I have been at a safeguarding training day all day, and it made me think a lot about the whole idea of safety, of power, of loyalty and Kingdom.
As I thought of the role of being a pastor, my mind wandered to the word Pastor which can also be translated as shepherd.
I asked myself “what does a shepherd do?”
A shepherd not just tends and cares for the sheep, but also defends his sheep from attack, from predators and wolves.
I think we all wish that real life was like the old Hollywood movies where the good guys and the bad guys were always clearly distinguishable, yet in real life this sadly doesn’t happen.
It made me realise afresh that people who may appear lovely, warm, kind and friendly but may not be what they seem.
I remember on one occasion a former contempory was found guilty of some horrific stuff, every one of us was shocked, no one would have believed it.
We by nature want to believe the best of people, and yet we also live in a fallen world, we know that people who we know and share our lives with, can behind closed doors lead a very different life.
The Bible calls us to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, we are called to be in the world but not of the world’.
We need to realise and be aware of the real possible and potential dangers that exist within people we might least expect.
We need to do the right thing, however costly, however painful, however uncomfortable and as shepherds.
For the shepherd doing the right thing could be costly; fighting a lion, bear or wolf, it could cost them the ultimate sacrifice, their life.
The Bible say “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” -Doing the right thing, especially within this context of child protection, is something that may call for us to sacrifice our closest friendships in the cause of justice and safety for the people we serve.
Nelson Mandela says “If you are neutral in issues of justice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor”.
If we fail to act, we may permit great evil, pain and suffering to continue. Reminded of Edmund Burkes quote “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.
Sometimes we are presented with just a bit of a hunch, a uneasy feeling, a nagging doubt, often feelings I have tried to brush away as me being judgemental, but I do wonder that sometimes these spiritual hunches could actually be Spiritual Discernment.
Maybe, gently and in love, if you get those nudges share them appropriately and wisely?
Imagine, if we’d had an inkling and then discovered someone had been abused and we might have been able to stop it happening.
I’ve had some occasions when I have gone with my gut instinct and later been so glad that I have, on other occasions (although fortunately never in a child protection context) where I have dismissed my gut reaction and later really regretted it.
As I thought about the call of a shepherd, I thought about my responsibility before God to the sheep, a responsibility to be wise and not fooled, to challenge behaviour even when it is costly -even when it is a person you have come to love-, to fight to be a custodian of a culture where people are not exploited.
Often, we think of abuse as in physical or sexual, forgetting that emotional, financial, psychological are all forms of abuse, people can be exploited in many ways, power can be misused and people can be hurt.
Yet surely this should not be happening within the bride of Christ?
The Church should be a place where everyone is welcome, but some behaviours are not.
The Church should be a place that shows its love for its members by going that extra mile to try and be as safer community as possible.
I believe safeguarding can be a beautiful act of worship, as protect the child and the vulnerable matches the very heartbeat of God.
God is a God of love and compassion, who cares for all he has made.
God is not blind to exploitation and injustice in any form..
“By this will you know that all people are my disciples that you love one another”; the greatest act of love is to “look out for” to keep them safe and protect them.
We also thought of self-abuse, and I thought about loving one another might been not just protecting them from the predatory, but also protecting them from themselves.
So, some challenges about being a custodian of the culture of our Church communities, ensuring transparency and wisdom in all we do, ensuring all behaviour is beyond reproach, that we are wise in all we do, that concerning behaviour is challenged and not ignored.
So, lets seek to say that everyone matters, let us discover afresh to carry one another’s burdens and to keep ourselves safe from harm. Let us not just rely on one shepherd to do this work, but let us all exercise a pastoral ministry doing our utmost to keep one another safe.
A family who looks out for each other.