What the Orlando Shooting Means to Your Church

by Raul Rivera

After this past weekend’s tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida, many people are once again asking themselves, “What is this world coming to?”

Over the last few days, the Church, as a whole, has done a wonderful job of actually being the Church by loving, showing grace, and mourning with those who were affected by last Sunday’s tragedy.

While this is a good thing, the question more and more pastors are now asking is, “How would my church respond to an active shooter situation?”

It may be easy to think that what happened on Sunday in Orlando could never happen to your church (and God forbid it ever does!). I mean, after all, churches are supposed to be places that are sacred and safe. But truthfully, this is something that pastors and church leaders can no longer afford not to address.

Tomorrow, June 17, just so happens to mark the one-year anniversary of the horrific mass shooting that happened at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. And here we are again, a year later, mourning the loss of more innocent lives.

Today’s blog post is not one about gun policy or the state of the world around us. Rather,today’s post is intended to give you, pastors and church leaders, guidance on how to implement a plan for your church in the event of an active shooter situation.

This is never an easy topic to discuss, but it is one that is becoming more and more necessary.

A guide for churches

Active shooter situations are defined as those where an individual is “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” Unfortunately, churches are not immune from this tragedy.

In 2013, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a guide to assist churches in planning for, and responding to, emergency situations. While much of the guide deals with emergency situations as a result of natural disasters, FEMA does give guidance for churches on how to prepare for, prevent, and respond to active shooter incidents.

Next, we will take a look at these responses and how they can be implemented in your church.

Preparing for an active shooter incident

In preparing for an active shooter incident, FEMA’s guide gives three ways to prepare. Let us look at those next.

Planning

The guide recommends for churches to create an “emergency planning team”. The responsibility of this team would be to “establish goals, objectives, and courses of action for an active shooter annex.” According to FEMA’s guide, your emergency planning team develops courses of action, and they should consider several issues, including but not limited to:

  • How to evacuate or lockdown personnel and visitors. Personnel involved in such planning should pay attention to disability-related accessibility concerns when advising on shelter sites and evacuation routes;
  • How to evacuate when the primary evacuation routes are unusable;
  • How to select effective shelter-in-place locations (optimal locations have thick walls, solid doors with locks, minimal interior windows, first aid-emergency kits, communication devices and duress alarms);
  • How those present in buildings and on the ground will be notified that there is an active shooter incident underway. This could be done using familiar terms, sounds, lights, and electronic communications, such as text messages or emails. Include in the courses of action how to communicate with those who have language barriers or need other accommodations, such as visual signals to communicate with hearing-impaired individuals. Planners should make sure this protocol is readily available and understood by those who may be responsible for sending out or broadcasting an announcement. Rapid notification of a threat can save lives by keeping people out of harm’s way.
  • How everyone will know when buildings and grounds are safe.

Sharing information with first responders

FEMA’s guide stresses that your church’s planning process is not complete until your emergency plan is shared with the first responders in your area.

The guide indicates that “the planning process should include preparing and making available to first responders an up-to-date and well-documented site assessment as well as any other information that would assist them.”

The materials you provide to first responders “should include building schematics and photos of the buildings, both inside and out, and include information about door and window locations as well as locks and access controls.”

According to the guide, providing detailed information to first responders allows them to rapidly move through your church buildings and church grounds during an emergency; to ensure areas are safe, and to tend to those in need.

Exercises

FEMA’s guide acknowledges that drills for fires and protective measures for tornadoes may be part of routine activities for a church, but far fewer churches practice for active shooter situations. The guide states, “to be prepared for an active shooter incident, houses of worship should train their staff and congregation, as appropriate, in what to expect and how to react.”

The guide also mentions that good planning includes conducting drills that involve first responders. “Exercises with these valuable partners are one of the most effective and efficient ways to ensure that everyone knows not only their role, but also the role of others at the scene.”

Exercises should include “walks through buildings to allow law enforcement to provide input on shelter sites as well as familiarize first responders with the location.”

Preventing an active shooter incident

FEMA’s guide provides two recommendations for preventing active shooter incidents:looking for warning signs and establishing “threat assessment teams.”

Next, we will take a look at each of these recommendations.

Warning signs

FEMA’s guide acknowledges that “no profile exists for an active shooter; however, research indicates there may be signs or indicators.” As a pastor, it is common for you to counsel congregants on a near daily, if not daily, basis. Therefore, the opportunity for you to notice certain warning signs may be there.

The guide states that “specialized units in the Federal Government (such as the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit) continue to support behaviorally-based operational assessments of persons of concern in a variety of settings (e.g. schools, workplaces, houses of worship) who appear to be on a trajectory toward a catastrophic violent act.”

According to the guide, behaviors to be mindful include, but are not limited to:

  • Development of a personal grievance;
  • Contextually inappropriate and recent acquisitions of multiple weapons;
  • Contextually inappropriate and recent escalation in target practice and weapons training;
  • Contextually inappropriate and recent interest in explosives;
  • Contextually inappropriate and intense interest or fascination with previous shootings or mass attacks;
  • Many offenders experienced a significant real or perceived personal loss in the weeks and/or months leading up to the attack, such as a death, breakup, divorce, or loss of a job;
  • Few offenders had previous arrests for violent crimes.

Threat Assessment Teams

FEMA’s guide notes that “research shows that perpetrators of targeted acts of violence engage in both covert and overt behaviors preceding their attacks.” Perpetrators “consider, plan, prepare, share, and, in some cases, move on to action.”

The guide suggests that a useful tool to “identify, evaluate, and address these troubling signs is the creation of a multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Team (TAT)” for your church.

The guide explains that a threat assessment team “serves as a central convening body, so that warning signs observed by multiple people are not considered isolated incidents, slipping through the crack, when they actually may represent escalating behavior that is a serious concern.”

Threat assessment teams are more common in college and university settings, especially since the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Still, FEMA recommends for churches to consider implementing a threat assessment team.

Below are some recommendations from FEMA for your church to consider when implementing this team:

  • For the purpose of consistency and efficiency, your threat assessment team should be developed and implemented in coordination with other policy and practices of your church;
  • Your threat assessment team with diverse representation often will operate more efficiently and effectively. Team members may include leaders or administrators of your church, counselors, staff, congregants, and medical and mental health professionals, who may be drawn from your congregation;
  • Threat assessment teams review troubling or threatening behavior of persons brought to the attention of the team;
  • Threat assessment teams contemplate a holistic assessment and management strategy that considers the many aspects of the person’s life. This may include, but is not limited to, information about behaviors, communications, any threats made, security concerns, family issues, or relationship problems that might involve a troubled individual. The threat assessment team may also identify any potential victims with whom the individual may interact.
  • The threat assessment team may wish to seek assistance from law enforcement that can help assess reported threats or troubling behavior. (Each FBI field officehas a National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes (NCAVC) representative available to work with your church’s threat assessment team.)

Responding to an active shooter incident

I pray that your church never experiences such a horrific incident, but in such a situation, how should your church members and staff respond? Should such an incident occur, it would most likely happen before law enforcement officers arrived. So, how you and your church respond can make all the difference.

FEMA’s guide recognizes that “no single response fits all active shooter situations; however, making sure each individual knows his or her options for response…will save valuable time.” A survival mindset can help increase the odds of surviving such an incident.

While this is a sensitive and heavy topic to discuss, it may be a good idea to schedule a time with your congregation to discuss this topic and your church’s plan for an active shooter situation. No one knows your congregation better than you, so this can be implemented at your discretion.

Now, in regards to responding to an active shooter incident, FEMA’s guide notes that “there are three basic response options: run, hide, or fight.” We will examine each of these next.

Response #1: Run

According to the guide, if it is safe to do so, the first course of action that should be taken is to run out of the building and far away to a safe location. Your congregation and staff should be trained to do the following:

  • Leave personal belongings behind;
  • Visualize possible escape routes, including physically accessible routes for individuals with disabilities;
  • Avoid escalators and elevators;
  • Take others with them, but do not stay behind because others will not go;
  • Call 911 when safe to do so;
  • Let a responsible adult know where they are.

Response #2: Hide

If running is not a safe option then hide in as safe a place as possible. Best practice is to train your congregation and staff to hide in a location where the walls might be thicker and have fewer windows. In addition:

  • Lock the doors;
  • Barricade the doors with heavy furniture;
  • Close and lock windows and close blinds or cover windows;
  • Turn off lights;
  • Silence all electronic devices;
  • Remain silent;
  • If possible, use strategies to silently communicate with first responders; for example, in rooms with exterior windows, make signs to silently signal law enforcement and emergency responders to indicate the status of the room’s occupants;
  • Hide along the wall closest to the exit but out of the view for the hallway (allowing for an ambush of the shooter and for possible escape if the shooter enters the room);
  • Remain in place until given the “all clear” by identifiable law enforcement.

Response #3: Fight

In concluding its review of response options in an active shooter situation, FEMA’s guide ends with this advice:

“If neither running nor hiding is a safe option, as a last resort, when confronted by the shooter, adults in immediate danger should consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers or chairs… While talking to the congregation and staff about confronting a shooter may be daunting and upsetting for some, they should know that they might be able to successfully take action to save lives.”

Should you allow guns in your church?

Though FEMA’s guide provides some useful information for churches when it comes to implementing a response plan to an active shooter situation, there are still some questions that the guide fails to address.

One such question that I am sure several of you are asking is, “Should I allow guns in my church?”

The only thing that the FEMA guide says about this is, “Each house of worship should determine, as part of its planning process, policies on the control and presence of weapons, as permitted by law.”

There is no easy answer to this question. But as the pastor and leader of your congregation, I believe there are two things that you should consider:

  1. All 50 states have enacted laws on an individual’s right to legally carry a concealed weapon. It is important that you become familiar with the law specific to your state when considering this question.
  2. Prayerfully seek the guidance and counsel of the Lord. This decision should not be taken lightly, and guidance from the Lord is a must. If your state permits it and you decide in favor of allowing guns in your church, then you should seek the counsel of a qualified attorney in your state to assist you in drafting a policy that considers your state’s law and who is permitted to carry on church premises. You should also seek the counsel of a qualified attorney in your state regarding any potential liability that could rest upon your church.

“A city on a hill that cannot be hidden”

There is no doubt that the world we live in is in need of the love, mercy, and grace that can only come from our Heavenly Father above. More than ever before, the Church needs the “light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.” I pray that God gives you and your church guidance and favor in your city and community.

What Makes a Pastor Steal Church Money?

by Raul Rivera

Have you ever asked yourself why some pastors steal church money? It is easy to assume that it’s because of because of greed. But if we’re willing to take a closer look, we’ll soon realize that it goes much deeper than greed. I mean, why would a pastor go against everything he knows and teaches to be true, deliberately violate those truths, and then try to hide it to perpetuate his behavior?

In both the business world and church world, embezzlement is the most common crime committed. So, why is it that so many pastors continue to fall into this trap?

To help answer this question, let me give you some statistics about the life of many pastors today. This may help you better understand why stealing church money is on the rise.

  • A little over 80% of pastors and their spouses currently or frequently struggle with discouragement, disappointment or depression.
  • More than 40% of pastors feel they lead lives that are too busy and they often feel guilt over it because their children are the ones who suffer most.
  • The majority of pastors feel the church, or the way that they “did church”, has had a negative impact of their families.
  • 40% of pastors experience serious conflicts with a parishioner on a monthly basis.
    (**The above statistics were taken from George Barna and James Dobson.**)

Below are four conditions that, when combined with the statistics mentioned earlier, can cause “even the elect” to falter.

  1. Pastors often feel alone.  Did you know that 7 out of 10 pastors claim they do not have someone that they can truly call a friend? When a parishioner needs help, he calls the pastor. When the pastor needs help, he often has no one to turn to. During these times, pastors tend to go into a “cave”. Unlike Elijah, pastors do not usually have God encounters in those caves. Instead, because of the busyness of life and the demands of pastoring, a pastor usually tries to cope on his own.
  2. False identity.  Unfortunately, many pastors that start churches have a difficult time separating themselves and their identities from the church. Therefore, 100% of their soul is wrapped up in the church. In some instances a pastor may believe that, like a man who starts a business, the church (or business side of church) is his, he can make decisions how he pleases, and no one can tell him what to do.
  3. Financial frustration.  The unfortunate truth is that a vast majority of pastors are severely underpaid and their spouses are never paid. Regardless of what you hear on the news or read on the Internet,more than 9 out of 10 pastors are underpaid and if you consider the number of hours their spouses contribute, it is borderline indentured servitude. Believe me, this weighs heavily on the hearts of many pastors.  As the years pass, they feel the weight of seeing the life for which they once had great dreams succumbing to the concerns that come with the golden years, and there is no nest egg for retirement. That can be very depressing.
  4. A misplaced heart.  I have met many pastors that spend 100% of their energy focused on growing their churches. Yet they speak very little of true discipleship, humble servant hood and pastoral care. It’s as though they are willing to do whatever it takes to see their churches grow, no matter the cost.  But we must heed the prophetic word spoken by Joshua over Jericho, “He who rebuilds its foundations will do it at the cost of his firstborn son, and he who sets up its gates at the cost of his youngest son.” As we read later in the Scriptures, one man named Hiel of Bethel was up to the task. Wanting to rebuild Jericho so badly that he simply did not heed the warning and as a result his two sons perished.  As a pastor friend that did not reach mega church status once told me, “Thank You, Lord, for not giving me what I so dearly wanted.”

Headed to moral bankruptcy
While it never makes it right, at least you can see how certain circumstances of ministry can lead a pastor to moral bankruptcy. That’s what happened to a pastor in Columbus, OH. He embezzled money from the church to fund a better lifestyle. He claimed the money was used to better serve his church, so he purchased a boat and a pool for his house; all to share with the congregation and better serve them. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really happened.

So as you can see, the four conditions combined with the statistics presented earlier can lead anyone to moral bankruptcy, making embezzlement seem like it was something God wanted.

Now you know
Now you know why so many pastors today are falling into moral bankruptcy.  Any one of the four conditions can be the tipping point for many pastors. You may even identify with more than one of these conditions. But be encouraged, because there is hope!

We serve a God who is hope Himself and He has a wonderful journey for you that will fill you with that hope regardless of how you feel today.

Source: https://www.startchurch.com/blog/view/name/what-makes-a-pastor-steal-church-money

The Importance of an Annual Board Meeting

What’s the big deal?

The laws of all 50 states clearly require that at least one board meeting take place per year.  During this meeting, you generally discuss the budget for the upcoming year, salaries, housing allowances, insurance, policies and procedures, and any other pertinent topic(s). In addition, it is necessary that board meeting minutes be taken in order to document the decisions made during the meeting. As a matter of fact, it is necessary that board meeting minutes be taken and kept for all board meetings.

Frequency of board meetings

A common question we receive is, “How often should we hold board meetings?” Saxe & Associates, Inc. recommends that you and your board meet at least once per month. Doing so gives you a total of twelve board meetings per year.

Topics to be discussed in these meetings include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Repairs/renovations to the church building
  • Hiring of new employees
  • Resignations or terminations
  • Major purchases (real estate, automobiles, etc.)
  • Salary increases
  • Amendments to governing documents such as the bylaws
  • Adoption and implementation of new policies and procedures
  • Adding and/or removing a board member(s)
  • Member disputes and/or discipline of church member

What to do before a board meeting

Before a board meeting is held, you should do two things: 1) give a proper notice, and 2) establish an agenda for the meeting. Let’s take a look at each of these.

1. Give a proper notice

Every state requires that board members be given some measure of proper notice prior to a board meeting taking place. While the minimum notice that you are required to give to the members of your board varies from state to state, Saxe & Associates, Inc. recommends that you give your board members at least 10 full days’ notice prior to the meeting.

In essence, the notice informs the board members that a board meeting will take place on certain date at a certain time. Additionally, it is vital that you have a way of proving that all board members received such notice. One way to send the notice is by email; make sure that each board member replies back to you whether or not he will be in attendance.
Although the law does not require it, when you send the notice, you will want to send an agenda for the upcoming board meeting, which we will talk about next.

2. Establish an agenda for the meeting

An agenda of what will be discussed and voted upon at the upcoming board meeting should be sent to all board members at the time that you send proper notice. This ensures that board members have enough time to study the agenda and be prepared to discuss and/or vote on certain matters by the time the board meeting starts.

In short, your agenda should be a simple list of topics; it does not need to go into any great detail. The agenda simply outlines the progression of a board meeting. When you chair the board meeting, be sure to resist getting off-topic. Do not discuss and vote on any topic that is not on the agenda. This keeps board meetings focused and precise and helps prevent potential headaches from board meetings that last too long.

Below is an example of the type of information that a board meeting agenda may contain:

  • Call to order
  • Previous board meeting minutes
  • Old business
  • New business
  • Reports
  • Open floor
  • Adjournment

 

Adapted from “This Could Be Your Most Important Meeting, Part 1” by StartChurch.com