Preparing for physical threats is very much on the minds of church security experts these days, and rightly so. We want to avoid being another story on the news describing the incredible loss of life and innocence. But are we paying enough attention to the emotional and spiritual safety of our flocks and our communities? Are we leading our flocks like shepherds?
As our society seems to be tolerating crime at levels we never did before, churches have to become increasingly vigilant. People in our communities and our own sanctuaries are hurting in ways we don’t like to talk about. Everywhere we go, whether to church, our child’s school, a store, or a restaurant – we see people who are dealing with spiritual bruises and emotional scars. We are called to tend to those bruises and scars. The truth is that we don’t always answer that call. That was a problem for the people of Israel, too.
Ezekiel 34:1-6, in the Contemporary English Version says this:
The Lord God said:
“Ezekiel, son of man, Israel’s leaders are like shepherds taking care of my sheep, the people of Israel. But I want you to condemn these leaders and tell them: I, the Lord God, say you shepherds of Israel are doomed! You take care of yourselves while ignoring my sheep.
You drink their milk and use their wool to make your clothes. Then you butcher the best ones for food. But you don’t take care of the flock! You have never protected the weak ones or healed the sick ones or bandaged those that get hurt. You let them wander off and never look for those that get lost. You are cruel and mean to my sheep. They strayed in every direction, and because there was no shepherd to watch them, they were attacked and eaten by wild animals. So my sheep were scattered across the earth. They roamed on hills and mountains, without anyone even bothering to look for them.”
Ouch! The Old Testament Prophets’ words don’t tell us what we want to hear – they tell us what we need to hear. We can all do better caring for the sheep God has called us to shepherd. We want to protect them and gather any who were scattered because we didn’t make them feel safe. What will take your safety level to the next level is all about changing your mindset.
If you are ready to learn to be a shepherd, you’re in great company. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and the prophet Amos were all shepherds. Genesis chapter 29 shows Rachel as a shepherd. Exodus chapter 2 describes Zipporah working alongside Moses as a shepherd. That same chapter talks about the daughters of Jethro being shepherds. Jesus, of course, calls himself the good shepherd in the Gospel of John. We often hear about following His example as a servant leader, but I want us to look at His role as a shepherd leader.
Read 1 Peter 5:1-4 carefully, and consider that Peter is referencing mature believers in his use of the word “elder”. He is exhorting anyone in a role of leadership to tend to and protect the sheep of the flock. These flocks are Jesus’s, not ours. If His flock under our care is suffering, we have a problem. Our job is threefold; to look around us for threats to our flock, to take care of the needs of the flock, and to actively search for the ones who have wandered away from the flock.
It’s not a quick or easy fix, but here are a few quick and easy ways to make an immediate impact on not only physical safety at your church but the emotional and spiritual safety of your flock as well.
● Check any windows that are close to the floor to see if they are made of tempered glass. You don’t want a trip and fall or roughhousing kids to create a really bad accident.
● Put notepads, pens, and a locked box to slip notes into in restrooms. Abuse victims are more likely to reach out if they can do it without alerting their abuser.
● Have a designated person (and a backup for when the DP is away) responsible for calling 911 in case of an emergency. Too many times no one calls because they assume someone else did.
● Develop a list of partners you can refer people to for help you aren’t equipped to give. Churches can’t be all things to all people so be sure you can give the names of trauma counselors, shelters, victim advocates, nonprofits that provide transitional housing, and attorneys who provide pro bono services, and more.
● Be willing to listen to and investigate accounts of victimization from within. Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:15 that we would face wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s possible that not all of your sheep are actually sheep.
● Create a written policy manual to address common issues regarding physical, emotional, and spiritual safety issues. That way when something happens, people already know how they are expected to manage it. Include the name of who they should escalate an issue if it isn’t covered in the manual.
These are low to no cost ways to enhance security at your church immediately. There are so many more things that we can do, not for ourselves, but for the sheep God has placed in our sheepfold. When we lead like a shepherd, we prioritize the well-being and growth of our flock above all else. We check for threats to our flock. We care for the needs of the flock. We actively search for the ones who have wandered away. When we lead like a shepherd, the church will become a true sanctuary that enhances the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of everyone with whom we cross paths.
If you want to know more about enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of your flock, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my pleasure to serve you.
About the author
Lori is a licensed private investigator who hosts the award-winning podcast The Unlovely Truth, where she shares true crime stories in order to draw out safety and spiritual takeaways. As a member of her church’s security team and a former church staff member, she knows where to find hidden safety issues and what to do about them. That’s why she developed a unique safety training for churches called “Reclaiming Sanctuary: Enhancing Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Safety in our Churches.”