Over 30 years ago, a friend of mine told me the story of his pastor. He was in his study when an unknown man entered with a gun and shot him several times. The pastor recovered, fortunately. Why did this man shoot him? He was deranged. That’s all.
Then, today, I read a story about a pastor of a mega church, slain while in the church building. The killer drove his car into the side of the building, and then chased the pastor and beat him to death.
Now, I am a pastor myself. From time to time, I have wondered what I would do if someone “deranged” came looking for me with a gun. Bullet proof vest? Self-defense course? Should I be packing?
Unfortunately, killers don’t target only pastors. Sometimes “deranged” people come into church services and begin shooting anyone they can. I have often imagined what I would do if that happened while I was preaching. Would I run down from the front and rush the guy? Or would I use the advantage of the microphone to instruct the congregation, “everybody down!”? Or would I jump and roll out of the way, like James Bond, and flank the shooter?
In reality, in such a dangerous situation, the last thing I could count on is my own mad James Bond skills. Pre-planning is better. At the church I pastor, we have given some thought to the issue of safety and security.
The following reflections are based on my experience and might act as a starting point for churches just beginning to wrestle with the issue of keeping the church safe from physical harm:
1. Begin with the children
The “deranged” man who comes into a church building to kill people is a rare event indeed. We hear about the cases because they are unique, sensational. The more likely scenario is that child predators, or even estranged parents, see the church as a place where their prey is most vulnerable.
We must implement sound safety policies when dealing with children.
Some church members become very angry at the thought of things like back ground checks for all workers, a strict routine for checking children in or picking them up, policy regarding being alone with children, etc. Good Christians become defensive: “What are you saying about me? That you don’t trust me?”
Nevertheless, a church, no matter what size, that does not build safety policies into their children’s programs leaves the little ones at risk. There are many resources for those who want to learn how to build a safe system for children’s ministry. Again, no matter the size of the church, we must implement thorough safety policies for our child workers. If we do not work to protect children, we are fools indeed.
2. Form a voluntary security team
At the church I pastor currently, there is a team of people whose job it is to be in the building first and last, unlock all doors, check all rooms, and look for people who seem to be “in the wrong places at the wrong times.”
If someone is wandering around near the classrooms while the service is going on, a friendly person from this team will offer assistance and move them along. The security team also sees to it that nothing is out of place before, during, or after church services. Looking for orderliness is the main goal. When someone or something is out of place, the security team has the job of noticing. These people are also trained on what to do if there is trouble.
This team must not be a “welcome” team or a “hospitality” team. If they are tasked with welcoming the people, they may easily get distracted from their job. Also, if a hospitality team is told, “Just keep an eye on things and make sure nothing is out of place,” this will not suffice either. People don’t ordinarily expect trouble; A security team is looking for trouble.
3. Have men responsible to deal with disturbances during services
A deacon or two, or perhaps an elder or trustee can be appointed to each service to help maintain order. It is not unusual in many churches for people to come in from time to time and create a commotion. It can be family in an argument, or an unruly “visitor” who comes in high, or drunk, or just to cause trouble. Someone who is not the preaching pastor must be the first line of defense in this situation, coming along side the person and asking him to leave the service and discuss the problems out in the hall, etc.
4. Call the Police at first sign of trouble
Sometimes Christians can be too “nice.” If someone is causing trouble and won’t desist, or if someone is acting suspiciously and won’t leave, we might be afraid to call the police because we think it is not Christ-like. However, God appointed human government to help us keep order and a peaceful environment. Christians should not hesitate calling police when it seems the situation is beyond our ability to handle.
5. Deal with Conflict when it comes
Violent people with grudges and potentially “deranged” people often come to the church in a more peaceful and normal context first. Although, we should never seek to stir up conflict, we must deal with it when it comes. If there are people angry at the church or leaders of the church or members of the church, we should be diligent to pursue those people and seek to resolve the conflicts as much as it is in our power.
Resolving conflict is tedious and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, as Paul said, “as far as it depends on us, we must seek to be at peace with all men.”
6. Trust in God’s Sovereignty
Jesus says that He sends us out as “sheep in the midst of wolves.” There is no doubt that we live in a world that is at war with our God. Satan and the forces of evil are real. We must not be surprised to know that people motivated by sin or evil might seek to harm us. But we are not to fear.
God knows all of our days. We are under His care. No one can hurt us apart from His permission. We are immortal until He decides it is time for us to go home.
7. When bad things happen, put those events in a their proper context
People do evil one to another. As Pastors, we must prepare our congregations with the knowledge that this world is fallen and evil happens --but that Jesus has overcome the world. God’s flock should never be surprised by evil, even when it comes into the normally safe world of the family of God.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
These suggestions reflect my own experience. I am certain many others have great advice and expertise on this subject that outdistances my own. I look forward to hearing from you.