Thankfully, there was not a precipitating incident. But when Jase Waller learned training from MinistrySafe was offered by Texas Baptists, he jumped at the opportunity.
Telephone Baptist, which Waller pastors, serves as a community hub in rural Fannin County in North Texas. It is both a vibrant gathering place and a place of refuge for students who are part of the Sam Rayburn Independent School District. As many as 80 children from first grade through high school attend activities every Wednesday night.
“I believe at times the church is probably one of the safer places for the kids,” Waller says – but because he wants to make sure of that, he instituted mandatory background checks of all student workers. Each worker also goes through regular MinistrySafe training.
“Whenever we first started it there was a little hesitancy, but we have folks from (ages) 20 to 80 who have participated,” Waller says. “It’s been interesting to see the different reactions. In the end, they understand the importance for it.”
Texas Baptists have partnered with MinistrySafe for several years to provide free and discounted resources to churches that include awareness and education on the topic of sexual abuse prevention. According to Katie Swafford, director of counseling services for Texas Baptists, the effort grew out of conversations in 2015, with a resolve to be proactive in helping churches prevent sexual abuse.
“Providing education and awareness is so much better than having someone contact us after the fact,” Swafford says. “So we focused our efforts on trying to make sure they had as much information as possible.”
That effort includes monthly online webinars on such topics as sexual abuse awareness training, skillful screening, monitoring and oversight, policies and procedures, background checks, sexual harassment training for ministry supervisors and more. Texas Baptists and MinistrySafe also collaborate to offer a free 90-minute online training and certification quiz, to help equip staff members and volunteers to better understand the risk of child sexual abuse. There’s also a discount for Texas Baptists affiliated churches for the first year of MinistrySafe membership.
Greg Love, co-founder of Fort Worth-based MinistrySafe, likens the training to “reverse engineering.” His firm hears regularly from and works with churches and other organizations in crisis. The goal is prevention.
“This problem is solved at the church level,” Love says. “Not in Dallas. It’s not solved in Nashville, either. It’s solved at the church level. So the BGCT, like us, is asking the question: ‘How do we move the needle?’ And what we believe shapes what we do. So we provide training.”
On a recent spring morning, he and Swafford collaborate in a live webinar. As ministry leaders from across the state tune in, Love provides Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, the first of MinistrySafe’s five-part safety system. The training allows individuals certification per Texas Camping guidelines.
Swafford says her hope is “to prevent this very tragic situation from happening to one other person.”
“We can’t force churches to do that. But we can certainly provide the education and information so that they can take that and do something with it,” Swafford says. “And if that ultimately will save a child from having this terrible experience, that’s really the goal.”
As the webinar concludes, Swafford informs participants of the network of trauma-informed counselors across Texas affiliated with Texas Baptists and encourages them to email her at Katie.Swafford[at]txb.org for help or with questions.
“As you have listened to this presentation and this conversation today, I hope that you have not had this experience,” she says. “But I know statistically that there are likely some, either watching or maybe in your circle, that have had this experience. So if I and we as Texas Baptists can help to serve you in that way, please contact me. I would be glad to help you, and/or anyone that you’re working with, to start on that first step on the path toward healing.”
Other upcoming webinar topics include:
Other free online offerings from Texas Baptists and MinistrySafe include Church Safety Workshop “Lite,” a two-hour presentation on “the effective parts of a Safety System,” and Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, a 90-minute presentation is designed to equip leaders and workers “to better understand the risk of child sexual abuse.”
Both trainings, links to register for webinars, and more, can be accessed at txb.org/ministrysafe. Those registered for live webinars will also be provided with access to a recording of the broadcasts.
Waller says for churches like Telephone Baptist, the resources are invaluable. Once the church began offering (and requiring) MinistrySafe training, he saw “eyes open.”
“You talk about it and you know there’s issues, but until someone said, ‘Check this out,’ … Honestly you hope you never see anything like it or you never have to fall back on that training, but if you’re not aware of something before it happens, then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
“If we don’t share the salvation story and then say, ‘I’m not aware of it,’ it’s not an excuse. I think this is kind of the same thing.”
Similarly, when Mike Bryant arrived to begin a new season of ministry as family pastor of First Baptist Dalhart, he knew he wanted to equip those involved in children’s and student ministries.
“We didn’t really have any kind of program or training,” Bryant says. “As is typical for a lot of churches that haven’t really thought through these things, it’s just a background check and good to go. But we felt like we need to do something (more) in the world we live in. We can’t keep assuming. … To my knowledge, we haven’t had any of those issues in the past. The flip side of that is, if my church has a predator, I don’t want that to go unnoticed. I want to know.”
It’s why on a Sunday night last fall, First Dalhart’s leaders and volunteers went through MinistrySafe’s Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, designed to help understand and reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.
“We want to keep an eye out all the time,” Bryant says. “There’s story after story after story.”
Bryant says the partnership between Texas Baptists and MinistrySafe has made it possible for First Dalhart to participate.
“It is absolutely incredible,” he says. “I think for a lot of churches now, the cost factor could prohibit the church from even considering it. But in the world we live in now, the ability to take advantage of (MinistrySafe training), it’s really helpful, especially for those smaller churches. For Texas Baptists to be offering that the way they are, I think is invaluable.”
Both Waller and Bryant encourage churches to access the available resources. And while Love says he’s encouraged by participation from Texas Baptists churches, he knows there is much more work to be done.
“Some churches are way in the back side of the starting line, and they really need to lace up and get in this race,” Love says. “But I would encourage every Baptist church to do the next right thing. Take another step forward. Whether that’s additional training … or tightening up your policies and procedures or focusing on survivor wellness. Don’t ever stop addressing sexual abuse or think, ‘I’m done on that, now I can focus on something else.’
“This is a dynamic issue. And we’re supposed to be the balm. And we can’t be that unless we’re continuing to move forward. And I’m excited that Texas Baptists are just relentless about teeing up new opportunities to do the next right thing.”
To learn more about child sexual abuse prevention and to access resources and trainings, visit txb.org/ministrysafe.
Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.
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