Worship Pastor Rattles Christian Community, Reinforces Need for Child Abuse Prevention Within the Church

By Kelley Spencer

by Danielle Dolin

Aaron Ivey, former worship pastor at Austin Stone Community Church has been fired after a “pattern of predatory manipulation, sexual exploitation, and abuse of influence” according to the partner message from Austin Stone Community Church’s website.

The earliest known case of this behavior started in 2011 with a minor, which included, “inappropriate and explicit communications, indecent exposure, and the use of alcohol and illegal substances.”

The elders at Austin Stone Community Church “will not be surprised if more is uncovered.”

Aaron Ivey Lived a Double Life, Rattling Church, and Community

Aaron Ivey’s earliest known incident in 2011 means that he’s been leading in music ministry for thirteen years, worshipping, writing songs, and creating music while living this double life of complete hypocrisy by his actions.

This is every Church’s waking nightmare – that one of their seemingly devoted leaders abuses their power, sinning against children and adults and blatantly disrespecting scripture to be faithful in marriage, stay pure, and abstain from sexual immorality.

According to Aaron Ivey’s website (which is not active now), he is “passionate about mentoring and developing young leaders and world changers, Aaron spends much of his time communicating the truths of the Gospel.”

He is not the godly mentor that he appears to be.

Over the years, Aaron Ivey has been a guest on many podcasts, including his wife, Jamie Ivey’s The Happy Hour, where he provided advice and guidance on marriage and dating, mental health, family life, and leadership.

According to Ministry Watch, Aaron appeared on a panel in 2019 hosted by the SBC’s Ethic & Religious Liberty Commission, titled “Faithful Husband, Strong Father: Embracing God’s Design for Manhood in Marriage,” which focused on the role of biblical manhood in marriage.

If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.

In March of 2021, Aaron Ivey co-wrote the book Complement: The Surprising Beauty of Choosing Together Over Separate in Marriage. The “heart” behind the book is a raw version of how Aaron and Jamie feel when it comes to complementing one another in marriage.

The book discusses traditional gender roles within marriage, citing biblical references to support male leadership in the home, and challenges men with leading, serving, shepherding, and being more like Jesus.

While engaging in inappropriate behavior with other men and being unfaithful to his wife, Jamie, Aaron was writing a book for the Christian community on marriage and dating. I’ll take a hard pass on buying that book.

It seems that Aaron Ivey lived two very different lives kept separate from each other; one spoke of his love and devotion to God through praise and worship while the other secretly indulged in urges completely dishonorable and distasteful to God.

As I researched, I noticed webpages with Aaron Ivey disappearing by the hour. Churches, authors, and Christian organizations are taking down pages with his name on them left and right. I can’t say I blame them; I would too.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first case of a Christian leader living a double life, and it certainly won’t be the last.

This Case Points to the Prevalence of Abuse in the Church

Data shows that sexual abuse in the church is becoming rampant. According to the organization Not in Our Church, studies show that the faith community is even more vulnerable to abuse than secular environments. Why?

Perhaps this quote from a convicted offender can shed some light on this:

“I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”

According to Religion News, The Abel and Harlow study revealed some alarming statistics:

  • 93 percent of sex offenders describe themselves as “religious”
  • This category of offender may be the most dangerous

Unsurprisingly, other studies found that offenders within faith communities have more victims as well as younger victims.

These offenders are lurking in not only church congregations but also within church leadership. Admittedly, this makes me cringe and feel queasy as I am writing this. Perhaps these statistics and stories can spur churches to take action and further abuse prevention, placing strict safety measures that prevent this from happening again and again.


What Safeguards Can Be Implemented to Aid in Prevention?

The elders at Austin Stone Community Church admit this case has “rattled their trust.” They respond with a biblical reference to “knowing the Lord’s sheep are worth our protection and our love, we are committed to loving this body and rooting out evil.”

The Church partners with MinistrySafe to train its staff and try to prevent incidents like these. According to their website, MinistrySafe provides a Five Part Safety System, which includes awareness training, skillful screening, policies and procedures, background checks, and monitoring and oversight.

In Aaron Ivey’s case, it appears that he had church leaders fooled as they did not recognize any red flags for abuser characteristics and common grooming behaviors. He hid these types of secret behaviors from ministry leaders and his own family for thirteen years.

The second part, the screening process, didn’t stop Aaron from being hired even though he did not have the right motives for working with children and adults. He was clearly in violation of any policies that Austin Stone Community Church had in place, but it wasn’t discovered until years later. More information will come to light in the coming days, but there are still many unanswered questions. How did he avoid getting caught for thirteen years? Did the Church perhaps ignore or cover up any information or reports? Is there anyone in his circle of family or friends who saw red flags in his behavior?

I’m very familiar with the background check prevention step as I used this tool as a former leader in kid’s ministry, but according to MinistrySafe, here’s the issue: More than 90 percent of individuals who have sexually abused children have no past criminal record… and they know it. That solid piece of data right there is what sends that familiar wave of fear up my spine. They do not have a criminal record or past, so background checks like these won’t flag them. In those cases, the Church must have a stronger reliance on abuse awareness, training, and reporting.

While I appreciate organizations like MinistrySafe and the important work they do to protect churchgoers and staff, this isn’t enough. I find myself having more questions about how people like Aaron Ivey can skate through the recruitment process and be in a leadership position for over a decade without getting caught.

It’s difficult to fathom how sexual abuse (and abuse in general) keeps happening, and we as a church must do better. Church leadership is responsible for having proper safeguards in place to protect people from abuse. We can all agree as Christians that the Church should be a safe haven, not a place of pain, abuse, and deception.

Kelley is a Christian author, mental health advocate, and mother of two boys (and one in heaven) living in Minnesota. She loves tacos, being outside, gardening, and vacationing. Kelley’s writing appears in The Mighty, Her View From Home, Dayspring and Focus on the Family. She has God-sized dreams of publishing her first book. Grab your Free Anxious Mind Three-Day Devotional.

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