The Unexpected Benefits of Background Checks
As I sit down to write this blog post, it’s July of 2017.
Even as I type, my four-year old is watching a Youtube Kids video on how to make homemade popsicles while she uses me as her personal ottoman, couch, blanket, and jungle gym.
That’s #DadLife, right?
Just yesterday, my wife told me to be careful when I buckle my kids in their cars seats.
Me: “Sure, why?”
My wife: “Because there have been two incidents recently of people trying to abduct kids at local Walmarts in that small gap of time after parents buckle in their kids and walk around to the other side of the car.”
Me: “Wait, what??? For real? How?”
My wife: “Yes, for real. They lurk behind. When a parent walks around the car, they pull up, snatch the kid out, and then drive off.”
Then we discussed the details of the two local incidents. Motive appears to be connected to a sex trafficking ring.
As a dad of three girls, this is my least-favorite topic of discussion on the planet.
(For the record, both local kidnapping attempts failed. One suspect was arrested. One got away before officers arrived).
Here’s the reason why I tell you this story: because we live in a day and age where a lot of bad, ugly stuff is happening.
And it’s happening to kids.
Not just neglected kids from horrific surroundings.
Any kid from anywhere.
So if any kid from anywhere needs to be guarded and protected, then doesn’t any potential volunteer or staff member need to be properly screened?
There’s never been a more obvious answer to a question, has there?
As nice as people are, and as genuine as they seem, you simply cannot be too careful when it comes to who gets access to people, especially kids, in your church.
That’s why background checks are 1,000% vital to your ministry!
You should be screening, at a minimum…
- National Criminal Database Search
- National Sex Offender Registry Search
- SSN Verification
- Address History Trace
We can talk about the woes, dangers, threats, and horror stories all day long. We can raise our blood pressure and lower our ability to sleep at night. We can share bad news and talk about how quickly the moral compass of society is declining.
But it won’t be new information. We already see this and know this.
So I want to flip the coin for a minute and talk about something positive that comes out of background checks. Being in ministry since 1998, I’ve seen this benefit first-hand…
Background checks lead to ministry opportunities.
Real, authentic, genuine opportunities to truly speak into someone’s heart and view of God.
And if you’ve been in ministry for a while, you know that you don’t get chances to do this a lot!
Here’s how it has happened in my experience. Maybe you can relate, or you could tell a slightly different version of what I’m about to say. But here’s the point: if you think running background checks on people is just a dreaded, cold, invasive procedure that only leads to shame and bad news, this will be good for you to read.
1. The Initial Conversation
Let me over-simplify it, if I may…
Let people know you’re going to run a background check.
Like I said up top, I’m writing this in July of 2017. No one should be shocked or offended by you taking those types of precautionary steps. And if they are, it likely means they’re hiding something. If they’re offended because they’re not hiding something, then they’re probably not the type of person you want on staff or as a key volunteer!
This will lead to a pivotal step two…
2. The Facts
In my experience, the facts will surface in one of three ways…
- A confession. People will tell you, “Hey, there’s something you’re likely going to discover on my background check. I’d love to explain myself before you come across it. For people who have red flags on their background checks, I’ve experienced this about 50% of the time.
- A discovery. People may think that some part of their history has either been omitted, or happened too long ago to still be considered relevant. But there will certainly be times when you come across reports on a background check that weren’t disclosed by a candidate. When it comes to candidates with red flags, I’ve experienced this the other 50% of the time.
- A clean slate. This, of course, is when the background check is clear. Great news for you, but totally unrelated to this blog.
Let me come back to the 50% who confess on the front end that there’s likely going to be red flags on their report.
Simply tell them, “Hey, thanks so much for letting me know that. I really appreciate your honesty. Let me run the report first (after all, I’m required to!), then we’ll have a conversation about it afterwards.”
For the people who have red flags on their report, this is when massive ministry opportunities open up…
3. Their Story
Whether people fall in the 50% who confess on the front end, or the 50% who don’t, set up a follow-up conversation.
Here’s a great way to bring the red flag or flags into the discussion…
“Hey, I noticed that a few years back, there was this thing on your background check (tell them what it was). Obviously there has been some change in your life. Why don’t you tell me about your journey from where you were then to where you are today?”
- Don’t get nervous about how to get people talking. Trust me, they’ll talk!
- Don’t even get nervous about people responding negatively. They know what happened in their past, so they won’t be shocked about you bringing it up.
This is when people get vulnerable.
This is when people share their story.
And when people share their story, it almost always makes sense why they did what they did.
- Sure, it was wrong.
- Yes, it was sin.
- They probably regret it.
But haven’t we all done things that are wrong? Haven’t we all sinned? Haven’t we all done things we regret?
(Again, questions with ridiculously obvious answers!).
And yes, it may mean that they can’t volunteer in your ministry area or take a staff position at your church (This will be a judgment call by you and one or two wise people you trust. Or, it will be a clear-cut decision based on policies established by your church leadership or denomination).
No matter what, remember this…
When they open up, you have an opportunity.
You can share grace. You can let them know that the same amazing grace that saved a wretch like you has saved a wretch like them! That’s exactly what Jesus did when He was on Earth—He associated with sinners and outcasts, and He showed them breathtaking grace!
You can encourage them. Most people feel shame about their lives. Period. But this is certainly true of people who have dark shadows over some part of their past. Chances are good that they’ve beat themselves up over it time and time again. This moment gives you a chance to counter that criticism with a fresh wave of encouragement.
If you feel like you need to reiterate how bad their action or actions in the past were, then you’re assuming that they’re stupid. Sure, some people may blame, deflect, or make ridiculous excuses to downplay what they’ve done (but even they need encouragement!)
But most people know.
You can redirect them. If people can’t volunteer in your ministry area because of their background check, then you can help them find a place where they can serve. This may take some work, but you will show people how valuable they are when you put the work in. In other words, they were WORTH you taking the time and having the conversations to get them plugged in.
That, my friends, is ministry. And it’s redemptive!
Without background checks, it’s a precious opportunity that you may not have.
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BACKGROUND CHECKS, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS INVALUABLE RESOURCE CALLED SAFETY ROCKET.
Safety Rocket can turn “hard-to-understand” into “ready-to-implement”!
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