Pre-Employment Screening for Houses of Worship


The author recommends that Houses of Worship maintain pre-employment screening for both paid and volunteer positions. Depending on the position, more or less screening may be required. For example, positions entrusted with protecting  infants, children and fiduciary responsibility require more thorough screening. See note at end for certain volunteer roles which should like all criminal checks require on-going checks.

Positions of trust should require employment verification, reference checks, a criminal back-ground check, drug testing if permissible, financial checks and a thorough interview which should be required for all positions. The entire hiring process should be in accordance with Federal and State requirements.

The interview is often the most overlooked aspect of the pre-employment interview since those making the final decision rely on background checks, employment verification and drug testing to weed out undesirable applicants. However, there are flaws in these processes. Drug testing has obvious flaws since a most commonly used drug of choice is cocaine which quickly vanishes from the system of a user. For other drugs, the user simply abstains from use prior to testing. Background checks have flaws and should not be relied on without a comprehensive process occurring.  Look at horrific crimes such as mass shootings or other murders where often the person has no criminal record. Also serious criminal charges can be plea-bargained to lesser charges. So a violent crime which is important to know about may be reduced to a non-violent offense. Employment verification poses a concern since many past employers do not respond to verification requests and when they do, certain information may be lacking due to fear of legal repercussions.

The best method to obtain accurate information is during the interview process by using a skilled interviewer. It is important to remember that the best predictor of future behavior is recent past behavior. Unfortunately many solid citizens do stupid and illegal things in later years of life. On the reverse spectrum, many who do stupid or illegal things in their early years get their act together and become solid citizens. So again, recent past history is the best indicator of future behavior.

During the interview, spend less time writing down responses and more time observing the applicant observing tell-tail signs of deception or nervousness in response to your questions. Nervousness does not in itself indicate deception but you might want to ask additional probing questions. Good interviewing skills requires training and this article is not intended to provide that guidance but rather to point out the importance of conducting a thorough interview during the hiring process.

When reviewing information gained during the pre-employment process, the following should be considered in the hiring decision: Age at the time of crime or inappropriate activity, seriousness of the crime, length of time that has elapsed since the crime or inappropriate activity and the criminal act or inappropriate behavior as it relates to the position being filled. I use the words “inappropriate behavior” since many focus only on criminal acts but inappropriate behavior in recent years should also be considered for positions involving church leadership.

DUI’s while crucial when considering a driver’s position may be less important in other positions. However, a pattern of alcohol or drug abuse is important in the evaluation process for all positions even though no convictions exist. Other offenses while not criminal such as sexual harassment are also important to assess during positions of trust such as pastoral positions. Infidelity may or may not be criminal depending on the state but it is important to consider in the selection process of pastors since it can lead to loss of confidence in church leadership. Again, the time that has elapsed between the last offense and character evolution are important to consider.

In order to drive this important point home, Yahoo News Articles a couple of years ago cited two very high ranking US Officials, both  possessing the highest level of “Top Secret” Clearances committing very serious criminal acts. Again stellar citizens can turn into less than stellar citizens while less than stellar citizens can find Christ and become stellar citizens! Regardless, employment investigations must adhere to state and federal regulations. If we violate EEOC laws we are exposing our organizations to civil law suits as well as loss of reputation.

In summary, the author recommends for positions of trust whether paid or volunteer:  a thorough interview, a criminal background check, employment and reference checks, drug testing, credit check, and a Motor Vehicle Report for driver positions. Ideally, they would be members of the church for several month but this practice is not always practical.

For those organizations desiring to reduce costs while obtaining an accurate record check, the applicant can go to their local police department to be fingerprinted. The prints are then submitted to the FBI with a check for $18.00. The author recommends this process to ensure a national and thorough records check where as other sorts of criminal searches might only be conducted within the state the person currently resides or has resided.

NOTE: It is important to point out that many churches provide community services such as soup kitchens and shelters. These ministries consist of volunteers who may not meet the aforementioned hiring criteria in which case it is important that leadership maintain adequate security counter measures to ensure protection. Many volunteers are recovering drug abusers with known criminal records who have since found Christ and now volunteer to share the love of Christ by working in a soup kitchen or some other form of volunteer work. Some security experts insist that such volunteers not be allowed to volunteer because of criminal records, but church council or governing body must make these decisions. The author has been involved in prison ministries and working with the homeless for many years and is aware of volunteers with a past record who have since dedicated their lives to Christ and without hesitation would recommend them for trusted positions. 

Ezekiel 33:12-16 NIV [12] “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ [13] If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. [14] And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— [15] if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. [16] None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.

About the author:

Jim McGuffey, M.A., CPP, PSP, PCI is Board Certified in Security Management, Physical Security and Investigations and has 35 years of experience in security management. Jim can be reached at