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Parents weigh options ahead of 2020 school year

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

School

Photo composite

Beginning next year, students at public schools in Illinois will study the role of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a controversial measure into law Aug. 9. The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, affects students of all ages, although the state’s School Code stipulates that the curriculum be taught before the end of 8th grade.

House Bill 246 passed through the Illinois Senate last spring and was quietly approved May 23 by the House amid a flurry of other legislation, including legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of several restrictions on abortion. Pritzker’s signature on the curriculum bill dismayed many Christians and conservatives, with talk online quickly turning to education alternatives.

“Reason 157 to home or private school,” one poster wrote on IBSA’s Facebook page. Others expressed resolve to keep their kids in the public school system to shine the light of the gospel there.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said Caitlin Konieczka, a Springfield mother of three girls.

“We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Competing values
Illinois is one of a handful of states to consider curriculum legislation this year, but California lawmakers approved the FAIR Education Act in 2011. According to a Reuters article from May of this year, that state is still struggling to implement the law, and some parents are still protesting it. The article recounts recent fights over textbooks at school board meetings, where one mother expressed concern that her children would read books about transgender people before she’s ready to discuss gender and sexuality with them. “I should be the first one to educate about those things,” she said.

Candi Campbell and her husband, Charles, sent three daughters through the public school system in Illinois, recognizing their decision at the time as a natural way to be “a witness in the world.” The recent legislation would make the decision more difficult, Campbell said.

“As a parent, I believe it is my job to feed, lead, and protect my children. The law signed in Illinois represents a damaging social agenda to our little ones. And, until they can stand on a personal faith in Christ for truth, it is up to me to stand for them.”

A homeschooling mom in Springfield agreed, while acknowledging that homeschooling isn’t for every family. “No matter how we as Christians choose to educate our children, we must help them develop a biblical worldview,” she said. “Our children need our help in discerning truth and goodness through the lens of Scripture.”

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, has said the new curriculum will help LGBT students feel more accepted and supported in school. Her comments also may sound alarm bells for Christian parents who fear the normalization of sexual values they believe run counter to God’s Word.

“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints,” Steans said in a news release posted on her website. “An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.”

What now?
Laurie Higgins said the curriculum changes ought to spur Christians to action—and their churches with them. Churches should have been creating affordable Christian schools “yesterday,” said Higgins, a cultural affairs writer for the conservative Illinois Family Institute. While that will indeed take time, she acknowledged, “it doesn’t take time to make funds available.” Higgins urged churches to partner together to create scholarships to Christian schools.

“Parents need to understand if we lose our kids on this [issue], they will think the Bible is wrong on other things,” Higgins said. “We have to start creating affordable alternatives.”

She also encouraged parents to contact school administrators and teachers to ask that their children not be taught about homosexuality or cross-sex identification. Ask them to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, Higgins added.

While the Konieczka family has made a different decision about school, they’re also planning for future action, Caitlin said. “We are working now to lay a solid foundation before the girls enter school on basic biblical principles and God’s design for creation and life.” Once school starts, she said, they’ll communicate and reinforce biblical truths and establish an environment that welcomes questions.

She acknowledged there could be topics they don’t want presented to their daughters. The couple, both educators, plans to preview textbooks and content and work with teachers and administrators to accommodate their preferences.

“We view this as an opportunity to be a light in the school, and an opening to conversations about our beliefs.”

– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

Why Illinois matters

Lisa Misner —  August 16, 2019 — Leave a comment

By IBSA Media

Everyday headlines affirm church influence urgently needed—especially here

Illinois townsSeveral recent news stories have left us surprised, even stunned. The report that, at the stroke of the governor’s pen, LGBT history will be part of the Illinois public school curriculum starting next year leaves some Christian parents wondering how to handle the controversial subject at home, and other parents contemplating alternate education options.

In an opinion column for USA Today, Jay Keck told how his daughter, who later proved to be autistic, was affirmed by the school system in her sudden desire to identify as male, despite the objections of her parents who were trying to get help. The principal of the Chicago-area school even presented her diploma under her assumed male name at her graduation, again ignoring her parents’ request.

And this story hasn’t made the news yet, but it will probably show up on Facebook. In one quaint Illinois burg, a featured children’s book at the public library is about two worms who want to get married, but they can’t decide which of them will wear the bridal gown. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which seems by the author’s implication to justify some gender-crossing behaviors in humans. It’s a celebration of love “in all its forms,” the book jacket says—for preschoolers.

The stories that alarm us and dismay us are not only about sexuality and gender and identity. They’re also about the multiplicity of gambling parlors for throwing away one’s pension check, abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, and readily available pot in violation of federal law. The moral decline of Illinois has happened so quickly, and most of it at the hand of the government. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t recognize this state. Would he even claim it as his own?

When we look across Illinois today, we see issues that once troubled cities are prevalent everywhere. From the smallest farming community with a school house or a bar, to the toughest neighborhoods in the largest cities, to the marble hallways of our Capitol and courts—the moral rudder is broken. And in those places the work of Illinois Baptist churches is needed like never before.

Usually in this space we would publish a feature article based on one of the
Mission Illinois videos. Three of these stories were told in the special section in the July 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist, and they’re available online. These churches are taking on the responsibility to bring gospel light to dark places. But what we need to say this year is, like those churches, won’t you focus on our state mission field in a greater way?

Because of sacrificial giving by Baptists in Illinois each September, IBSA is able to help churches grow stronger in evangelism, leadership, and ministry impact. And IBSA helps start a dozen or more churches every year in places where there is little gospel witness. About 420 churches give about $350,000 each year. And IBSA is grateful for the partnership that supports camps and campus and next-gen ministry, church planting and leader development, and more.

But some potential impact of our work is lost, because fewer than half of IBSA churches support the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer. This annual offering is just as vital to ministry in Illinois as the seasonal offerings for Lottie and Annie are to other SBC missions. And frankly, mission work in Illinois calls for sacrifice on our part.

If your church supports Mission Illinois with giving and prayer, thank you.

If it has been a while since your church had a focus on state missions, please consider the growing need for biblical truth in Illinois. Think about the role stronger churches and more churches would serve in establishing a beachhead against moral decline. A gift to the Mission Illinois Offering is one way to fortify Baptist presence and values in Illinois.

And if you will, please join the Week of Prayer. Illinois needs relentless intercessors right now.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Mission Illinois Offering September 8-15.

A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019 — Leave a comment

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

Easter (far left), Sexton baptizes Stevens (far right).

Jared Sexton was pacing back and forth in his jail cell. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I keep doing this… I don’t even want to live this way. I know not to live this way. I keep doing it over and over and over and over again.’”

His cellmate handed him a King James Bible and told him, “You need to read Romans 7.” In the complex passage, Paul complains about committing sins that he hates. Sexton had a hard time understanding the Apostle’s words, but, “I was like, ‘OK, well this sounds exactly like what I was just saying.’” He wanted to know more.

He began drinking at a young age. “I was always in trouble, in and out of jail, and rehabs, boot camps, prison—I’ve been to every one of them….I was literally at a point where the only thing I could do is look to God.” That was the point when he found himself in a jail cell with four other inmates, one of whom had just returned from a Bible study of Romans 7.

When Sexton bonded out of jail, he went home and found a Contemporary English Version Bible someone had given him. “I read it and it just blew my mind…I read the Bible [before] and nothing ever clicked. This time was completely different. It was like everything was jumping out at me.

“For the first time in my life I took a real look at what sin meant in my life…I wanted to know more what that meant. And so, I knew the perfect place to go; that was church.”
Sexton went to Metropolis First Baptist Church where his boss is a member and his grandparents had taken him a few times as a child. There, Sexton met Cliff Easter, the church’s youth and missions pastor, and gave his life to Christ.

Metropolis First is deeply involved in evangelism and missions through local outreach ministries, international mission trips, and church planting mission trips to Chicago. Easter said, “It’s not complicated. It’s just, ‘Go, reach somebody.’ We’ve incorporated that into some of our discipleship training that we’ve just begun in our church.”

That’s my ‘one’
IBSA’s Pat Pajak led an evangelism training in the local association, as he does across the state, sharing the “Who’s Your One” evangelism concept in which members pray for the people they know to find salvation in Christ. Three times in the past two years, Pajak has urged churches to dedicate one Sunday or a month of Sundays to a baptism emphasis, and baptisms in Illinois increased almost 7% last year.

The Metropolis church keeps cards at the front of the auditorium for members to write the names of people who need Christ. The cards are an important part of the evangelism effort. “Every Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, we distribute every single one of those cards, and as a church we pray over them,” Easter said. “There are hundreds of names in the box.

“The idea is, if you put someone’s name on a card in the box, you’re praying for them, and you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them.”

The first name Sexton put in the box was his childhood friend, Dakota Stevens. “We all began praying for Dakota,” Easter said. “You could tell that God was at work in him, and sure enough Dakota came to repentance and faith in Christ.”

“I don’t know when he put my name in there, or what date it was, but it obviously worked…. The power of prayer does work. It’ll move anything in front of you,” Stevens said.

Sexton, as a Christian and member in good standing at Metropolis First, had the privilege of baptizing his friend. “I came up out of the water… I was like, it’s a helping hand that he’s always had,” Stevens said. “He’s good about that. If he cares about you that man will help you no matter what.”

Sexton knows he is blessed to bless others to share the gospel, especially his old friends. “I’ll try to say some things related to the Word that are happening in my life. Whether it be with prayer, or a blessing God has shown me…I just pray…that something that they heard, something catches their attention that just breaks a little bit of the resistance away from them.”

Watch the 2019 MIO videos at MissionIllinois.org and also download mission studies.

The Green Wave

Lisa Misner —  August 5, 2019

By Meredith Flynn

Legal pot use will be a growing challenge for Illinois churches

When Illinois lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana in June, many lauded the fulfillment of one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign promises, and the potential for millions in tax revenue to aid the financially ailing state.

Others, like Pastor Steve Ohl, grieved the decision’s potential impact on Illinoisans. Ohl is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenview; he also leads an addiction support group.

“When I was into drugs and alcohol, there was a void in my heart and I was trying to fill it anyway I could,” the pastor said. Ohl urged pastors to recognize many people in their pews and communities are struggling to fill their own heart-voids, and the road to recovery will probably be harder with easier access to pot.

Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana use on January 1, 2020, so now is the time to look to states where pot is legal, for both the impact on communities and the ministry challenges for churches.

Highs and lows

West Coast examples
Pastor Dave Seaford is well-versed in marijuana culture and its effect on a community. In the Emerald Triangle of northern California, Humboldt County is a pot mecca, with a climate right for growing and the nearest police force more than an hour away. When the hippies left San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, Seaford said, they came here to build communes and grow their own marijuana.

The region where Seaford has ministered over the past five years was a center for illegal pot prior to California’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018. Today, legal business is booming, and people come to Humboldt from around the world to “trim product” and otherwise benefit from the industry.

But life in the region is hard, said Seaford, who pastors First Baptist Church in Redway. The Netflix series “Murder Mountain” chronicles life in his county, where drug users scream to themselves on the streets, and stories abound of pot workers being held in shipping containers, some never to be heard from again.

Redway used to be logging and fisheries, Seaford said, with a quiet, easy, joyful lifestyle. It had its own culture apart from the marijuana industry. “How quickly that has turned.”

Illinois is unlikely to become the next Emerald Triangle, but Seaford warned Illinois pastors to prepare now for the coming challenges, and new opportunities for life-changing work.

“This is a terrible place to live,” he said of his community. “But it’s an incredible place to do ministry.”

The heart of the matter
Derk Schulze’s time in the Emerald Triangle began in 1980, when he moved to Arcata, Ca., to attend Humboldt State University. Marijuana is a catalyst for how people in the region live, think, and worship, Schulze said. His decades in the region are evident as he explains the network of cause-and-effect scenarios that led to the culture he ministers in today.

First, old industries collapsed, pushing some small-scale farmers toward the pot business, which grew as an illegal enterprise until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Little by little, the culture shifted until acceptance of marijuana use was widespread. Once the state’s medical marijuana policies were in place, doctors in Arcata freely gave out “215 cards” (named for the statute that legalized medical marijuana) to anyone who came in with a complaint, Schulze said.

Medical professionals couldn’t keep up with monitoring the effects of the drug on patients, and officials were overwhelmed to the point of not enforcing pot possession laws if the person in question had a 215 card. They did, however, enforce federal drug trafficking laws. Jails were overcrowded, leading politicians to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which also promised more tax revenue.

In 2018, recreational pot became legal in California. Schulze said the arrival of the new law forced local farmers out and brought in groups looking to make a big profit. “Murder Mountain” is a sensationalized view of what has happened to his community, Schulze said, but, “It’s not a safe situation. You don’t get out of your car in certain areas.”

Marijuana is so entrenched in the culture, the pastor said, that churches can’t afford to take a temperance view on it “because the law just makes for more lawbreakers.

“The law’s not going to solve it either, because it’s a worldview heart issue,” Schulze said. “People are just as vigilant and set in their thinking about being pro-marijuana culture, as a Christian is for the kingdom.

“We have to address the heart.”
His church decided to set up their parking lot as a sanctuary for the many travelers in and to Arcata. One day, a yellow RV painted with the word “Miracle” arrived bearing a couple with a young child. The woman was pregnant with what she said God had told her were twin girls. She had a boy instead, and Schulze’s church ministered to the couple—both marijuana users at the time—and built relationships with them based on biblical truth. The couple came to Christ, and the man was later called into pastoral ministry.

The couple wouldn’t have been received at any other church in the area, Schulze said, because of the way they smelled, dressed, and talked. But his church was willing to get to the heart of the matter.

“We can proclaim the gospel and the good news, and true freedom, because that’s what a lot of people are looking to have by smoking marijuana,” Schulze said. They’re looking for deliverance, he added, from pain, anxiety, and a lack of true joy.

“We have a better salve, and that is a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Schulze encourages pastors to have conversations with proponents of marijuana, to try to uncover the underlying motive for what they do.

“We have to get to the root. We have to extract the hidden sin, the hidden issue. We have to identity that, and when we do that, the gospel speaks to that.
“Then, you get transformation. Not conformity.”

Offer real answers
Despite their challenging environment, Pastor Seaford’s church has seen numerous spiritual victories. People are trusting Christ and being baptized, some of whom were previously part of the industry. But marijuana has so permeated the culture that a lot of people don’t want to live there anymore. FBC Redway has seen more salvations and baptisms in the last five years than at any point in their history, Seaford said. But most people don’t—or can’t—stay.

The church’s most effective ministry is its partnership with a local shelter. They offer theology classes through the Eureka Rescue Mission’s discipleship program, trying to get to the spiritual need at the root of drug use. The focus is on apologetics, a specialty of Seaford’s.

Some people assume the addled brain of a drug user can’t handle deep spiritual truths, the pastor said. The opposite is true. “We need to present the truth of the gospel, and we need to do it at a level that their questions are genuinely answered,” he said. “These guys want real answers.”

Of course, detox is a real need too, which is why FBC Redway works with the rescue mission. Seaford encouraged pastors in Illinois to seek out similar partners. He also urged church leaders to prepare for ministry opportunities by shoring up their own theological training.

“I believe it’s absolutely essential that we’re prepared to give people real answers,” he said. “Many times, they’re in the situation they’re in because they had no spiritual hope to begin with.”

Bryan Hall entered the rescue mission’s residential program 14 years ago, after many years of drug use that started with pot in junior high.

He was radically saved 25 years ago, Hall said, but fell back into drugs multiple times over the years, punctuated by several arrests and stints in jail. It was an act of honesty that ultimately led to his deliverance, Hall said. Led by God to confess to a crime he had committed, he was inexplicably granted probation instead of a mandatory sentence. He started at the mission soon after, weeping on his first day in the program when a chaplain taught from the Bible.

Hall is now executive director of the Eureka Rescue Mission, a non-profit completely supported by private donations. He directs the mission’s ministry to homeless and addicted people, including partnering with Seaford to offer Scriptural truth through systematic theology classes for men and women.

The answer to reaching addicts is really easy, Hall said. “It’s got to be love.” The only way to reach somebody in drug addiction is developing a loving relationship with them.

“I think that the reasoning behind a lot of drug use, marijuana, is that people are just trying to feel good. They live on feelings, not conviction,” Hall said. Some people come to Christ and keep smoking pot, but over a period of time, he said, they set it aside. “It’s sanctification.”

The theme of the mission’s work is changed lives, and they’re seeing that happen all the time, Hall said. People are getting jobs, going to church, and loving the Lord. They’re becoming salt and light in a very challenging culture.

“It’s really amazing to see someone who just wanted to get clean and sober start to come alive in Christ because some of their questions get answered.”

Be ready to help
In Gunnison, Colo., a small college town of 6,500, legalization of recreational and medical marijuana use in 2014 has made an already pot-friendly culture even more challenging for churches. “We have a significant degree of poverty in our community, which our church feels called to alleviate,” said Pastor Tom Burggraf. “As we try to help families financially and spiritually, it is rare we find someone stuck in long-term poverty that is not also suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs.”

Burggraf, a bivocational pastor who is also on staff at the local university, says it appears that legalization has increased use among those already on drugs. But from his involvement with young adults, Burggraf cites increased first-time drug use. “It’s another substitute-savior that is now more accessible to those searching for rescue in places where it cannot be found.

“We are investing heavily in Celebrate Recovery,” he said.

That tactic may be an answer for many more churches soon. Steve Ohl already leads a Celebrate Recovery group at Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman. He got involved when he was a member there, before accepting the pastorate in Greenview.

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step program focused on helping people deal with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry started in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca. Groups now meet in 35,000 churches around the world, but each has the same DNA: large-group worship, testimonies from people whose lives have been changed, and discussion time in smaller, gender-specific groups.

“When I was struggling, the main thing I needed was somebody to be there for me, to just listen to me and not to judge me,” Ohl said. “I knew that I was having a struggle, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get the help I really needed.”

Over the past four years, Ohl has seen people get that help through Celebrate Recovery. One member accepted Christ and was baptized at the church.

With legal pot coming to Illinois in less than six months, Ohl urged fellow pastors to research recovery groups and programs in their area, so they have resources to steer people toward when they need help.

“There’s going to be somebody sitting in their congregations struggling with this,” Ohl said, “and pastors need to be ready when they come to talk to them about it.”

To protect and serve

Lisa Misner —  July 29, 2019

By Nate Adams

church pews

Some churches have business meetings every month. Some have them once a year. My home church has probably the most common practice, gathering once a quarter to hear reports and consider major actions not already approved in our annual budget and ministry plan.

An extra meeting at church every three months really isn’t that much to ask. Yet when our church’s most recent business meeting rolled around, it was on a stormy summer evening when I had a hundred other things to do. Knowing of no controversies or big decisions, I found it tempting to stay home. After all, a friend of mine once jokingly referred to church business meetings as the Baptist version of purgatory.

But my wife and I have committed to participating whenever we can, not just in our church’s ministries, but in our church’s business. The motto, “To Protect and to Serve,” used by many police departments, also describes our responsibilities as devoted, mature church members. We should both serve through our church, and also protect the integrity and resources of our church.

In recent days, I have seen sad evidence of churches whose members did not guard their business well. In each case, an unscrupulous man used the role of pastor, not to guard and shepherd the flock, but to fleece it.

Church members are responsible to do both.

The pattern was generally the same each time. The churches were small and vulnerable, with few strong leaders. Often in a state of discouragement or desperation, they called men as pastors who promised a better future. Like too many churches, they also hired more with hope than with carefully researched background, references, and secondary references.

After a brief honeymoon period, these men began taking more and more control of finances, property, decision processes, and leadership selection. Anyone who questioned their authority was quickly marginalized, or accused of something, or asked to leave. Soon the small church was even smaller, left primarily with members who didn’t have the ability or the will to oppose. Then whatever finances or property the church possessed was gradually or quickly depleted, or outright taken, by the man the church had trusted to be their shepherd.

It’s often not until then that a handful of the remaining members realize what has happened to their church. They look around for church leaders to help, but most of those folks left shaking their heads when the so-called pastor began his abuses.

And it’s often then that one of the IBSA staff or I will receive a call. And yet, because each Baptist church is autonomous, members with standing in that church, operating within its approved governance and documents, are needed to challenge the abuse that is happening.

Fortunately, most churches do have a core of devoted, discerning leaders who detect this kind of abuse in its early stages, and who guard their church with spiritual courage, and with an understanding of its governance and legal protections. And when there is strong associational leadership in place, these church leaders also have a nearby and willing advocate.

These leaders know to place language, not only in the church’s bylaws but in the deed to its property, that stipulate what happens to the property if it ever ceases to be a Baptist church. They know to put appropriate financial controls and accountability in place that prevent any individual, or any small group, from having inappropriate access to funds. And they are willing to confront even the man who calls himself pastor, when he is brazenly and selfishly exploiting the church from within.

The overwhelming majority of churches I know are served by humble, loving, self-sacrificing pastors and leaders. But especially if your church is small or vulnerable, you may one day be the one called upon by your church not only to serve, but to protect.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Making people welcome

Lisa Misner —  July 22, 2019

What’s it like to visit your church for the first time?

By Doug Munton

I moved several times as a boy and it wasn’t much fun. Each time I had to overcome old fears, break down unseen barriers, and make new friends. I never liked that feeling of being an outsider. I haven’t forgotten how it felt to my tender young soul. But it taught me some valuable lessons in helping to connect with guests at church.

Visiting a church can be awkward for a first-time guest. They don’t know the people, the customs or the expectations. They can feel nervous, intimidated, or ignored. They might not even yet know the message of the gospel.

Here are some tips that can make a real and lasting difference as church members purposely connect with guests:

1. Talk to people you don’t know.
This is the simplest thing that you can do for guests. If you don’t know someone, say hello. Tell them you are glad to see them. I ask almost every Sunday, “Have I met you before?” If I have met them before, I apologize for forgetting and work to get to know them better.

In connecting with guests, just speak to them. Look them in the eye and say a simple greeting. Welcome them. Care about them. A surprising number of church members never do this.

2. Be friendly to people who aren’t yet your friends.
Every church in America thinks they are friendly because they are friendly to their friends. But being friendly to your friends does not make your church friendly to guests. I love that our members have church friends with whom they can talk and laugh and visit. But I want them to choose to meet some new people. One of my dearest college friends was the very last guy I met of all the guys on my dorm hall.

3. Learn their names.
Introductions usually involve us telling each other our names. But if we aren’t careful, we quickly forget. Our small groups have come up with a simple solution for this. We are starting to wear name tags. You can’t easily ask the name of a couple in your small group who have been coming for months. It is embarrassing that you forgot. But name tags help us remember. And they are especially helpful for connecting with guests.

4. Read body language.
If someone looks confused, they probably are confused. A simple, “Can I help you find something?” is helpful. With a little practice, you can begin to understand what people are feeling and thinking from their body language.

Guests often look a bit apprehensive because they are. Learning to read this allows you to do something about this. A friendly face and kind word go a long way toward lowering that nervousness.

Some of our guests want to remain fairly anonymous. They typically appreciate a friendly greeting but don’t always want deep conversation until they know if they can trust us. You may be able to read that. Perhaps you could say, “If I can help you with anything, just let me know.”

Other guests would really like to have someone offer to sit with them. Or they might enjoy some friendly conversation. Body language is a language that communicates volumes when we begin to understand it.

5. Invite them to take the next connection steps.
It is entirely appropriate to tell a departing guest that you hope they come back. There is nothing wrong with letting them know about small groups, an upcoming special event or membership class, or classes for their children.

Welcoming a first-time guest is just the start of the assimilation process. A warm welcome goes a long way. But we want more than that for our guests. We want them to consider and trust the claims of Christ. We want them to join us on this discipleship journey. And ultimately, we want them to join us in welcoming other guests and helping them to follow the Lord as well.

Doug Munton is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. He blogs at dougmunton.com.

New IBSA training helps ministry leaders prevent sexual abuse

Child Protection“You’re not going to leave this training feeling uplifted.”

Mark Emerson introduced a new IBSA workshop on creating a safe environment for children with a sobering series of statistics:

  • 90% of sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust.
  • 66% of those victims don’t report the abuse until they are an adult.
  • Just 10% of offenders ever come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team, teamed up with Next Generation Ministries director Jack Lucas to offer the training at First Baptist Church in Morton May 16. The workshop was held as the Southern Baptist Convention considered its response to sexual abuse involving SBC leaders and churches. The denomination took action at its June annual meeting, including a “Caring Well Challenge” designed to help churches prevent future abuse and care well for survivors

In Morton, Emerson and Lucas shared that there are 60 million sexual abuse survivors in the United States. An astonishing one in five Americans will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Statistically, that data means 14 people in the average IBSA church are survivors of sexual abuse.

“Part of the problem is in our churches we don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem,” Lucas said. “It happens in small churches, in large churches, small towns, and in big cities.”

A recent LifeWay Research study found 32% of Southern Baptist churchgoers believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than have been brought to light (43% disagreed and 25% said they don’t know). Of those surveyed, 4% said they knew of someone attending their church who had sexually abused a child, but it has not yet come to light.

“Perceptions are reality,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “When almost a third of churchgoers sense there is an avalanche of abuse and assault cases coming, Protestant churches must address this head-on, even if few say they actually know someone whose abuse is still hidden.”

Identify ‘grooming’ behavior
At the IBSA training, Emerson and Lucas identified three types of abusers. The first is the abduction offender who has no previous relationship with the victim. Abduction offenders comprise 4% of abusers. More common is the peer-to-peer offender. “All bad behavior of a sexual nature is not from adults,” Lucas noted. “There’s been a 300% increase within schools in the last 3-4 years. More than 50% of reported abuse cases in Illinois are actually peer-to-peer.”

The third, most dangerous type is the preferential offender—someone whose victim knows and trusts them. One statistic says 90% of child victims of sexual abuse know the perpetrator. “Check-in systems do not work against preferential offenders,” Lucas said. “We can’t recognize the risk visually. We have to recognize risk behaviorally.”

That’s why it’s so important that churches learn to recognize the grooming process, the IBSA trainers said in Morton. “Grooming” refers to tactics an abuser uses in his or her relationship with a child to facilitate abuse.

When an offender is seeking to abuse a victim, he or she is generally looking to do so through deception, not violence, Emerson explained. And the abuser isn’t just grooming the victim, but also the gatekeepers—a pastor, the parents, church leaders. Grooming is about gaining access to the kids, and groomers often seek out career and volunteer opportunities related to children in churches.

“If there is somebody taking pictures, too much interaction, making friends with a couple to make friends with their child…You need to take note,” Emerson said. “There’s always that guy. If it’s done over the top you’ve got to take note of that.”

Emerson further described the groomer as someone who “appears helpful, trustworthy, and kind. He’s already picked out the child at your church. He knows what the targeted child wants or needs. He is skilled at age-specific communication.”

Groomers often target children who are:

  • unconnected, on the fringe, or in need;
  • seeking someone to follow or trust;
  • from a broken family or single-parent home, or seeking a father figure; or
  • already involved with alcohol or drugs, or pornography.

According to Emerson, a groomer will seek to introduce nudity and sexual touch into the relationship. He’ll do this through barrier testing and erosion, such as taking a child or youth home by himself after an event. Sexual discussion and joking will seep into conversations. Playful touch and “accidental nudity” might be introduced. He will create a culture where nudity and sex is acceptable or cool, including sharing magazines and movies.

Once he has succeeded in abusing his victim, the groomer will work to keep the victim silent through shame, embarrassment, and threats.

Create safer policies and procedures
Emerson and Lucas urged churches to have child protection policies in place, including a purpose statement and clear definition of terms. “When you say child, youth, adult, staff, volunteer, approved worker, who are you talking about?” asked Lucas. “What do we mean when we say ‘child’? Is an adult someone age 21 and above?”

The next step is to define what it means to be an approved worker. This entails an application, background check, reference check, and safety training. “MinistrySafe is the best one we have found,” Lucas said, referencing the national organization dedicated to equipping churches in the area of preventing sexual abuse and ministering to victims.

A group tasked with studying abuse in Southern Baptist churches released in June a free 12-session video curriculum for churches. “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” is available at churchcares.com.

There are some policy points that must be mandatory for churches, Emerson and Lucas said. For example, a two-adult rule protects children and the church, while also shielding workers in the room from a false accusation. If at all possible, do not put spouses together, the trainers advised. They also encouraged:

  • a minimum 6-month attendance rule for all workers;
  • approved-worker status;
  • clear sight lines into each classroom; and
  • check-in and release procedures.

If abuse has occurred, it’s important that churches offer professional counseling for those who are suffering, Lucas said. “In the life of a victim, something is really wrong and we as a church need to love that victim. We need to show them we care and want to protect them.”

For more resources on preventing sexual abuse in your church and caring well for survivors of abuse, go to IBSA.org/protect.