By / Nov 20

Much of Europe, and in particular, Germany, is now what is commonly referred to as post-Christian. This means that Christianity is no longer the majority or predominant religion within a given culture. And the Church across Europe is losing members at an alarming rate. 

In Germany, the statistics for secularization are bleak

  • Since 1950, when Pew Research Center started tracking that data, the percentage of the population that once self-identified as Protestant has gone from 59% to 30%, a 49% decrease.
  • Catholics, once representing 37% of the population, now account for roughly 30%, a 19% decrease over the past 70 years.
  • Most disconcerting is that the religiously unaffiliated—or religious nones, as they are commonly called—rose from 4% of the population to 29%, a 625% gain. 

Though these trends are most pronounced in Germany, other countries are experiencing similar phenomena. For example, Poland, though a very different country religiously than Germany, is experiencing seismic shifts among its citizens, alluding to an incoming wave of post-Christian culture. One set of researchers found that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s participation in religious practices has reduced by threefold. Further, based on the conclusion of their research, 57% of Polish people no longer attend church after COVID-19, up 147% since 2020. 

When I was training across the Polish countryside, I asked an individual why there were fewer people attending in his country church now. His answer: As Poland’s current political party rose to power, they intertwined themselves with the church in Poland, and now the church too closely resembles the current political state. Though anecdotal, I believe my new friend might have put his finger on that which afflicts much of Europe, and increasingly, the United States; the Church has become something the Church is not meant to be. Rather than seek reform of a Church that has confused political power with the actual power of the gospel, hordes of people are walking away from the faith.

3 ways Christians can respond 

It can be difficult to offer a practical solution to a situation that requires nothing short of prayerful revival and reformation. To only compound the problem, most of us are thousands of miles away from Europe. However, there are three practical ways Christians can address a post-Christian Europe, followed by a turn toward addressing the post-Christianization of America. 

1. Support the IMB 

The International Mission Board (IMB) strategically places and supports missionaries across the world in order to share the gospel and work to plant healthy and gospel-focused churches in spiritually dry communities. Support for the IMB takes multiple shapes, two of which are prayer and money. By using the prayer resources the IMB provides, leading yourself, your family, community group, or church through the materials can be a great way to partner with missionaries across the globe. 

When you tithe to your local Southern Baptist church, a portion of those tithes go directly to supporting the work of the IMB through the Cooperative Program. Additionally, initiatives such as the Lottie Moon Offering raise direct and concentrated support for missionaries spreading the gospel among the nations. 

2. Faithfully participate in the life of your local church 

Participating fully in the life of the local church is one the best ways to maintain the health of a church within a community. Not only are Christians commanded to participate in a church community (Heb. 10:24-25), but doing so gives Christians opportunities for gospel-centered work through engaging in local contexts.

3. Maintain an awareness of when the Church has assumed too much of culture 

Writing about the role of missions and evangelism, one theologian argues, “the most creative social strategy we have to offer is the church. Here we show the world a manner of life the world can never achieve through social coercion or governmental action. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely, a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.” 

Yet, we too often forsake the distinctiveness of the gospel and the nature of the Church for the comfort and misnomer of relevance. By maintaining the call for a Christian distinctive, the Church is allowed to function as it should: an outpost of the Kingdom of God and a place where the divine economy is sustained by the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).

Maintaining this awareness is easier said than done. It requires regular consumption of Scripture, both in personal and communal settings, personal and communal prayer, sustenance by the Spirit, and an outflow of the fruit of the Spirit. There is no clear formula for how this should be achieved, but it should be done under the leadership of a local church pastor. 

Germany is not an outlier of where modern culture is headed; the data gathered by researchers of religion bears that out. The Christian Church is not to respond in fear and attempt to preserve its power, but it is to respond in love and graciousness, recommitting herself to the tenets of Christ’s teaching and the truth of his crucifixion and resurrection. By supporting our missionaries, participating in the local church, and allowing the Church to be the Church, the Church will still be a strong, faithful witness of the triumphal and resurrected Christ.  

By / Nov 15

SOMERSET, Ky. (KT) – The theme of the 2023 Kentucky Pastors’ Conference was “Contend: The unchanging gospel for an everchanging world.” Speakers were tasked to discuss the cultural issues facing the church from a biblical perspective.

The president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission addressed politics, identity and the Christian’s true allegiance. 

“In so many communities across our country we are falling short of discipling our people how to think politically in ways that are informed by Scripture,” Leatherwood said.

He noted that partisan identity can take command and drive the lives of many believers, overruling their spiritual identity in Christ.

“I submit that this, in short, is idolatry,” Leatherwood said, because the heart of the Christian faith is the declaration that Jesus is Lord.

“This simple statement is incredibly political because when it was written, to say (it) meant that Caesar is not,” he added. “Saying Jesus is Lord today means that the Democratic or Republican party is not. Saying Jesus is Lord today means that Andy Beshear is not. Saying Jesus is Lord today means that Mitch McConnell is not. Saying Jesus is lord today means that Joe Biden is note. Saying that Jesus is lord today means that Donald Trump is not.”

When Christians confess this truth and conduct their lives in accordance with the gospel, they will find themselves in opposition to partisan dogmas.

And we can do that because our identity is not found primarily in who we voted for, but in who we believe will reign at the end of the age and that actually frees us up…to be the best citizens we can be…because our first allegiance…is to the principles of truth, goodness and justice as exemplified in the life of Christ and commanded in Scripture.

Brent Leatherwood

Leatherwood added that political priorities for the Christian, whether pastor or lay member, are shaped by Scripture. He noted 1 Peter 2 as a practical example.

“Part of what it means to declare Jesus is Lord is to care about the things our Lord cares about…go about politics in a way that is right and honoring to him.”

Ultimately, believers are to be a people who know where the true power lies, Leatherwood said: “In a gospel that transforms the heart and changes lives, spreading from individual to individual through the work of the Holy Spirit, and in that work, we know that the Lord’s arm, indeed, is not too short.”

Read the Kentucky Today full article here.

By / Nov 6

American Christians can often take for granted the rights of conscience secured for us in our constitutional order, but the rise of religious liberty was not a historical inevitability. Religious liberty was and remains a contested idea. Indeed, much of Western civilization’s history revealed a hostility toward freedom of conscience. 

Religious establishmentarianism as a mechanism of civil unity

Constantine unified the Christian church and the Roman empire in 325, and in 381, Theodosius began wielding the sword against heretics. Thus, in the span of a few decades, Christianity went from being a persecuted religious sect to the primary mechanism of unification within a vast empire. Throughout the subsequent centuries, European emperors and kings equated unity in the things of God as not merely a theological imperative for the Church, but a political necessity—and one they were willing to uphold by the use of civil punishment. 

For the next 1,300 years, that worldview dominated Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, establishmentarianism enforced at the point of the sword continued to hold its place as a pillar in both Catholic and Protestant political theology. In fact, civilly mandated religious establishment was arguably exacerbated and strengthened by the realities of the Reformation. Religious and denominational proliferation of the 1500s and 1600s culminated in cataclysmic religious wars that left millions of Europeans dead. The English Civil War—a conflict that erupted in large part because of religion—spanned much of the 1640s and killed a higher percentage of the British population than World War I and World War II. 

Despite these calamities, devotion to religious establishment precipitated, remaining both a theological conviction and a political requirement. Theologically, establishmentarianism created civil conditions conducive to orthodoxy and right belief. The civil magistrate functioned as a typological fulfillment of Isaiah 49:23, wherein “Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers.” Politically, Europe’s leaders—like Theodosious in the fourth century—viewed religious establishment as the necessary precondition for civil unity. 

Again, to dismantle this vital pillar of European theology and political philosophy was not a foregone conclusion, nor was it a historical inevitability. Thus, how religious liberty emerged and displaced establishmentarianism was and remains a vital story to tell. 

The rise of religious liberty

The rise of religious liberty was complex, and it took centuries for it to topple the millennium of political theology that had married church and state together. To explain its necessity, theological arguments had to be made, and religious dissenters (especially Baptists) provided many of these doctrinal assertions and beliefs. The interest theory of liberty also materialized during the 1600s, which highlighted the political, social, and religious benefits of disestablishment.

Added to this was what one historian called the “lived politics of toleration.” In many jurisdictions where religious establishment existed throughout the early modern period, people grew weary of dragging their neighbors to court. Local officials simply refused to enforce establishment policies out of ambivalence, as well as a growing conviction that even the threat of execution did little to stem the enthusiasm of religious dissenters. 

A recent book by historian Mark Valeri has shed new and important light on the rise of religious liberty in the early modern period. “The Opening of the Protestant Mind: How Anglo-American Protestants Embraced Religious Liberty” analyzes the remarkable replacement of militant establishmentarianism with religious toleration and eventually religious liberty. 

Valeri explores how interaction with other religions steadily shifted the attitudes of Anglo-Protestants against religious establishment. Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, Britain’s borders expanded, and the realities of colonialism and empire building brought Anglo-Protestants in direct contact with Native Americans and Muslims. As Valeri notes, the introduction of religious others seemed to strengthen English resolve for religious uniformity. Yet, as England progressed through the early modern period, cultural shifts, war, and imperialism exerted tremendous political pressure amongst the people to alter their beliefs and convictions on issues of conscience. 

According to Valeri, important features of continuity and discontinuity emerged amongst Anglo-Protestants in the early modern period. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, political thinkers and leading ministers assigned legitimacy to a religion based upon that religion’s perceived benefit to England’s public order. These figures connected the welfare of the empire with religious conformity and the willingness of individuals to adhere to a distinctly Anglo-Protestant identity. Valeri notes that his thesis in no way precludes the importance of theological beliefs during this period of history. However, he gives special attention to the political realities and arguments made by many of England’s leading figures.

What changed over time was a growing tolerance toward religious differences, especially as the empire grew. The need for unity never diminished from the days of the Puritans to the times of Locke, Hume, and Smith. The change came in how England defined its identity and what thereby constituted unity. As Valeri argued, the 17th century began with a confessional unity in a specific theological creed rooted in Reformed doctrines; however, political realities and war exerted a strain upon that narrow conception of national confessionalism.

By the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, religious toleration expanded to capacious levels, introducing, “a new mandate to separate political legitimacy from religious creed and to vindicate a non-theological criterion—regard for liberty of conscience—as a rule by which to measure the public acceptability of different religions” (208). Thus, the story of how the Protestant mind opened to religious liberty included political circumstances and contingencies that, to a degree, forced Anglo-Protestants to reconsider the litmus test for how the empire defined the legitimacy of a religion. 

If anything lacked in Valeri’s narrative, it was a more careful consideration of how theological beliefs shifted over time. For example, what theological arguments were made that effectively dislodged a seemingly unwavering commitment to religious establishment amongst English religious leaders in the early to mid-1600s? 

Despite this, Christians, especially those committed to religious liberty, will benefit from Valeri’s work. He reminds us how complex issues of conscience have been throughout history and prompts us to consider how religious and theological conviction intersect with historical and political context, with both the political and the theological influencing each other. 

How religious liberty arose remains an important narrative for us to understand. Our ability to think wisely about present issues of conscience hinges upon our historical consciousness and recognition of what was and remains a contested idea.

By / Oct 26

In recent years, there has been a spike in mental health struggles among pastors and church leaders. Dr. Mark Dance, director of pastoral wellness for Guidestone Financial Resources, has long been involved behind the scenes in what is often an unseen health epidemic. In this interview, he discusses what he has witnessed through his work and sheds lights on why mental health matters for pastors.

Elizabeth Bristow: Have you witnessed a rise in pastors struggling with mental health issues? If so, what are some of the contributing factors?

Mark Dance: I was surprised when I started serving pastors with Guidestone to find out that mental health claims have gone up 40% in the last three years. That is tangible and empirical evidence. COVID exposed some issues everyone’s familiar with, but as pastors age out and retire, younger ministers and ministry spouses are much less reluctant to talk about mental health struggles and are more willing to receive help than their predecessors.

Mental health is a comprehensive part of who we are. We are called to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, so I’m encouraged, honestly, that more are getting help in this area. I’m also encouraged by organizations like the ERLC that will say, “Hey, we’re gonna talk about mental health,” because it’s important.

EB: How can a pastor’s family recognize his mental health struggle? What are some specific warning signs they should pay attention to?

MD: I can share from my own experience of pastoring for almost 30 years. Halfway through that season of pastoring churches, I found myself different and I didn’t understand why. I was in the middle of a historic relocation of a church in Arkansas, and the church was growing and thriving. But, I was avoiding people. I had lost a lot of weight. I could not make decisions. I could not sleep well, and my insomnia led to paranoia. And I did something very radical for a pastor. I asked for help. After trying self-diagnosis, I went to my family practitioner and was diagnosed with clinical depression. He told me this was a chemical issue, not a character issue. 

To answer your question, pastors have an “on button,” and we can hide things really well. I could turn that smile on, and as soon as people left, I could turn it back off and could hide from even the closest people in my life. Thankfully, my doctor and therapist led me to get the help I needed. 

The church should be a safe place to talk about mental health challenges. Pastors are often reluctant to get help because they’re helpers. Caregivers don’t like to be cared for. But it’s important to note that Paul told Timothy twice to take care of himself. The first time was in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” This is a very intimate father-son conversation.

In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 

Self-care is not selfish, it’s strategic. Paying attention to your life means that you’re going to care for yourself. And in doing so, you care for others. And if you don’t do so, neglecting yourself will eventually lead to neglecting others. It’s important to your family and to your ministry that you be as healthy as you can be, and that you let people who are proficient in their profession help you with yours.

EB: How can we do a better job of cultivating a church culture that’s more transparent about struggles? What keeps us from doing that? 

MD: I think what keeps us from doing it is pride. Pride is really what keeps me from getting help with anything. If my marriage is in trouble, what keeps me from getting help? Pride. If I’m financially upside down or just don’t know how to do something, which most pastors don’t, pride keeps us from asking for help. We get help with our physical challenges, so why not with mental health challenges? For mental health challenges in particular, remind yourself that there are people who will help you. And the biggest opportunity is there are more and more channels for help, because the stigma is blowing away.

The greatest commandment is to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. We would like to make four points out of that, as if one doesn’t affect the other. Heart and soul are used interchangeably all throughout the Old and New Testaments. These spiritual decisions that we’re making are holistic. So pastors, don’t just focus on your spiritual health. Make room in your events for other parts and components of discipleship other than the traditional ones. This is a stewardship and a discipleship issue. As we model that to others, they will see that it’s not just okay to talk about mental health, but it’s advantageous to better myself, my family, and my ministry.

EB: What encourages you most right now when it comes to mental health and the church?

MD: I’m encouraged that I get to write and speak in places I never would’ve guessed. I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s an eagerness to talk about this. These are things we avoided for so long—physical health, financial health, and mental health. Nobody wants to talk about that stuff because they aren’t fun things. And yet we all have friends who are no longer in the ministry. It’s not usually because of doctrinal issues. It’s usually because of life issues such as marriage and parenting. These things matter. So the appetite to talk about this has moved from reluctance to acceptance to eagerness.

By / Oct 25

Pastors bear a great number of burdens but are often expected to do so without having any burdens of their own. The truth is: pastors are struggling, especially with their mental health. While we should have anticipated such a reality due to the spiritual nature of their work and the pressures of ministry, Dr. Kristen Kansiewicz, a licensed mental health counselor and professor, has been shedding light on churches and mental health for years.

Kansiewicz received her Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Regent University and is an assistant professor at Evangel University. Her research interests include pastors’ mental health, stigma around mental illness in the church, barriers to treatment amongst evangelical Christians, and development of Christian-specific therapeutic interventions. She developed the Church Therapy model, bringing clinical mental health services into church settings, and has provided clinical counseling services in church settings since 2005.

Below, Kansiewicz answers questions about pastors, mental health, and how we can help them thrive.

Miles Mullin: Have the number of pastors suffering from mental health challenges increased? If so, why is that?

Kristen Kansiewicz: It’s a little hard to say if the mental health challenges have increased, but in short, it’s likely that the depression rates of pastors have increased since the pandemic. Earlier studies of Methodist pastors by Duke University in 2012-2018 showed that about 40% of pastors experienced mild or worse depression (about 12-14% moderate or higher). A study I conducted on Assemblies of God pastors in 2020 had nearly identical results. 

In data collected by myself and the research team through the Charis Institute at Regent University showed that 53% of Baptist pastors were experiencing mild or worse depression, with 17.5% at moderate or moderately-severe levels. When isolating just the question on suicidal thoughts, 9.6% of the Baptist pastors had at least “several days” of thoughts of harming themselves or wishing for death. It is unclear if there are differences between these groups of pastors, or if the depression rates are increasing. Regardless, many studies have demonstrated that pastors experience high rates of depression, stress, and burnout.

MM: Are there specific types of mental health challenges common among pastors? If so, what are they? 

KK: It’s well-established that pastors experience depression, occupational stress, and burnout in high rates. There are a variety of reasons for this, some unique to pastors and some that they share with other professions. Stressors like financial strain and a lack of social support contribute to depression and burnout. In addition, congregational demands, challenges in maintaining interpersonal relationships, and confusion about job roles also contribute to pastoral well-being.

MM: How many pastors are in danger of suffering from a mental health crisis or burnout?

KK: Estimates of how many pastors there are in the United States vary, but there are an estimated 350,000 Christian churches in the U.S. and as many as 600,000 clergy members. If 14-17% of them are experiencing moderate or worse depression, then 84,000 to 102,000 are actively struggling. Keep in mind that an additional 25-35% are experience mild symptoms of depression, which expands the problem even further. 

Additionally, burnout is an experience of chronic stress and adds to the layers of complexity about what pastors are dealing with and how many are struggling. In short, it’s a significant problem.

MM: Who is in danger of pastoral burnout? What factors contribute to it? 

KK: Solo pastors are at greater risk for negative mental health outcomes, along with those who have limited social support. In my study of AG pastors, one’s number of close friends was significantly linked to both well-being and help-seeking. Those pastors who had no close friends or only one close friend were worse off and less likely to see help when compared to those who had two, three, or four+ close friends. For each friend, the numbers increase (well-being goes up, as does willingness to seek help when needed). 

In addition, those who have greater financial strain have been shown in other Duke University studies to have worse mental health outcomes. Obviously, things like family genetics and predisposition to anxiety and depression are factors as well. Pastors need to pay attention to chronic stress and social support in order to prevent burnout and/or depression.

MM: Which pastors are most poised to be resilient? And why?

KK: When we think about the things that contribute to depression and burnout, we can use those to paint a picture of the resilient pastor. A pastor with three or more close friends, who is paid a sustainable wage, and who has congregational support is going to be more resilient than those without those factors. 

Additionally, maintaining positive spiritual disciplines that are personal (not just job-related spiritual duties), keeping a weekly Sabbath, connecting with deeper purpose in the work of ministry, and using positive religious coping (i.e., deriving strength and purpose from God rather than seeing him as disapproving or disappointed in you) are all ways that pastors can increase resilience.

MM: What are pastors willing to do to address their mental health needs? What are they not willing to do?

KK: Based on my sample of 874 Assemblies of God pastors, they indicated they were most willing to use Christian self-help books, an accountability partner, professional counseling, retreats, and personal Sabbaticals in order to work on their mental health. Surprisingly, more pastors were willing to rely on secular self-help books than psychiatric medication (like an anti-depressant). 

We need to do more to help pastors decrease stigma around the use of medication for mental health needs. Modern anti-depressants are not a “quick fix” or way out of dealing with the real issues. Rather, they address the physical chemistry of the brain that is off-balance when someone is experiencing symptoms of depression. Combined with professional counseling, it is the most effective strategy for treating these symptoms. 

MM: Practically, what can be done in order to help pastors have good mental health and resilience?

KK: Denominations and ministry networks can do more to encourage and promote social engagement for their pastors. Helping pastors identify and invest in three close friends might be the single most helpful intervention to decrease depression rates. Denominations can also create podcasts, articles, and trainings on the importance of self-care and destigmatize counseling and medication. Finally, churches/church boards can ensure that their pastors are paid an adequate wage, take a dedicated day off, and have options for Sabbatical every five to seven years. 

By / Oct 4

Racial diversity and racial unity are ongoing topics of discussion among Christians. But more than that, they ought to be realities that we prayerfully and fervently pursue within our churches and communities. This is especially true for urban churches in places like New York City, New York, where a large number of different people groups are concentrated in relatively small spaces. Ramny Perez, the lead pastor of Fordham Community Church, an urban church in New York City, talks below about the heart of racial unity and the blessing of a diverse and unified church.

Julie Masson: Some Christians be experiencing compassion or conversation fatigue as we talk about racial unity. Why do we keep talking about this issue?

Ramny Perez: First and foremost, we talk about racial unity because Christ has died and purchased a diverse Bride (Rev. 5:9). Secondly, we are to guard the unity of the Spirit in order to live a life worthy of the salvation we have received in Christ (Eph. 4). I believe that some have checked out of this conversation, in part, because of the callousness of heart that has set in. Others, particularly minorities, are just tired of trying to convince their fellow Christians that these are gospel issues. Personally, for our church, we want to build on what we see is biblically good and faithful and not concern ourselves with debating those who are uninterested in racial unity. 

Masson: Many of us think in terms of “black and white” when talking about racial unity. Should that be the case? 

Perez: It should not be the case. There is a unique and long history with the Black and white relationship in this country that cannot be ignored and needs to be discussed. Further, any leader desiring to shepherd a gospel-centered church in this country should have some familiarity with these issues and the surrounding conversations. But, it is not the only conversation that needs to be had. 

The country is more Latino than ever. The future of the American church lies not in black and white, but in the Latino church. Additionally, the conversation should be expanded because a lack of gospel-informed unity exists in a variety of backgrounds, not just Black and white.

Masson: What are some of the dynamics your urban church faces in New York City that make it harder or easier to pursue racial unity?

Perez: The Bronx is a borough made up of 1.5 million people, 91% of which are what most of the country would call minority groups. In addition, 30% are first-generation Americans and speak a different language at home. For our church, pursuing racial diversity and unity in the gospel is more than a black-and-white conversation. It includes many layers. Yet, there are shared experiences of living in an urban context that have given us a common-grace advantage. 

Masson: In your urban church plant, how have you seen a diverse neighborhood and church community shape gospel growth?

Perez: Our church, by God’s grace, has been able to reach and be composed of the diversity in our neighborhood. This has led us to focus on the proclamation of the gospel and the Word of God in a way that is not colorblind. 

Additionally, we have intentionally sought to cultivate a culture where being a part of our church means that you welcome and honor different cultures. We see this reflected in our music, the food we eat in fellowships, and the illustrations in our sermons.

Masson: How has your church changed demographics over the years?

Perez: We started our church with 11 people, the majority being Latino, some white, and others Asian. This correlated well with our neighborhood. Since the diversity in our church has grown, we now have Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Black, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Senegalese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Honduran, white, Bolivian, and more people groups reflected in our Sunday gathering. 

Masson: How do you shepherd your church to build relationships with people of different backgrounds for the sake of the gospel?

Perez: As leaders, we have sought to model this. I have learned over the years that the ability of leadership to multiculturally connect is the biggest indicator of whether a church will do this healthily. 

We have also emphasized the expository preaching of God’s Word, which creates a meal we can all gather and build relationships around. In addition, we encourage a Christ-centered identity that remains welcoming and lovingly curious of other cultures. For example, we often have food from different cultures in our members’ meetings, we sing songs that are diverse every week, and we encourage people to believe the best of each other. 

Masson: What is one piece of encouragement you would give another urban church planter who is seeking to build bridges with people of different backgrounds?

Perez: Church planters should learn to develop cultural agility. The ability to meaningfully relate to and connect with other cultures, without dishonoring others, is vital. This cultural agility will come out in preaching, interpersonal conversations, and leadership decisions. I’m convinced this is the necessary main ingredient that is often missing. 

By / Sep 20

To make our churches safe from abuse, we must be proactive. Developing policies and procedures ahead of time, training and educating staff and volunteers, as well as partnering with abuse experts will set your church up well to be a safe place for your community. It is up to the pastors and leaders of a church to lead this charge. Here are five essential action steps you can implement to begin protecting your church from predators and caring well for survivors of abuse.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psa. 10:14)

The five essentials to make your church safe from abuse

1. Train

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Prov. 2:11).

It is imperative that church leaders are aware and understand the scourge of sexual abuse that exists in our country, world, and even inside the Church. Statistics tell us 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (though many believe this is much higher) are sexually abused before they turn 18. Only a small percentage of these victims ever reveal their abuse. Church leaders must help our churches understand that the mission to prevent sexual abuse and our response to it is a clear and compelling gospel issue. It is not one we can ignore. We must face it head-on and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear because it may be difficult.  

Every church must train their members on how to prevent, identify, and respond to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse awareness training is a foundational component of onboarding new staff and volunteers who will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This reinforces a culture of zero tolerance. Church leaders must help dispel the idea that abuse can’t happen in our church, must not minimize it as a mistake, or must not think that doing a criminal background check is enough. Each church needs to be committed to an ongoing process of training and continually raising awareness of this issue. 

2. Screen

“Therefore, each of you must put away falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

In order to make your church safe from abuse, it is critical that each implement a thorough screening process for anyone that will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. A thorough process ensures that individuals are suitable and compatible with your church’s policies and procedures. Every potential staff member and volunteer should go through the same screening process. Statistics tell us over 90% of children who are abused know their perpetrator as someone who they trust. 

Relying only on background checks does not protect those in your ministry. While background checks must be done, churches need to gather more reliable information from several sources on applicants to determine their fitness for service. An in-depth screening process can drastically reduce the risk of abuse and increase safety for those in your church’s care. The six best practices for screening anyone wanting to serve with children, youth, and vulnerable adults are: 

  • implementing a six-month waiting period, 
  • a written application, 
  • requesting and checking references, 
  • an interview, 
  • a background check,
  • and a social media review. 

Below are some helpful resources that can assist you in developing your church’s screening process.

3. Protect

“Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet”  (Psa. 140:4).

Jesus calls us to minister to those who are oppressed (Isa. 58:6-7). Silence does not protect the Church or Christ’s name. One of the ways you can protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults is by having solid policies and procedures in place at your church. These protect those you are serving while also protecting those that serve them. Once developed, being intentional about following policies and procedures is imperative for the protection of everyone involved. 

If your church does have policies and procedures in place, now is a good time to review them, making sure they are current and being followed by staff and volunteers. Policies and procedures can only protect everyone if followed and adhered to. Policies should be: 

  • comprehensive,
  • written from a knowledge of how predators push boundaries and what their grooming patterns look like so that violations can be immediately reported and addressed,
  • accessible, 
  • tailored to your church, 
  • agreed to and trained by the staff and volunteers, 
  • and reviewed annually by your legal counsel and insurance companies for further input and guidance. 

Policies and procedures are the bookends to a solid prevention plan.  Proper screening and training coupled with solid policies and procedures that your staff and volunteers adhere to and abide by create a strong hedge of protection around those your church serves and those who serve them.

4. Report

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Every state has laws identifying those required to report child abuse. Even if you believe you are not legally required to report child abuse in your state, you are still encouraged to report suspected or known abuse. In all states and territories, any person is permitted to report child abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults. As followers of Jesus, we are charged with protecting the vulnerable, and reporting known or suspected abuse is part of that mandate. If you know or suspect a child or vulnerable adult has been abused, you should report this to civil authorities. A church should have a proper response plan for when abuse occurs, including:

  • informing the insurance company that insures the church,
  • removing the alleged abuser from all ministerial duties until the report is resolved, 
  • informing the church as appropriate, 
  • ministering to the victim and the alleged abuser, 
  • and not attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse internally.

Here are some helpful sites for reporting information: 

5. Care

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa. 147:3).

Church leaders are often called to the difficult and sensitive task of shepherding victims through the devastation of abuse. Abuse violates the dignity of our God-given image and disrupts our voice, sense of identity, and sense of trust and safety in relationships. The trauma of abuse can be a barrier to trusting God, trusting Scripture, and connecting to a church community. Our response in supporting survivors of sexual abuse has the opportunity to accurately reflect the mission and character of Jesus Christ. If we fail in this, we can grossly misrepresent our Savior, thus damaging and failing both survivors as well as abusers, and being a detraction to the gospel.  

Walking alongside survivors is a long, slow, necessary, and valuable commitment. It takes collaboration with a variety of community resources such as trauma-informed counselors, legal support, and victim advocates. To make your church safe from abuse, church leaders must become informed about the impact of abuse and how to find the necessary supportive resources to come alongside survivors, for the sake of the gospel.

NOTE: This article was adapted from, the website created by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This will be the future site of Ministry Check, which “will provide leaders with the ability to search for information about individuals who have been convicted, found liable, or confessed to abuse.” For future updates on the work of the ARITF, follow their website.

The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended to be legal advice. The Southern Baptist Convention encourages each church to consult with legal counsel when implementing local policies and practices.

By / Jun 12

I serve in a city with a rich heritage. It is the birthplace of Mardi Gras, the home of Hank Aaron, and a place known for seafood and Southern hospitality. With our rich history also comes painful wounds from the past. There are scars from the Jim Crow era in the hearts and minds of many, and lingering challenges from redlining (a type of housing discrimination practice). 

Yet, my hope and prayer is that my city will also be remembered for its legacy of racial reconciliation, as churches in our city chart a course for a better tomorrow.

In a previous article, I unpacked the reasons why I am committed to a racially reconciling church. Here, I am going to give some of the theological pillars supporting that commitment. 

My understanding of race starts with how the Bible defines the image of God and how it describes different people groups. I also see God’s heart for racial reconciliation demonstrated in his radical call of Jonah, through Jesus’ confrontation of racial prejudice, and his reconciling death. Peter and Paul both grappled with racial reconciliation, as well. They addressed it in how they taught the Church and planted churches. All of these scriptures have been instrumental in convincing me of God’s priority of racial reconciliation. 

The image of God and race

I believe the image of God in the Bible is defined by internal features, not external ones, especially regarding how we look. Humans alone were created with the capacity to have relationship with God (Acts 17:26-28; Rom. 1:19-22). The creation account focuses more on the purpose of the human race, rather than a description of race (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:7, 15-28).

Since all human beings have common ancestry, the human genome has always included diversity. When different people groups appear in the Bible, they are almost always categorized based upon their place of origin, heritage, experience, or culture, rather than the pigmentation of their skin. According to civil rights hero John Perkins, race is a modern concept that often can be too broad to accurately describe a person’s ethnic heritage.  

For example, at my church we have people from five different countries in South America. Although their complexions might be similar, their culture and heritage are very different. Years ago, when we considered having a celebration for Hispanic families in our church, we considered Cinco de Mayo, but our families graciously informed us that they did not celebrate that holiday because it was only significant to families with Mexican heritage. 

The image of God is what unites all people as part of the human race. What distinguishes a people group is a diverse integration of factors and experiences. If the Church is to live as one unified people of God, then understanding these distinctives is paramount.

Ethnic animosity and God’s salvation

The story of Jonah and the Ninevites is a clear indication of God’s commitment to saving people groups that were far from him. The Assyrians and the Jews had long-standing animosity. Jonah was God’s reluctant prophet, caught between his sense of God’s call and his sense of nationalism. The situation was complex for Jonah because of the history of hatred and brutality between his nation and the Assyrians. For Jonah, racial reconciliation meant uncovering persistent and painful wounds. 

The story of these two nations is not unlike the story of our nation. If the Church is to face issues of racial reconciliation, then matters of nationalism and political ideology among people groups must be addressed. But also like the story of Jonah, the only hope for both people groups is a merciful God, ready to heal, save, forgive, and draw diverse people into his family. 

Jonah’s story is one of many in the Old Testament where God intentionally weaves different people groups into the tapestry of his covenant people.

The cross and reconciliation

Jesus continually fought back against the racial biases of his day. The Jews and the Samaritans were engaged in an enduring ethnic feud. Yet, he traveled to Samaria and interacted with those that his own people regarded as untouchable, preaching the Good News. God was not just saving people in Jerusalem; he was saving people in Samaria too. 

Jesus shared the love of God with a people group that he was supposed to hate. He confronted powerful Jewish leaders with the hypocrisy of their lack of love for the Samaritans. Jesus’ life and teaching centered on reconciling people with God and with one another (Luke 15; John 17; Matt. 5:43-48, etc.).  

The cross was the ultimate act of reconciliation. Jesus not only paved the way for human race to be fully in relationship with God, but he also paved way for human beings to be restored in relationship with one another. As he prayed for forgiveness over his lynch mob, he led the way in reconciliation.  

I have been asked by pastors how I keep racial reconciliation from decentralizing the gospel. Can you separate the Great Commandment from the Great Commission? I do not think that you can separate the endless lengths that Jesus went through to reconcile the human race to God from the endless efforts that he calls the Church to pursue in reconciling people to himself. 

The cross of Jesus will forever stand as the metric for God’s desire to reconcile. Jesus’ Church is to be a reconciling embassy. 

Peter’s battle with racial reconciliation

After Jesus’ resurrection, God used Peter to preach the gospel in 17 different languages, leading to the immediate diversification of the early church (Acts 2:1-42). Yet, Peter still had his struggles with accepting God’s desire for a diverse family. God repeatedly made his heart for racial reconciliation clear to Peter. God confronted him with a vision, took him to Cornelius’ house to witness non-Jews receiving salvation, and used the Apostle Paul to rebuke him before he understood and embraced God’s desire for a multiethnic family (Acts 10:1-48; Gal. 2:11-14).   

Be encouraged: Much like Peter, anyone that is on a journey of racial reconciliation will have points of disbelief, hesitation, or disillusionment. Racial reconciliation is a continuum of relationship, not a destination. 

Paul’s theology of racial reconciliation

When Paul states that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, he is not doing away with these distinctions. Rather, he is making a case for gospel unity superseding these distinctions. While these distinctions describe the family of God, they are not the basis of their identity. Instead, identity in God’s family is based upon adoption in Jesus (Gal. 3:26-29).  

Throughout his writings, Paul addresses distinctions within people groups that lead to tension within the Church. In many of the situations, the point of tension is methodology, not theology (Rom. 14:1-23; Col. 2:16-23). Because methodology is driven by cultural norms, people groups of different cultures often collide. Culture is a reflection of the diversity within those created in God’s image, but division based upon those cultural distinctives is a reflection of the fall. As followers of Jesus, our love for people should be based upon their dignity as those created in God’s image, not simply a response to their color, class, or culture.  

A theology of racial reconciliation means striving for unity in our diversity, valuing the distinctives that make each person unique, and refusing to give up our unity as one human race made in the image of God. And as Christians, we worship the God who made us one in Christ, and we call others to do the same. 

By / May 26

On this episode of the ERLC Podcast, Brent Leatherwood invites you to take our quick podcast survey as we prepare for a new ERLC Podcast. 

Take the survey here

Connect with us on Twitter


  • Racial unity | If we, as Southern Baptists, can be willing to listen and have good conversations about race, we will see fruit that will draw us closer together. That’s why we believe that A Conversation with Pastor Jon Nelson will be a helpful resource for you and your congregation. Watch this NEW video at and listen as Jon candidly shares his thoughts on how we can meaningfully partner together on this work within our churches and communities. Again that link is
  • Email updates | Now that 2023 is fully underway, we want to make sure you are kept up to date about the important work we are doing on behalf of Southern Baptists. Whether it’s our 2023 Public Policy Agenda or another ultrasound machine placement, we want to make sure you know how we are serving our churches and acting as missionaries to the public square. As we move forward in 2023, know that first in our hearts and at the top of our minds are our churches. And we are taking those next steps with a Mark 10:44 mindset: to be a servant of all. The best way to learn more is by joining us at Signing up for email updates allows you to hear directly from us about our work and ways we are serving you on the issues that matter most to Southern Baptists. You’ll learn about our work on your behalf in our nation’s capital, about exciting new partnerships with our state conventions and the ways we are working across the convention with our sister entities. Become an email subscriber at
By / Mar 1

It is no secret that contemporary American society continues to be embroiled in conversations about race and interracial tensions. America has a blemished history as it pertains to historical racial injustices and that history’s reverberations continue to resound today. 

However, as I look at the complicated issues here in the United States as they relate to prejudice and the tendency to segregate, I find myself seeing these current issues through the lens of our experience having lived abroad in the Middle East. And the tensions we encountered there led me to a deeper sense of why it is so important for the church to lead the way in exhibiting a reconciliation between people who share in the same blood of Christ despite bearing different tones of skin.

On the mission field 

One of the problems we faced in our ministry in the Middle East was how best to help believers from a Muslim background enter into fellowship with those from a Christian background. As I sought outside counsel, I was told by a well-respected missionary strategist, “You should just start two different kinds of churches—one for Muslim background believers and one for Christian background believers. It will slow things down too much if these new believers have to work through all the historical and cultural baggage that comes from bringing former persecutors into the community they persecuted.”

To be honest, I was stunned by the answer. I asked him later in the day if I had heard him correctly when he said we should not encourage believers from a Muslim background to fellowship with those believers who grew up culturally as Christians. He confirmed that I had heard him correctly: start two different kinds of churches because there is too much baggage to hope for unity.

This was a man who had overseen some reportedly incredible movements of people to Christ in another context. He had been brought into our training as an expert missiologist. But his advice to avoid dealing with conflict within the fellowship of believers was grossly dissatisfying—both theologically and practically. 

The more I reflected on it, the more frustrated I got. The pragmatism reflected in this advice was being allowed to trump the beauty of the enemy-reconciling effect of the gospel. I mean, think about it: What would have been the result for the early church if in Acts 9 Ananias had refused to receive Saul because of the sociological tension that it would cause to fellowship with a former persecutor?

Back at home

These sentiments, however, aren’t exclusive to the mission field. I also had a disappointing experience in a classroom in the U.S. once when a Christian professor dismissed the discussion about multiethnic churches altogether. His comment was that this is just a fad that is responding to contemporary sensitivities and that churches would do better to stay culturally homogeneous. 

Is it true that bringing together different communities might require each community to begin to appreciate expressions and forms of worship that are not native to their subculture? Certainly. But is the potential for discomfort sufficient reason to not pursue fellowship with brothers and sisters who share a common faith and theology? Hardly. 

What is lost if segregation of churches remains a practice of convenience? We lose multiple opportunities to learn from one another as we seek to live out a shared faith in different circumstances. And we lose multiple opportunities to display to a watching world how compelling the fellowship of the gospel is.

Beautiful unity as an embodied apologetic

A few years after the disappointing advice from the missiologist, however, I got a taste of what could happen if we didn’t allow socially-defined distinctions to determine the composition of our fellowship. 

I had been given the privilege of getting to teach a church planting course in an underground Bible school. The 20-or-so students who composed the class came from various Christian upbringings, and some had come to faith in Jesus out of Muslim families. Some of those of a Muslim background were even connected to high-ranking government and military officials who would have been responsible for overseeing various waves of targeted persecution of Christians throughout their country.

Standing in front of the classroom and observing small groups of those diverse students huddled together and strategizing about how they might link arms and plant churches together was one of the most stunning displays of the unifying power of the gospel I have ever seen. Those who were formerly aligned with persecutors were collaborating with those whose families had encountered persecution. And the only thing that brought them together was a common gospel-given identity and goal. 

The pain and history they shared was not erased or forgotten. But the gospel was sufficient to call both parties to walk through the painful history toward repentance and forgiveness and to continue working together toward a shared vision of the future on the basis of a present understanding of the gospel they held in common.

As those communities began to work toward planting churches, their friendship, fellowship, and partnership displayed the healing power of the gospel. It was not unlikely that there would be conflict and tension along the way. Still, that they were drawn together by a common task and vision testifies to the reconciling power of a shared gospel identity. This unity is encouraging to those sharing in the fellowship, and it is compelling to those observing from the outside.

Applied theology

So how does all of this discussion relate to contemporary American churches and their approach to addressing ethnic tensions? From the outset, I hope it gives us a confidence in three things:

  1. We are all sin-stained and in need of reconciliation to God and then to one another as God’s people.
  2. The community of believers draws confidence in the work of reconciliation to one another that comes from a shared reconciliation to God.
  3. The secular world is attempting to manufacture human unity without a compelling reason to believe it is possible.

Yet as they observe the Church manifesting and enjoying a unity amidst diversity, they have to stop and marvel. It will take intentional work, but the result will be an embodied apologetic that supports the gospel claim to make one new humanity in Christ. The work and effort that it will take is worth it—both due to its theological foundation and its missiological impact. 

Adapted excerpt with permission from Hope for American Evangelicals by Matthew Bennett. Copyright 2023, B&H Publishing.