In our church tradition the spiritual leaders of a church are typically called pastors. Pastor is a very appropriate word to describe not only the spiritual leader in church along with the spiritual leaders of a family. The word pastor for those unaware is actually a Latin word that means a sheep herder that leads his sheep to pasture but far before the Latin term was coined Jesus himself compared church leaders to shepherds. The shepherd analogy for spiritual leaders means many things but I think one of the primary meanings behind the metaphor is often forgotten. Shepherds were chiefly responsible to keep their vulnerable flock safe even at risk of their own peril and so likewise spiritual leaders protect those in their charge. For those who shepherd children, protection is one of the most pivotal ways we act as their pastors and we must do everything it takes to ensure children are safe.
By best government estimates at least 20% of the US population has been or will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. This statistic should shake us to our very bones. Sexual abuse happens every day and Christian kids are certainly not exempt from this danger as even one of the most Gospel centered churches in our state was recently rocked with allegations of child abuse and endangerment. We do a disservice not only to our children but to our communities when we pretend this is not a Christian concern. God created our children and He cares for their safety and well being far greater than anyone else possibly could. Both parents and church leaders as shepherds over children are called to go to great lengths to ensure children are not only loved but safe. This is a theological issue, churches and parents that are willfully ignorant of the dangers children face demonstrate ignorance about the God who loved children enough to wrap them in His arms.
Church leaders shepherd the children in their congregation and in their care when they ensure children are safe and protected from dangers every second they are in their care. Child safety measures in churches sometimes come across as an inconvenience or as unduly rigid, but churches that shepherd children well will be willing to receive such labels. Much has been written both by Christian and secular leaders about the various protocols churches should require to keep children safe but here is not the place to flesh those out. The reality is many church policies pertaining to child safety will be entirely dependent upon such particular situations as the church’s layout and even the service structure. No two churches should have the same child protection policies but every church should nonetheless take seriously their child protection policy. If we shepherd children in our care well children will be intentionally shielded from any situation where they could be abused and we will guard their safety as vigorously as we guard their theology. Keeping kids safe will inevitably be an inconvenience and may even involve reallocation of church revenue but if we know children are created in the image of God we will see the inconvenience as worthwhile and the expenses as vital ministry.
I often say parents are the primary pastors of their children and such is certainly the case with this call to protect children. Too many parents have a laze faire attitude towards their child’s safety even while taking great measures to disciple them in the faith. Parents shepherd their children well by being careful about who has access to their children and educating their own children about their God given rights to guard their bodies and say no to any kind of physical touch. Explaining boundaries to children and ensuring those boundaries are upheld is part and parcel to shepherding our own children.
It is a great blessing when we can claim children as part of our flock but with it comes the responsibility of protecting these vulnerable little ones that God has put in our care. If we understand being spiritual leaders is acting as a shepherd we must make every effort to ensure our families and our churches make every effort to be safe places for children.