In the last few months I've noticed a proliferation of church buses cruising through my neighborhood here in my small town in the Virginia Piedmont every Sunday morn. Some of the drivers wave as I'm getting in my car dressed for service at my own place of worship. I smile and wave back and wonder what the policy is of that particular church to protect the children in their temporary care.
Witnessing many families putting their children on those buses without a backward glance, seemingly content to place their children in the hands of virtual strangers gives me the willies. Particularly in light of the fact that many smaller churches without main stream denomination affiliation have had bus ministry workers accused of child sexual abuse of their small charges nationwide. During the course of the trials and investigation it usually comes out that the particular church has no screening process for the bus ministry workers, no background checks, no criminal checks and no training in place for teaching the workers how best to inter with the children in a safe fashion.
This is not me putting down bus ministry or independent churches. I think anything that seeks to help improve the lives of children is a good thing. It would be a better thing if the parents accompanied their kids to the church, but some parents chose not to go. First, how do you even know what that church is teaching your child if you aren't a member or familiar with their statement of faith.
If you plan on sending your child off on a bus ministry, ask questions. Lots of questions.
What kinds of questions, I hear you say. Here's some you might ask when the members of any church arrive on your doorstep asking to take your children to church, Sunday School or Vacation Bible school.
- What national organizations is your church affiliated with?
- What is your church's statement of faith?
- What types of materials or teachings will be used to teach my child?
But most important, ask about the bus ministry personnel and the church's role in training them.
- Does your church run a criminal background with the state on each person working the bus ministry and on the children's teachers and everyone else working with the children?
- What qualifications do the bus ministry workers and anyone working with the children possess?
- Are the bus ministry people and the teachers certified or go through any training on how to work with children, maintain good boundaries and avoid any circumstances that might lead to child abuse?
- How much experience does the ministry staff have with children's education?
- What is your church's policy towards sex offenders working in the ministry?
A little Googling of the church and the people involved in ministry there should show up with an online presence. Peruse their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to see if they are someone you'd like to have around your children.
Why do I advocate going this far? Well, one of those prettily painted buses staffed by a smiling and waving staff that passes my house is for a church that was an offshoot of another church. The church split when former members of the school and church accused the pastor of sexually abusing them repeatedly during their childhood. The new church with the bus is the one that insisting on believing that the pastor was innocent in the face of overwhelming testimony indicating that the pastor was culpable in child sexual abuse. They also do not believe in screening people who work with children or doing any sort of training on child abuse. There is no protection or accountability towards safety for the children.
Before you allow your child to take part in any bus ministry or event make sure you do your research. Better safe than sorry. No one wants a child victim with a lifetime of pain, shame and self hatred to overcome. Do it for your kids.
I leave you with wise words by my friend Bruce Gerencser about why transparency and accountability in children's ministries and any ministry is important.
I know of one pastor who refuses to do background checks. His rationale for refusing to do them? After a person is saved, their past sins are “under the blood.” The person, no matter what they have done in the past, is completely forgiven by God. (after all, God forgave Paul, the murderer and David, the adulterer/murderer, right?) This kind of naïve thinking is why churches are havens for predators. It is not hard to stand before a church and give a wonderful testimony of God’s saving grace, yet be a predator. It is quite easy to learn the lingo. My family and I could dress up this Sunday, go to church, and every one of us would likely be considered wonderful Christians. We know the talk, the walk, the songs. We know how to do Evangelical. Yet, in REAL life we are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and Buddhists and most of us are, shudder to think of it, Democrats..
But, Bruce, the Holy Spirit will let the church know they aren’t real Christians. Do you really want to trust the welfare of the church children and teenagers to the Holy Spirit? Are you really saying that a Christian couldNOT be a pedophile, abuser, or predator? (and if you are a Baptist, please explain this to me in light of your“once saved, always saved” belief)