First of all, it’s commendable and right that you’ve gathered to talk about something so important, but I know some of you might feel a little awkward right now. Maybe some of you have been dreading this, because it’s hard to hear some of these statistics and to contemplate unseemly things like “grooming”—especially if you were once a victim too. Trust me, by the end of this training, you will all be desperate to speak of something else, to clear your mind and move on from this dark, dark topic—and if this training is being done right, there will be moments when it’s gonna feel dark.
So I won’t keep you long, but I want you to know a few things before you start. I want to give you a framework through which to filter everything you are about to hear, and this is that filter:
Cliché, I know. Maybe I could have done better. But here’s the thing: A lot of child protection training seminars mean well, but are really just focused on protecting your ministry from lawsuits and rumors that might suck away all the money or keep parents from bringing their children through your doors. And this might feel like the right way to go about it for some of you, because you’re trying to see “big picture” and you’re thinking about all the ministry you want to do down the road and how you don’t want something like an abuse scandal to get in the way of that big God-sized vision for your organization or school or church.
Which is why this is going to be hard for you to hear and to process, but I have to tell you anyway:
And now maybe you’re frustrated, because you can’t see this as being about anything but your ministry—protecting your ministry from predators, protecting your ministry from scandal, protecting your ministry from lawsuits.
But here’s what this is really about:
Children are why you are here in this training and if you think you are here for any other reason, I challenge you to rethink that reason right now.
If you keep this truth in mind—that it is all about that child and not at all about you or your organization or your church or your school—then you will do well by the children within the bounds of your ministry, you will be honoring God with your ministry, you will be doing the right thing in your ministry.
It’s about recognizing the signs of their abuse, about spotting the clues they’re being groomed, about keeping their environment safe, and about offering them hope and healing and justice if the worst should happen—and let me tell you, at some point despite all your best efforts it’s probably going to happen, which is why child protection is not just about prevention it’s about response.
If your child protection training doesn’t move beyond prevention to include the importance of helping a victim recover and heal in every facet of their lives, if it doesn’t include the importance of working for justice on behalf of that child by following every ethical, moral and legal standard of reporting as well as every precaution of safety going forward when it comes to the accused, then I have to tell you your child protection training is just barely this side of pointless.
So, at every turn in this training, you need to remember that precious child you are protecting, because what you have to lose if your child protection policies fail is not your ministry’s reputation, a million dollar lawsuit, or half your enrollment, it’s the soul and the the future of that child. It’s their spirituality, it’s their sexuality, it’s their mental health, it’s their physical health, it’s their ability to hold down a job, it’s their ability to partner in marriage, it’s their ability to raise a child themselves, and it could even be the very number of their days on this earth. Because if your child protection policies in regard to response fail you that is the price, that is the cost.
See, the damage of abuse cannot be measured in dollars or public opinion or ministry numbers, it is measured in lives. Not the lives you see ahead of you in that blurry (but big) God-sized vision of yours—lives you see yourself changing or growing or even “winning for Christ” down the road—but the lives right in front of you today. And the lives you’re about to encounter from yesterday …
The ones who might knock on your door this very night to tell you something you really won’t want to hear about the horrible thing that happened to them on your watch, or maybe on the watch of the person who led before you. And your response training will give you a choice in that moment as you stand trembling over the potential for ministry damage and your instinctual urge to control it.
You can give in to the fear and start stubbornly fretting about the blurry sheep you imagine down the road in your big God-sized vision or you can tend to the sheep God has already provided, the sheep who just knocked on your door, the sheep in plain sight.
You see, that moment where you choose between compassion and fear is the real crux of your ministry, the mettle of your beliefs, and when speaking about those moments, my friend Diana turns to these words: Either God is as big as you say He is or He’s not.
And if He is as big as you say He is, then it’s time to recognize that justice and truth and compassion are His way, not fear, not secrecy, not control. What good is that God-sized vision of yours if you have to get to it on the backs of broken and silenced children?
So hold on to that filter today and in the moment after the knock on your door:
Because it isn’t about you.
Child protection just isn’t about you.
Or your organization.
Or your church.
Or your school.
It’s about the child, even if that child is now thirty.
It’s about the child, even if that child is now forty.
If your child protection policies
aren’t protecting children past as well as present
they aren’t protecting any children at all.
So shut off your smartphones and take good notes and try not to worry about the errands you’re running later, because a few years from now when you look back on this training, you might not see this as the day you learned a bunch of uncomfortable statistics and legal procedures and detailed policies.
You might see this as the day you learned to save lives.
With Great Hope,