If I could mandate that at least one leader from every church had to read a single book, I don’t think there are too many I would choose ahead of On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church. It’s not that it is the best book I have ever read (though it is plenty good) or that it contains the deepest theology (though there is plenty of good doctrine within its pages). It’s that too many times the purpose and witness of the church has been tarnished by her failure to offer safety and protection to children. This book offers assistance where so many churches have failed.
Deepak Reju is a Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry at (Mark Dever’s) Capitol Hill Baptist Church and father to five young children. From that vantage point he sees the danger and the devastation of abuse and its prevalence within the church. And from that vantage point he provides an excellent resource that is meant to help.
On Guard has three broad purposes: to protect children from the horrors of child abuse, to fill a gap in Christian publishing and resourcing, and to provide a comprehensive approach to preventing and responding to child abuse at church. In all three areas Reju succeeds well.
In the book’s first few chapters Reju describes and defines the problem of child abuse in the church and deals with some too-common misperceptions. He shows how and why child predators often hide in plain sight within the church, knowing that it may be the safest and easiest place to prey upon children. The heart of the book is eight chapters that each describe a strategy for protecting against abuse; these range from creating and implementing a child protection policy, to screening staff members, to getting familiar with people and resources in your local community. The final three chapters provide strategies for responding when someone has made an allegation of abuse or when a known child abuser professes faith and asks to come into church membership. Several appendices provide helpful supplemental information such as case studies and sample child protection policies.
Of all that Reju teaches in this book, the most important may be the parts dealing with the profile of the abuser. We tend to caricature pedophiles, trusting that our instinct and intuition would alert us to their presence. The fact is, though, that predators fit many different profiles and we are easily fooled. Predators are adept at grooming a church community and then grooming individual children; when and if the abuser is discovered, churches often react with shame and guilt, trying to cover up instead of bring to light. Not only that, but even though false reports of abuse are rare, people often assume innocence and fail to take seriously the possibility of abuse. It is a horrible mess, but just a little authoritative guidance through a book like this can go a long way.
“Protecting the children under your care is a way to preserve your gospel witness in your community.” Not only that, but “Our ethical and moral responsibility as Christians is to protect the children whom God has entrusted to us.” I became convicted of these facts a few years ago and helped implement an Abuse Prevention Policy that is now in effect in our church. This book has both solidified my belief in the importance of such a policy, and given me many ideas for making it better.
Please, read this book, or at least ensure that someone in your church reads it. I plan to hand it to all those who oversee children’s ministries within our church and to discuss it with them. I hope you will do the same. Do it for the sake of the children and do it for the sake of the gospel.