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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Healthy leaders for the church

Will background checks make any difference?

American culture places the habits and behaviors of individuals within a context of health. Some habits, such as regular exercise, good nutrition and prayer, promote health. Other behaviors, like engaging in excessive drinking and pornography, contribute to “dis-ease” and compromise effective functioning in positions of trust and authority—such as those of pastors.

As we have experienced the painful and disruptive reality of misconduct and inappropriate or even criminal behavior by church leaders, many denominations are instituting more extensive screening zmeasures for candidates for public ministry. The big question is, Will it make a difference?

Assessing the qualifications and characteristics of people who seek to serve in rostered ministry is a primary responsibility of candidacy committees across the ELCA. In our candidacy process we describe three main functions: hospitality, formation and evaluation. Gathering information to assure thorough and careful judgment of an applicant’s character and past behavior is a necessary part of the assessment.

We are adding background checks because:

1. All God’s people are sinners.

2. It’s important to keep standards current, and background checks are a part of that. Other denominations are making similar changes.

3. We must do everything we know to do to screen out people who might use their position as a pastor or lay rostered leader in damaging or illegal ways.

We will use care so information gathered about a candidate doesn’t become hurtful to that person’s reputation or sense of self as a valued child of God. Maintaining the delicate balance of rigorous scrutiny and holy trust is our hope and opportunity. If we deter just one future perpetrator, then our effort will be worth the expense and discomfort we must now manage.


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