|A New Look at Protection and Church Violence|
Today in America we are seeing an increase of violence directed towards the church. What has caused this increase in violence? And how can we protect the church from future violence?
After serving 26 years in law enforcement, of which 23 years was in the US Secret Service, and then a decade as a national men’s minister to men in churches, I am asked frequently about security. I wrote an article, while serving as the National Director of the Assemblies of God Men’s Ministries, in the Honorbound magazine about a church youth event shooting in 1999 at Westwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Churches then and now feel the church is ‘America’s Final Safe Zone’, but it is not.
The intensity of violent acts has increased exponentially in the last decade. We have seen the increase but what is its cause? Part of the cause is fatherlessness in America and a downward spiral of respect for authority. The ushers on the front lines at most churches are not even safe from violence as we witnessed when Dr Tiller, the abortion doctor, was shot and killed while he ushered in his church.
You ask the question, “How can I protect my church from violence?” We say ‘you can’t!’ What you can do is to be proactive and not reactive. Be on the offense instead of always on the defense.
In my first ten years of ministry, preaching in churches, large and small, of all denominations and fellowships, I knew God had called me out of the Secret Service to train men to develop their biblical masculinity to become Champions for God. I still minister to churches across the nation with my ministry, Champions of Honor, a focused ministry plan for men (www.championsofhonor.com). Pastors asked me questions about security issues and my career protecting Presidents. Many asked why I always had my eyes open, watching the congregation. I pointed out it was how we were trained, to observe crowds, looking for the enemy. It is biblical, by the way, Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray.
While in Shreveport, this year, conducting an inspection of the airport for Homeland Security (TSA), I read about the shooting of the Baptist pastor in Illinois during his Sunday morning service. One of my colleagues on the inspection, who had also served a career in the Secret Service with me, asked why I didn’t use my skills acquired in the Secret Service to train pastors to protect their flocks. He said, “You are the only man I know who spent a career protecting Presidents, and another 10 years in ministry. You know the culture of both worlds.” The question bothered me so I asked God what He wanted. I realized that when we train to be who God called us to be, it is with His purpose. I wanted to know my purpose in Him.
It was part of my DNA to be a Protection Agent and a Criminal Investigator; but I was also called and trained as a minister and national men’s leader. If there was a shift coming, I wanted to make sure it was God and not my own comfort zone.
The next day I called a pastor friend in Shreveport, Denny Duron, and asked if we could get together. He said “Come to ‘the gate’ in the morning and we can go to breakfast afterwards.” ‘The Gate’ is a 6:30am daily prayer meeting with Pastor Denny and about 100 of his men. They meet for an hour every weekday morning. I went and was blessed. Men were on fire that morning with their worship, prayers, and fellowship.
Afterwards when we went for breakfast, he brought up the shooting of the pastor in Illinois and asked why I wasn’t sharing my wisdom with churches on how to prevent violence. As I struggled with an answer I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I couldn’t give a good answer. I went back every morning that week for a deeper search for direction.
Well, about a month later, I was back in Shreveport at a meeting with a large group of pastors. All were in agreement that I needed to bring this teaching to the church. Training, that is, on how to recognize and detect a psychotic visitor and how to help prevent violence from occurring in our churches. I called a former Secret Service colleague and he agreed to partner with me and we combined our knowledge and training into a 4-hour violence awareness seminar. There began the ‘Church Security Insights’ vision.
We are now scheduling ‘Violence Awareness Seminars’ around the nation helping pastors and church leadership learn what we were taught from our training in the Secret Service, but in a church context. Most churches have a security or safety team and they have a specific purpose. There are also companies that help with alarms, cameras, and other techniques for a defensive position. We want to teach an offensive position, how to recognize potential violence and prevent it from happening.
We are teaching a new way, a way that works for the Secret Service – prevention of violence before it happens! Police, guards, and security teams are needed, especially in larger churches, but what we would like to do is train leadership to recognize people who are different and need help. Most offenders visit the church or other churches in the area before any violence occurs. This is when they are most recognizable and can readily be helped, before the violence is planned.
We are the church. The answer is not in the White House and government programs; the answer is in God’s House. God is preparing His church for this hour and we need to discipline and train ourselves to recognize and prevent potential acts of violence. Usually, as Secret Service Agents, we try to blend into our surroundings without drawing attention to the person we are protecting. We do that to minimize the “security look”. We want to become the watchful-eye of the person we are protecting. That means we are vigilant to identify anything that might enter into the "safe" zone.
If you are a pastor and reflecting on "How can we prevent violence from happening in our church?” then we would like to share some insights from our years of protecting the leaders of our nation. One thing we learned in the Secret Service is with proper protective measures and planning, the damage can be minimized.
The front lines in most churches are ushers. These are the men and women who first encounter visitors to your church. They are the ones who leave the first impression on visitors, but they also are seen as authority figures, extensions of the pastor’s authority.
Competent training is paramount to building a perception of good security. The openness of our churches makes them easy prey for criminals, the mentally ill, drug addicts, and others that may be looking to cause harm.
The following are some simple tips that you can employ to minimize potential attackers:
1. If an assailant sees a well-trained staff, they may not attack. Also, we have to be determined to know our flock. In that way we will know who is a visitor.
2. Build a strong relationship with the local authorities, fire and police, and ask for training on how to handle certain situations. Most departments have a community-relations officer who would be very helpful.
3. Utilize the expertise of law enforcement officials who may attend your church.
4. Treat ushering as a ministry that is more than passing out bulletins and taking the offering. Don't have immature believers involved in ushering. It should not be a “break-in” ministry.
5. Try to lock all the church doors except ones used for the function. Use a central entrance for people, and if multiple entrances are needed don’t leave them unmanned. They all need to be manned to observe and serve the people. Large churches may even need to hire security for their exterior property and obscure hallways.
6. Try not to have a function that is not properly staffed. Utilize ushers or hosts for all events.
7. Organize natural barriers to channel people, which would assist in keeping people away from certain areas.
8. Properly train your leadership on how to react to visitors and obviously mentally ill people. The local police may also be requested to provide pictures of active unstable persons who have shown an unusual interest in faith-based institutions.
9. Have a plan! Know what to do! The best defense is a strong offense. We shouldn't be afraid; we should be proactive. Don't build a fortress for safety but move out into the community to help build a safe place for those without the peace of Christ.
10. Involve your church in outreach ministry and answer the felt needs of your community. We need to realize that we can't lock down the church to the unsightly but welcome them with the full Gospel. Practical measures require practical solutions, but spiritual measures require spiritual solutions. We need to bring practical and spiritual solutions to our cities.
An outpouring of God's spirit is needed in our nation. People are noticing things aren’t right in America. The social and moral unraveling of our country has caused untold damage to our society and family units. Mental illness is at an all time high. Drug induced behavior has destabilized the criminal element. Respect for authority has been eroded by the selfish acts of dysfunctional people in sin. As ministers we need to be vigilant, keeping a watchful eye over our flock but helping to spearhead answers from the Word. We need to press in more than we have ever done before.