Disclaimer - from the outset, let it be known that I think the idea of setting out codes of conduct or duty of care manuals, or Faithfulness in Service documents are good ideas. I am also a supporter of safe ministry with young people. I believe that young people need to hear the Gospel and that needs to be done in a safe, loving, God centred environment.

Now... on to my post... Recent events have motivated me to write something on here about safe ministry. For those who don't know what this is basically, it is the name given to all the rules and regulations that the Anglican Church (particularly in Tasmania) has made in an attempt to protect itself from allowing paedophiles into positions of leadership, particularly with children, in the church. I think in Victoria it is called Duty of Care (although I have limited experience working in the Victorian framework, so these reflections come from my time in Tasmania).

Now from the outset I want to say that I wholeheartedly support the sentiment behind safe ministry. That is first and foremost it aims to protect young people from paedophiles. That is a good thing. Second, it aims to protect those of us who work with youth from having accusations made about us. It also educates us on how to avoid ever getting into a situation where as sinful people we might do something stupid! As one youth minister here in Victoria says, we should expect to be the person who falls and then make every effort to make sure we don't! The other useful thing that the safe ministry practices do is screen people and therefore give programs run by our churches a more professional look.

I think we are in a dangerous situation when we can't have an open and honest look at our systems and discuss the pros and cons. However, there are problems with the Safe Ministry protocols in Tasmania. Perhaps which we have to live with, or perhaps which might be able to be changed. Here are what I see as the major problems.

Problem 1. Safe Ministry can be another way of saying No Ministry.
Picture this, you're part of a small Anglican church in a small country town. You love God and you want to see people follow Jesus. You decide to run an after school club but before you can do that you need not only to get the relevant police checks, but also go through the interviews, fill in the paper work, go to the seminar and make sure all your leaders have done the same. Suddenly, you feel like its all too much and too daunting, and that it's going to be easier for you simply to pray, continue going to church and continuing to watch it die as it makes no effort to be relevant or to reach out. I notice in Victoria the process is far simpler. You get a police check and a Working With Children (WWC) card and then your done. The church here also runs a once off 1-1.5hr session to talk about our Duty of Care with young people.

Problem 2. Safe Ministry can lead to low ministry talent managers who are inwardly focused running the church's mission and ministry!
What do I mean by this? The often overwhelming processes of safe ministry makes a lot of work. I was lucky when I was in Tasmania because my church was big enough that someone else worried about Safe Ministry while I got on with business. But in many churches this is not the case. What that means is the time that needs to be spent thinking strategically about why and what ministry and mission is happening in a church gets sidetracked with administration. It can also mean that people who are big picture focussed, who can lead from the front and dream big, are unable to do so, because of the small details required.

3. Safe Ministry can damage actual Ministry when people are unable to focus on the spirit of the law, and get bogged down in details.
It is my view that safe ministry has some ultimate aims. I mentioned them above, to keep people safe from paedophiles, to protect leaders from accusation, and to look professional. It is also my view that the only way to achieve these aims is through authentic Christian discipleship (through teaching people to become like Jesus and through holding them accountable for their thoughts and actions). One of the major problems I saw with Safe Ministry in Tasmania was all the crazy rules that were put in place to achieve these aims. I saw a number of people worried about which way to hug or not hug someone, which way to smile, which way to stand up, which way to sleep at night, which person to take photos of etc. It bordered on ridiculous!

4. The ultimate end of Safe Ministry will be a total inability to share the Gospel with young people. It seems to me that the logical end point of all the developments is that unless you send parents home with an outline of the gospel and all your beliefs, tell them that you are going to share them with their child and get them to sign off then you will be unable to talk about your faith with a young person. Similar to how things are in most State schools these days.

Some might say that it's a cost benefit analysis... risk paedophiles and have lots of ministry or have no paedophiles and still have some ministry. I completely disagree. As I mentioned above, our problems in the past (relating to paedophiles) I don't believe came from the churches lack of procedures (although having procedures in place now is certainly helpful). It came from a church run by weak willed men, unable to stand up for the Gospel, and unable to administer Godly discipline to those who needed it. It resulted from poor discipleship and from a church who had many leaders who were probably of nominal faith.

It makes me very sad when I hear of stories like this one... after a recent camp, there has been advice given against following up youth from a camp because this could look inappropriate... I find it doublely sad because one of the biggest problems with the camping ministry in Tasmania is a lack of follow up.

It is when Safe Ministry overrides common sense and good ministry ideas that I think it has gone way too far. Don't hear me wrong. I am glad that I work in a church that has a system in place that requires a check on my suitability for working with youth. But I don't think that good ministry decisions and practices should be stopped because of an overly legalistic framework. Perhaps it is a little like the Pharisees in Jesus' time. In an effort to be more like God they made up lots of little rules. They then focussed on the rules and not on the God whom the rules were meant to help them serve. Likewise, a church made up a bunch of rules (called Safe Ministry) to help them do Ministry better and more openly. However as time went on they forgot why they made the rules and ended up focussing on the rules and not on the Ministry the rules were meant to serve.