Serving as a pastor carries with it the responsibility of being a shepherd. Shepherds in the Old Testament not only cared for their sheep, but they protected them. We have often understood our protecting role as shepherds to address our spiritual enemy—the devil—and rightly so. We have no more vicious enemy than he, and it is our job as spiritual leaders to protect, shepherd, and stand in the strength of our Lord for our churches.
But I think there’s another application we can make of the role of pastors as shepherds in today’s leadership context. Much has been in the news about security concerns at churches—an armed man arrested at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis on Easter Sunday, an Ohio pastor shot by his brother at church, and last year’s terrifying church shooting in Charleston, SC. I also realize that this issue is fraught with theological concerns and differences of opinion regarding the rights of Christians to defend themselves. Between Jerry Falwell, Jr., John Piper, and these compiled views offered from Tim Challies, this issue is full of tension. And these are only a sampling of the viewpoints.
As pastors and church leaders, I believe we will answer to our congregations and to God for whether or not we are duly diligent in protecting the children and congregants who attend our churches. It may be unlikely that your church will have an active shooter, but doesn’t mean you should stick your head in the sand. Here are several questions that influenced my thoughts on this subject.
- How likely is it that a child in your nursery might be in the middle of a domestic dispute?
- Is it possible someone controlled by drugs or alcohol would see your church as a place to express their anger?
- Do you know what would happen if a member of your church had a medical emergency in the middle of a worship service?
- What would you do if a weather related emergency required congregants to evacuate?
These are just a few of the questions that a security protocol can assist you in answering.
Churches can be safe places for any sinner without being “soft” targets. I believe that we ought not allow our fears to overwhelm our faith in God’s protection. With that noted, it is not fear but wisdom that would have us be prepared should someone with ill-fated motives arrive at your church. Following are some suggestions for getting the security conversation/process started at your church.
- If you pastor a church (especially in the South), you need to know that you likely have individuals at your church with concealed weapons. You should know your state laws regarding weapons on church property. Developing security protocol will help clarify your church’s position on this issue. As the church’s leader, you’re responsible for what someone in your church does to handle a situation that may arise. As a result, we should think through these issues rather than hope that nothing ever happens.
- Develop a security team. If possible recruit people to this team with medical, law enforcement, or emergency background. Security teams can help churches answer a host of questions regarding much more than safety—health emergencies, evacuation plans in case of weather related emergency, etc. Information about developing security teams is readily available from a number of sources.
- If your church is willing and able, employ off-duty police officers as Sunday morning security. This provides the appearance of security, keeps your church from being a “soft” target, and creates a sense of professionalism and authority that lends confidence to your congregants. Regarding observation #2, if you employ a police officer, you may alleviate the need for someone with a gun to handle a potential situation. If unable to employ an officer, get to know local law enforcement and see if they can offer suggestions to you and your church regarding security.
- Vet your volunteers in nursery, children, and student areas with background checks and waiting periods before allowing them to serve in these areas. Along these lines, create check in and check out systems for the safety of the children at your church.
- Communicate any changes, thoughts, and ideas regarding added security early, often, and well. Develop these protocols and plans alongside church staff, elders, deacons, trustees, or volunteers. Get their feedback and assistance with implementing any changes, and give them opportunities to help develop and then own the security processes at your church.
I don’t believe that worship and security are mutually exclusive. In fact, creating a sense of safety (for parents with their children on your campus) and a sense of security for all congregants can actually enhance worship. It says to our congregation that we care about them and allows us all to focus on why we are there—the worship of our Savior and declaration of his gospel.