Latest Issue

Diligent Visibility

My first assignment in full-time ministry was at a very nice church that just happened to be in the middle of nowhere in Western PA. I was hired to be the youth pastor. It was the summer of 1986. I was fresh out of college and newly married. Sure seems like a long time ago.

Shortly after arriving, the senior pastor informed me that the previous youth pastor had been removed from his position because of accusations of molesting one of the boys in the youth group. He cautioned me that I would be facing a lot of scrutiny due to the accusations leveled against my predecessor. This was certainly understandable. He also said something very wise that has stuck with me throughout my ministry, “Don’t ever find yourself alone with women; it creates temptations you don’t want to face. And don’t ever find yourself alone with children; it leaves you open to suspicion
and accusation without any covering or defense.”

I took his words to heart. I gave a lot of thought to the scrutiny I would be under in my new community, and how careful I would have to be to avoid suspicion or any appearance of evil. There’s nothing quite like working under a magnifying glass to make you cross every “t” and dot every “i”. So long before background checks and mandated reporting were the norm, I protected myself and the children and youth of our church through the basic standard I refer to as diligent visibility.

What is diligent visibility? The word diligent means hard working. It is doing the hard work of making sure that all of our interactions with children are protected by visibility. Protecting our children and the adults who serve them requires hard work. Even simple events can become rather complicated and expensive when you apply the standard of diligent visibility.

Let me give you a rather basic example of diligent visibility. I recently visited a church where the Sunday school rooms did not have windows. Without windows, a closed door created a very real risk. I pointed out the need for visibility and the church leadership quickly recognized the problem. Within a month, windows were installed in every door. Parents and supervisors now have the ability to observe what is happening inside those rooms. That’s diligent visibility — and well worth the investment.

Like most churches, we have a Children’s Ministry Policy Manual. It contains all of the legal directives of PA Act 153 requiring background checks and mandated reporting training. Background checks are good, and they keep convicted offenders from having organizational access to children. But even the most effective background check system will never guard our children from an offender who has never been caught or the first-time offender. The only completely effective method for protecting children in organizational settings is diligent visibility. And yes, that same visibility also protects the adult worker from suspicion or accusation.

As a part of our training, I share with our volunteers and staff what I call “The Top Ten” of how we keep children safe. Here is the first one:

Children’s workers diligently seek visibility. No children’s worker should ever be alone with children in a situation where the interaction cannot be fully supervised. Keep doors open, lights on, windows unobstructed. Visibility not only protects children, but it also protects workers from suspicion or false accusation. Stay in the open! Background checks are beneficial, but they cannot protect our children from the first-time offender or the yet-to-be-caught offender. Mandatory training is also beneficial, but nothing provides greater protection to our children and our workers than diligent visibility. For that reason, diligent visibility is the cardinal rule of our children’s protection policy.

As someone who leads a volunteer organization that works with a lot of children, I can assure you that providing diligent visibility creates a significant amount of extra effort. We take this very seriously — and we know that we have to get it right every time. Providing visibility usually means that we must recruit and train additional volunteers who are able to serve or supervise. We also must anticipate and account for every possible scenario that may be encountered during all kinds of activities, like van trips, youth campouts, all-night events, and even conferences and mission trips that may be hundreds of miles away. We have sometimes removed an event from the planning calendar simply because we knew we couldn’t provide full visibility. Yes, my friends, it’s that important.

Church, we’ve got to get this right every time. Far too many people are carrying the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual scars of abuse. Let me assure you, abuse alters the course of a person’s life — and the scars last a lifetime. We can and must do everything within our ability to protect the children God has placed in our care.

When I share about diligent visibility, people often ask me, “Isn’t there anyone we can trust?” There’s an important answer to that question — and I will share it with you in my next article.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *