Protection Policies Are Gifts to Children
By Jon Stanton
The weather this spring and summer has been brutal on my garden, and I don’t like it.
While Nebraska weather is often unpredictable, I can usually count on spring being a little bit wet and summer being dry and hot. This year spring was record-breaking wet and summer stayed cool for much longer than usual until temps suddenly soared into the 90s and beyond.
I have a container garden, since I don’t have space in my backyard for a traditional garden. I also have sundry flowers and flower beds spread throughout our yard. This year, my plants have required more care and attention than usual. I have found myself taking measures to protect them from flooding rains, fungal plagues, squirrels, birds, and blazing 100-plus degree sunlight. In each situation, my response was different depending on the plant and the dilemma.
When I planted those flowers, I knew I would be devoting time and attention to their care and protection; however, I had no idea how much extra attention they would need this year! At times, it became quite frustrating. But if I want my plants to thrive and survive, I am responsible for nurturing them and responding to their needs. This reality leads me to consider how churches can help children thrive and survive too.
Growing up in a pastor’s home provided me with a front row seat to many of the challenges faced by church leaders. Later in life, I was a church leader myself. I had a reputation for being the “policy wonk” in my church, which meant I was called upon to write many a policy. One thing I quickly learned is writing a policy was the easy part. The incredibly difficult part was figuring out how to make sure it was implemented and followed.
My unique vantage points allowed me to see how churches did or did not respond to policies and procedures related to nurturing and protecting children and youth. My parents pastored mostly smaller congregations, which meant teachers and helpers were often in short supply. Most of the churches they served included members who shared family bonds. These two dynamics alone made “overlooking” written policies a common occurrence if they seemed too inconvenient or were likely to cause hard feelings. And, just like my plants, children require and need different things from us depending on the conditions. This reality can challenge our patience. Developing a policy that is comprehensive yet flexible is a difficult task indeed.
One of the churches my parents served and where I later also served in a leadership capacity was in a community facing the challenges of poverty and rampant family breakdowns. The church’s youth and children’s workers often felt overwhelmed, especially when parents would drop off a child for an activity and nobody knew the child or the parents! These children required special care and attention … kind of like my plants this year.
Earlier this spring, a large and violent thunderstorm moved through our area, dropping more than 9 inches of rain in a short period of time. My plants were floating, and I was out back in my pajamas, pulling each of them under the deck’s protective awning. I drained them and watched them carefully for the next few days to make sure they recovered from their waterlogged state. My “love” for my plants was obvious. I braved lightning and sideways sheets of rain to make sure they were protected.
I believe one of the greatest gifts a faith community can give to children and youth is to protect and nurture them while showering them with the love of God at every possible opportunity.
A written child and youth protection policy is a GIFT to your children—a gift that has so much more to offer when it is implemented, owned, and followed by a faith community. Promoting a culture of safety in your faith community is not always easy, but many of the most important and meaningful things in life aren’t easy.
Dove’s Nest exists to help faith communities navigate these difficult waters and to effectively train and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe. What a blessing to have such an organization available, and I hope you will join with me in praying for them and supporting their work.
As of this writing, I am eagerly awaiting the gift of fresh peppers and tomatoes and enjoying beautiful flowers. It hasn’t been easy and it’s been time consuming, but I know it’s worth it because my protected and nurtured plants will bring forth great fruit in due season.
My hope and prayer is that your faith community is a place where children and youth are protected, nurtured, and where they truly thrive and bring forth great fruit in due season as well.