Jesus placed a high value on the protection of children (Matthew 18:1-7), and churches today must do the same. That is why the North American Division requires all volunteers who work with children and youth, as well as pastors, elders, deacons, deaconesses, and other ministry leaders to participate in the education and background check program provided by Verified Volunteers. We want our churches to be safe places for children and youth, and so we vet our leaders and provide them with the tools they will need to appropriately interact with children and youth, and to be eyes and ears for their safety in the life of the church.
Most of our church members understand the times in which we live and the importance of the education and vetting process provided by Verified Volunteers. At the same time, there will be the inevitable pushback by a few members. So how do you deal with that pushback?
We suggest that you engage in a one-on-one conversation with the individual to (1) Identify the reason for their pushback, (2) Look for ways to resolve their difficulty, and (3) Affirm the value of the education and background checks program the church provides. Hopefully this will take care of things, but should they still refuse to participate, (4) Accept their resignation from all church leadership roles that require participation in the Verified Volunteers program, (5) Help them find new ministry opportunities in the church that do not require participation in Verified Volunteers, and (6) Affirm their on-going value in the church family.
Here are notes from a recent, real life conversation with an individual who was unwilling to participate in the Verified Volunteers program. The names have been changed—
Dear Pastor Ed,
I just spent 15 plus minutes on the phone with Sam Johnson. I told him I was calling about his concerns related to Verified Volunteers and that I wanted to understand his point of view.
Throughout the conversation, he remained resolute in his intention not to participate. The following captures salient points of our dialogue.
He expressed feelings like these: I do not feel that “all” the people need to have this. I do not want to sign anything. I do not want to submit to a background check. I think this is wrong and a waste of time. My wife feels as I do. If leadership feels this is necessary, we will resign our positions as deacon and greeter, and as a deaconess.
I tried to explain the educational component, the desire to protect vulnerable children and elderly. I explained that events that had taken place in other Adventist institutions had hurt children and the church. That we did not want to have a situation similar to the Catholic Church where priests molesting boys had not only occurred, but been covered up. He stated that he watches the news. With his life experience he does not feel that he needs any further education.
He is concerned that this leads to suspicion within our church and makes our church an unwelcoming place for new members.
I told him that continuing in his ministry with our Community Lunch Counter, or choosing to volunteer with Community Services, or to help with our physical plant projects would not require his participation in Verified Volunteers.
I told him that we did not wish to drive him away from church or to coerce him into doing something against his conviction. I said that the elders wanted to support the request from the conference to have our leaders participate in this process.
I told him we would honor his desire and accept his resignation from his positions as a greeter and deacon, and Sue’s resignation as deaconess.
Ed, please notify the head deacon and deaconess, as well as the head greeter of these decisions.
In Christ, Tim
The purpose in this entire process is to balance the non-negotiable requirements our church has for its leaders, children’s ministries leaders, and youth leaders along with a grace for those who, for whatever reason, find themselves unable to participate in the Verified Volunteers program. Ultimately, we want our churches to be safe places for everyone grow together.
Tim Jansen and Ed Parker are pseudonyms. They serve as an elder and pastor within a local NAD church