also support (emotionally, spiritually, etc.) the parties involved and the congregation by praying with them, listening to them, and even procuring counselors and counseling sessions for them.

Women in The Church

Churches need to develop their ministries for women. Male pastors, ministers, teachers, counselors, prophets, etc. should not minister to women alone and in private, but in an open area and in the company of other women. In fact, it is preferable for women to minister to women, and for men to minister to men.

This means that churches need to have competent female teachers, counselors, etc. who can minister to women at a more personal level. Moreover, these female leaders of females should not minister to men in such personal levels, but men should minister to men.

Ministries to Minors

Ministries to minors must be planned carefully. Church leaders should personally know those who work with minors, demand professional behavior, and ensure the ministers to children have the proper training (for example, have training to care for babies in a nursery). Moreover, there should be records of their identification documents, and criminal backgrounds ought to be run. References should also be checked.

Ministers (teachers) to minors should never be left alone with the minors. At the very least, one other adult who is not related to them should be present with them while they work with minors. If possible, there should be video cameras with good resolution and audio recording where the minors are being provided care (this depends on the age of the minors).

Even small details, such as who will help the child to the bathroom, who will change the child’s diaper, and what will be done with the child if the parent is not found should be considered and planned for.

The Youth Pastor

The youth pastor should not be a young adult, much less an unmarried person. Instead, the youth pastor should be mature and married, preferably having children of his own. Such youth pastor can have young adults help him in the ministry (he can train them to teach, preach, and organize events), but he should have the oversight.

This mature and married youth pastor, who preferably has children of his own, should be present at events, provide counseling to youth in the company of one or two witnesses (his wife or the young adults who help him), and responsibly notify parents of situations that unfold.

The Accused or Fallen Pastor

It is important that churches know how to deal with a pastor who has been accused or found guilty of misconduct, harassment, or abuse. Will the pastor be excused? Will the pastor be given a sabbatical, publicly rebuked, temporarily suspended, fired, or reported to the authorities? Who will take over the ministry if the pastor has been suspended or fired? Who will take care of the pastor’s family if he has been suspended, fired, or imprisoned? Who will minister to the pastor in jail?

It is important that churches also provide the pastor with a safe environment to confess sins, repent, and receive counseling. The pastor should have access to a professional Christian counselor who can help him with personal, professional, ministerial, and family problems—someone who can listen, pray with him, keep things confidential, coach him, and advise him.

The Victims

It is also important for the church to have a plan to follow up with the victims: to pray for them, to coach them, to provide them with emotional and spiritual support.nIt can take several years for victims of harassment and abuse to heal.

Start Planning Now

It is important that churches start planning all these things now. Although, in all likelihood, someone in your church is already a victim of harassment or abuse of some kind—maybe from someone within the church, or maybe from someone outside the church—you don't want to start planning when the issue surfaces up, but before.

Moreover, as the church plans on how to properly handle these issues, the benefit isn't only that the church will know what to do in a moment of crisis, but that the church will also be preventing these things from happening.

In the end, however, planning early will also help churches overcome these issues when they surface rather than succumb to them. Planning will help the churches outlive pastors who fall, and it will also help victims recover and keep the faith through those difficult experiences.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Marcelo Carcach

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