Keeping Watch Over the Flock: BUTREC Training Session, February 2024

Divinia Reynolds, SEC Bible Worker

Christians must care for one another, especially by protecting the vulnerable in church communities. This was the topic of discussion for 32 workers and pastors from the British Union Conference (BUC), who gathered online for a professional development session on Tuesday, 13 February. The session was organised by the Ministerial Department of the BUC, which oversees the British Union Conference Training Resource Evangelism Centre (BUTREC). The training focused on reviewing updates to the BUC's safeguarding policy, procedures, and guidance, as well as the implications of the government's recent report on child protection in religious organisations and settings.

The presenter, Pastor Les Ackie, the BUC Family, Children's and Possibilities Ministries and Safeguarding Lead set the scene with the thought that religion is "not a safeguard against the reality of abuse in its various forms" but can even "compound (its) seriousness and long-lasting impact." 

It is little wonder that, as Pastor Ackie highlighted, Jesus spent more time challenging abuse than any other social problem: an eye-opening observation that motivated us also to take the issue very seriously. As he stated, leaders must be courageous and prepared to "root out" any abuse that should arise.

To facilitate this, the presenter also dispelled common misconceptions that forgiveness means to "treat the perpetrator of abuse as though the offence never happened" and victims must "return" to abusive situations. Another was that forgiveness means there are no consequences. These were among the misapprehensions that work to maintain abusive dynamics that trap victims and keep abusers unaccountable.  

Pastor Ackie promoted awareness of different forms of abuse, for example, describing how the explosion in social media usage has led to a huge increase in related sexual abuse among youth in the last ten years.

However, emotional abuse remains the most prevalent form of psychological abuse in religious contexts: misuse of power, shaming, blaming, gender inequality, mishandling of Bible texts and narcissistic behaviour (thoroughly outlined in Mathew 23) are among aspects for us to look out for as we "keep watch over the flock" (1 Peter 5:2).

Church interactions shaped by criticism were also considered abusive. Ackie urged us to have a relationship with others, especially young people, before offering apparent criticisms: "If they don't respect you, why would they listen to what you say?"

The well-being of the youngest members of our church community was a top priority. In today's world, where non-biblical values are promoted through education and media, it is important for parents and churches to equip our youth with the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. This includes educating them about sexuality, an area where parents should take the primary responsibility and address the topic in a way that is appropriate for their child's age and maturity. It is important for parents to establish healthy relationships with their children so that they feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics and are less likely to seek attention through inappropriate relationships.

In general comments about abuse, Ackie also mooted the possibility of:

  • misquoting scripture to justify abusive practices, resulting in "complicity with abusers" in our churches;
  • "religious badmen" and women who perpetrate or facilitate abuse because many do "the wrong thing with good intentions" and do not realise they are being spiritually abusive. 

This was a strong call for us all to "examine ourselves."

Likewise, the Church's policy has been reviewed, and Ackie ran through proposed updates to have the best practices. Yet he added the addendum that:

"Policy and procedures are just words on paper. Unless that policy is implemented, it is no good to man nor beast."

The session indeed promoted awareness and informed attendees regarding the imperative of safeguarding the vulnerable in the context of local church ministry. 

North England Conference's Pastor Thando Mlalazi particularly appreciated how the necessity of safeguarding the flock was presented from biblical foundations.

Dwayne Jones of the South England Conference also remarked on how safeguarding to protect the rights and safety of the vulnerable "will remain relevant until the Lord returns."  The pastor added:

"I found the training super important because it highlighted the need for measures to prevent abuse, especially against the vulnerable. It also reinforced the significance of my parental duty to educate my children about sex, the internet and how to relate to people of influence, be they male or female."

BUTREC was established in 2011 to equip members in outreach and now provides training for "building resilient leaders, equipped to reach one life at a time." BUTREC leader, host and BUC Ministerial Director, Pastor Samuel Ouadjo, quoted Acts 6:3 in his poignant appeal for leaders and churches with "good reputation", "full of the Holy Spirit", with an "unquestionable connection with Christ", who are wise.

Themes to be covered in upcoming BUTREC training sessions in the months ahead will include 'The Heavenly Sanctuary in 2 Thessalonians 2', 'Fundamental Beliefs', and 'Management of Communication during times of Crisis'.

For further information on BUTREC training for workers and pastors, safeguarding or related matters, contact the BUC Ministerial or Family Ministries Department.