10 Things – This is a Ministry

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Sheepdog-Iconography---Safety-TeamYou will see me refer to the Safety Team all throughout this series as the Safety Team Ministry. This is because I believe that any Safety Team that works within a church, or para-church, organization must be a true ministry at its very heart. Your first response might be, “Of course it’s a ministry. It’s something that the church does. By definition it’s a ministry.”

I include this part because most of the “safety” or “security” teams that I see in churches do not approach the job from a servant’s heart. Serving on the team is often a “security” job, and while necessary, is not treated as a ministry service to the congregation. Those who create a safety team for their church do not intend to separate the team from actually serving in ministry, but the nature of the job and training can easily shift focus from serving the congregation to “protecting” or “guarding” the congregation. And while part of the job may include those functions, the team must serve the church and those who attend.

Based on the latin word for service (ministerium), any Safety Team Ministry must be first, and foremost looked at as a service for the church. Most secular security teams concentrate on “security” instead of service. Whether they are simply keeping inventory control, or handling basic first aid-type issues, a security team is hired to do one thing – secure the premises and those inside. Instead, those who serve on the team must see themselves as servants within the church, serving and caring for those who are on campus.

It is this attitude shift that will have the greatest impact on the church that where this Safety Team ministers. Instead of being seen as “security”, any Safety Team must be seen as a ministry. And to be seen that way requires the Safety Team to act as a ministry. This attitude shift has to extend from the top down, and has to permeate the entire culture of the Safety Team Ministry.

This all starts at the head of the team. Whoever is leading the team, whether volunteer or paid staff, must have the heart of a servant to lead the team. Their passion must be towards serving and helping, not power or authority. When I first started the Safety Team at Frontline, I didn’t have the right attitude. I was more concerned with “security“ than with service. I will talk about how this affected my volunteer recruiting in another chapter, but this philosophy really skewed my team, and it has taken a complete rework, and the loss of several very valuable volunteers before the ministry is acting as it should.

Even though I promoted the team as the “Safety Team”, I realize now that this was mere lip service to allay concerns about having “security” around. My attitude was “security first” and this permeated my training, and the attitudes of my team. This attitude caused friction with several members of the congregation, and even the staff. It also caused friction between some of the team members themselves.

Then one spring, an incident happened that sparked a chain-reaction, forever changing how I would approach the team, and even how the team would be composed. I asked for approval to add another member to my “Special Safety” team, which is the portion of my team that is armed while on duty. As this approval proceeded through the executive staff (senior pastor and executive pastor), I met with a great deal of resistance. The more I questioned, the more resistance I got, eventually triggering a full review of the Safety Team as a whole, and my leadership specifically.

At the time, I could not understand what was happening, or why the team was coming under such intense criticism. As puzzled as I was, I was also angry, as it felt like I was being attacked personally by the executive pastor. I knew that we had a fundamental difference of opinion about the need for a Safety Team, and especially about the need for some members to be armed with handguns while serving. What I could not understand was his view of the “culture” of the team, or what we were doing wrong, at least in his view.

At my lowest point, I truly considered resigning my position. In fact, as the summer wrapped up, I actually had my resignation letter tendered and prepared to turn into the pastor. The only thing that was stopping me was knowledge that the team would fall apart very quickly, and that several of the team members were upset enough that if I left, I was told that they would leave the church as well. Between the actions of the executive pastor, and the burden of knowing what would happen if I left, I was carrying a large weight around. At that time, I finally did what I should have done long before – I hit my knees and started praying for answers.

Throughout this process I was seeking out the council of board members and other interested parties, and my eyes were opened to some of the issues that were cropping up. From the feedback given, I was able to look through the eyes of those outside the team and realized that my team was not following a culture of service, but had become a culture that resembled mall security guards and bouncers. From those who I had recruited, to our actions and training, this culture was constantly reinforced and promoted. It was negatively affecting the team, and having a large negative impact on the congregation.

Through the prayer and council, I was finally able to see what the team had become. At that point, I had a decision to make. I could give up, resign, and leave the church that my family had called home for 10 years. My other option was to step up in leadership, make broad changes, and change the culture of the team. This would positively impact the team, the staff and the entire congregation as we moved forward. I spent a great deal more time in prayer, trying to figure out if I was still called to do this ministry.

Through my prayer and council, I came to believe that I was in the church that I needed to serve in. I just needed to actually start serving. With this decision came a renewed attitude of service. I started by proactively beginning to changed the culture and daily operations of the team. Focusing training on service and warmth, instead of threats and security. I began to go through the team members I had left, and started working with them. If they could not be re-trained to portray the right attitude, I helped them find another ministry where they could serve. I also started working with the staff more, becoming more proactive in and warmer with their various ministry needs.

Over the next couple months, the changes in the culture of the team were noticed by the staff and by the congregation. When the review process ended, I met with the senior pastor and the executive pastor, who had his list of recommendations for changes to the safety team. I also had a list for the meeting, a list of changes that I had already implemented, and a list of changes that were simply waiting on approval of the senior pastor to implement. When we compared the lists, I had already implemented a number of his recommended changes. Where the lists did not overlap were insignificant points, and all of them drew compromise from both sides.

The culture of the team was changed. It did not happen overnight, but the changes came, and we are a Safety Team that has earned respect, not just for the job we do, but for the service and ministry that we provide to the church. In the last several months, the changes have been so evident that I’ve been complimented several times by staff for the service we give, and the executive pastor has noticed the change in culture, commending us on the shift.

It is this ministry and service model that has also allowed us more leeway when the inevitable human errors have happened. At a recent large event, one of my temporary event team members was gruff in handling a situation that was also compounded with some miscommunications about policies. I was able to talk to the person who was offended that following Sunday, and offer apologies both personally and from the team, and because of our reputation, we were able to heal any hurt feelings, and I was able to make a report to the pastoral staff about the incident and its conclusion.

So what does a service ministry look like, and how does that compare to simply being safety or security? The largest difference is in attitude towards the congregation. Instead of walking around looking aloof, the team will smile and engage in conversation with others. Instead of standing as “guard” to the church or children’s area, they will smile and welcome visitors warmly. The biggest difference is warmth and genuine smiles. Even when they have to look out for trouble, they should be smiling and engaging. If they have to turn someone away from an area, it should be with a gentle word and a smile. To put it simply, they have to have a heart for serving people. If they have a heart for serving, they can be trained to watch for trouble.

The Safety Team Ministry at our church is an intentional service-oriented ministry. It must be treated as such, and the team has to intentionally serve the congregation. I encourage you to take an honest look at your safety team and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is our team a “safety team” or a “security team”?
  2. Are we a ministry, or simply “hired contractors”?
  3. What is the culture of our team?
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