On the weekend of May 18-19 The Summit Church (Durham, NC) addressed the subject of sexual abuse in all of our weekend services. This series is a reflection of those services, the preparation that went into them, and the aftercare that was provided.

We do not propose to have done this weekend perfectly, although we worked diligently to conduct each aspect with excellence. Our hope is that the resources produced will allow other churches to address this needed subject and improve upon our efforts. This is a subject that addresses 20% of our church, community, and world (1 in 4 women; 1 in 6 men). The church cannot be silent.

“If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues that deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all.” Martin Luther

This is the second of five posts in this series:

When J.D. Greear asked me to listen to Clayton’s sermon because he wanted to do a service where we opened the invitation to a mass call for people to unburden their secret of having been sexually abused, my mind began to race. How will we…? What if…?

After I got over the shock of the idea one thing became clear: we would need to do extensive preparation. It would be foolish – spiritually in the care of God’s people and legally in terms of incurring liability – to attempt this kind of service without great intentionality.

Challenge of Silence

We quickly realized this was not a service we could promote. If we said, “Next week we are devoting our services to sexual abuse, so those who have been abused can unburden their secret,” questions would paralyze the church office and those who most needed to respond likely would be intimidated (either by their own sense of shame or by their abuser) out of coming.

Our goal was not to “ambush” people with this service, but to ensure that those who were most vulnerable would not be prevented from attending.

This presented a significant challenge in the recruiting of leaders to serve, which we will discuss in just a moment. It also meant that several aspects of preparation had to be delayed closer to the actual event than we would have preferred for an under-taking of this magnitude.

Creation of Resources

Knowing that our window of training and preparation would be tight, we knew our training resources would need to be very well-prepared and able to be highly reproducible. We compiled four documents that comprised the base of our training resources.

After Service Care Team Training for Sexual Abuse: (After Service Care Team Training – Sexual Abuse) This was the main training document and goes with the video below. It is five pages in length and covers what we wanted these lay leaders to accomplish after the service: (1) listen well, (2) screen for mandated reporting concerns, (3) pray, and (4) connect people with resources.

Note: After this plan was created, we learned our hope to have a police officer at each campus would not work. Two factors were in play. First, our campuses spread across four police districts so there were jurisdiction concerns. Second, and more difficult to overcome, the police departments preferred a 911 call be placed so they would have electronic verification their officers completed each necessary step in a mandated reporting or sexual assault case.

Modification: The revised plan if police were needed was to have the point person over the after care area escort the reporting individual to a private room, step to another area, and call 911. They would then explain the situation, meet the arriving officer, and ensure the officer knew the setting as they walked to meet the reporting individual. More will be said about this in a moment.

After Service Care Team Follow Up Questions: (After Service Care Team Follow Up Questions) Several important questions were raised after the training was initially presented. Many of these had to do with campus logistics, but several were universally relevant enough we created another document with answers to give to all of our leaders.

Mandated Reporting Summary: (Guidelines for Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect) One of the Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) who consulted with us throughout these preparations created a document that explained when mandated reporting was required, how the process worked, and what would happen after a report was made.

Mandated Reporting Form: (Abuse Mandated Reporting Interview Form) One of the Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) who helped us prepare for these services created a form that the individuals in charge of mandated reporting at each campus would use to ensure that all necessary information was documented.

Note: We had at least one LCSW or LPC at every campus for every service to ensure mandated reporting cases were handled appropriately. We recognize anyone who learns of child abuse is a mandated reporter, but we also know churches have not done a good job of handling these situations. With a potential large number of mandated reporting cases coming at one time, we wanted to make sure that these were handled correctly.

Training of Leaders

One month before the weekend when the message on sexual abuse would be delivered, we began training our after service care team leaders. Here is a video of this training, which covers the first training document above.

After this training, we offered trainings at each of our campuses led by counseling interns (graduate students who had been through this training 2-3 times). In the week prior to the services, because we still estimated the need for more after service care team members, we allowed campus pastors to authorize individuals to serve if they watched the above video and read the accompanying handout.

Contacting Local Agencies

In the week before the service we called each police department in which we had a campus in their jurisdiction and each emergency hot line in the counties surrounding our church. We wanted them to know what we were doing so if they received a large number of calls related to The Summit Church in the coming days they would understand why.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” or “Favorite Posts on Sexual Abuse.”