Although these rules were developed by John Wesley in the early 1800s, they are still part of the official doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church. Sometimes when people talk about the means of grace, they skip to the end of the General Rules where the "ordinances of God" are listed. This list includes worship, prayer, Holy Communion, studying the Scriptures, and fasting. And while these are all very important means of grace, we should not forget the first General Rule — to do no harm. What does it mean to participate in the means of grace by doing no harm?
The General Rules give examples — avoiding needless self-indulgence and not taking advantage of the vulnerable —to help us understand what doing no harm looks like in everyday life. But, as teachers and leaders in the church, what does it mean to participate in the means of grace by doing no harm? One of the first things that comes to mind is the measures churches have taken in recent years to develop "Safe Sanctuary" policies and procedures to reduce the risk of child abuse.
These procedures are concrete ways we live out our commitment to ensure that children and youth are not physically harmed when they are in our care. They also protect adults from being placed in situations where they may be vulnerable to false accusations. When people abide by their church's "Safe Sanctuary" policies, they are not just following the rules; they are increasing the opportunities for children and youth to experience the grace of God.
While child abuse in the church is a clear violation of our call to do no harm, there are other situations that are more subtle. The questions listed below may provoke further discussion with teachers about what it means to do no harm in a class or small group. Are we doing harm when we . . .
- Post an attendance chart in an elementary classroom, displaying for all to see that some children attend only every other week?
- Randomly call on adults to read aloud in an adult Sunday school class?
- Lead a game in youth fellowship that results in one person being singled out as the "loser"?
- Ask someone with no knowledge of the Bible to teach the three-year-old class?
- Schedule Sunday school classes at the same time as the primary worship service?
- Move the older-adult classroom to the third floor so that the larger first-floor classroom can be used for youth?
For Further Reading:
- The Book of Discipline. (General Rules are on pages 73-74.)
- Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church
- Safe Sanctuaries for Youth: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in Youth Ministries
- What Every Teacher Needs to Know