Jules Loveland outlines why every church, including yours, needs to have a safeguarding approach in place


‘Safeguarding’ is a pretty familiar term in churches these days, but when you hear that word what springs to mind? Often we think of safeguarding in terms of DBS checks and ticking off a list of bureaucratic processes. For some safeguarding advice represents a hurdle to ministry, and for others it’s sensible practice. But have you ever considered safeguarding as a biblical foundation, essential to a life of following Jesus?

Safeguarding means ‘to protect from harm’, a principle we see often in the bible. Our name ‘Thirtyone:eight’ is taken from Proverbs 31:8 Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of vulnerable people.” But beyond this verse, caring for vulnerable people is at the heart of our Scriptures. As Christians we’re encouraged to remember the orphans, widows, strangers, and children. Did you know, that in the bible, there are more direct and indirect references to helping these vulnerable groups than there are to tithing, communion and baptism? In fact, there are over 2,000 references to matters of justice and injustice; of which the principles of safeguarding are included. Care for those in distress is included in the Mosaic law in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:21-22), and in the New Testament becomes the definition of authentic religion (James 1.27). Genuine fasting involves sharing food with the hungry and acceptable worship has to include providing shelter for the wanderer (Isaiah 58). Even more starkly, in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, hospitality towards the vulnerable is the signifier of being saved (Matthew 25:31-46). Even this very brief theological survey shows safeguarding to be at the very heart of Scripture.


Safeguarding as culture

Our Churches are unique. It’s a place where literally anyone can come and feel welcomed, loved, and part of a community. But with that openness comes responsibility to safeguard vulnerable people.

It’s easy to think that abuse and neglect don’t happen in our churches. But the sad truth is that they can and do happen. In some cases, failure to safeguard people from abuse has had devastating and long-lasting consequences on people’s lives.

It is shameful that not only has the church often failed to adequately care, but has also allowed abuse and neglect to take place on its watch. Jesus himself gave the sternest of warnings to those who fail to care for those who are vulnerable (Matthew 18:6).

Thanks to the brave people who have experienced such abuse and spoken out about it, we’re now much more aware of the risks. Today, many churches are working hard to get these things right and safeguarding is a familiar word to most people who work and volunteer in Christian ministry.

But we must move beyond a mindset of safeguarding being a designated person’s responsibility, or just a series of processes and training, and recognise that for our churches to be safe, our whole culture must be safe. The church must engage purposefully and wholeheartedly with a Theology of Safeguarding. And that theology should be reflected in the attitudes and actions of our leadership, ministries and communities, and the systems and structures that underpin them.

To truly create places that are safer for all, we need to create open cultures where abuse has nowhere to hide.


Theology of Safeguarding

To help us prioritise creating safe cultures it’s helpful to recognise the clear mandate, motivation and mission that the bible sets out for us. Thirtyone:eight CEO, Justin Humphreys developed a Theology of Safeguarding with Dr Krish Kandiah exploring these themes:

The mandate: Every generation must play its part in caring for vulnerable people.

The motivation: Every leader must pursue God’s purpose and priorities for vulnerable people.

The mission: Every means must be employed to keep vulnerable people safe, heard and noticed.

In the Theology of Safeguarding we see that the bible offers us guidance to ensure that those who are or may be vulnerable are heard and defended, and then treated appropriately. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive commentary, but rather assist people to understand what motivates and inspires the vision of Thirtyone:eight. Importantly, it unpacks the premise that safeguarding is not merely as set of processes or activities, but is in fact wisdom.

God has a heart to protect the most vulnerable in society. It’s His wisdom that those who are in need are confident that we understand them and know how to care for them. Our church cultures should reflect that wisdom –creating places where people feel, and are, safe.


So what can I do next?

If you want to cultivate a heart for safeguarding and be part of creating a safe culture in your church there are a number of resources Thirtyone:eight can offer you:

1. Website

There are numbers of free resources on our website, from practical ‘how to guides’, to news articles, blog and videos. You can also download the full Theology of Safeguarding for free.

2. Training:

We offer a range of training and webinars for all types of groups.

3. Membership

It’s possible your church is already a member of Thirtyone:eight, but if not, why not consider becoming a member? You get access to our specialist Knowledge Hub with over 200 additional resources, bespoke support, discounted training, and access to our award-winning helpline.