Planting a church? This software is for you!

Ask These 8 Questions For Solid Bylaws

By Christine Bove

5 Min Read

"I don't understand. How could this happen?" Pastor Anthony stared at his office door, closed with the locks changed. His name was removed from the sign next to the door. He repeated, completely at a loss for words, "How could this happen?"

His two-week vacation had been glorious. After several years of back-breaking work of getting his church plant off the ground, he finally left for some much-needed rest. When he and his family returned home, however, he abruptly discovered his complete removal from his church and board.

Nothing could have prepared him for this; the sting of betrayal was acute.

Completely dejected, he returned to his car to figure out what to do next.

Can Pastor Anthony get his church back?

Ministry Bylaws and the Many Tragedies That Proceed Them

Pastor Anthony lamented and prayed in his car. Through a prompt of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Anthony reached out to a good friend of his who has been guiding him through this whole church planting process. After explaining the situation to him, his friend told him to consult his bylaws, the governing documents they set up at the beginning of their church planting process.

Anthony is not the only one. Unfortunately, many pastors face similar painful and difficult situations.

Some pastors create bylaws while they established their churches. Other pastors, whether due to lack of knowledge or other circumstances, have not created bylaws. Unfortunately for those ministers and their ministries, a lack of bylaws means they do not have any accountability for their actions nor protection from their own church or outside forces.
Pastors and ministry leaders serve their churches wholeheartedly, unaware that their bylaws are silent on the matters of membership accusations and runaway boards. Their bylaws could also cater to the whims of the board members without any healthy boundaries and accountability.

While voting memberships and boards may be a form of accountability, a structure many churches have used for many years, the list of injured and heartbroken pastors is endless.

Can Pastor Anthony get his church back? Alongside the power and grace of God, he discovered a clause that would protect him and aid him in getting his church back.

The accountability board clause:

The accountability board is a special board created by the pastor nominating three individuals who are neither members of the church nor the board. The nominees are usually ministers of other churches and ministries or are individuals from those ministries comprising their boards.

The accountability board is not like the church board of directors (elders). They are not a part of the day-to-day activities of the church. They do not vote on church matters. Instead, they serve to give the pastor comfort, aide, counsel, correction, protection, and discipline. Their service to the pastor can come in phone calls, visits, vacations together, prayer times, and more. But the most valuable service they can render to the pastor and church is their availability and involvement should the pastor ever be accused of wrong-doing.

Under the accountability clause, neither the board nor the membership can discipline or remove the pastor. Instead, the board hears the accusations against the pastor and then votes on the merits of the allegations to decide if they will report it to the accountability board. Suppose they are unanimous in their vote to report it to the accountability board. In that case, the accountability board goes into session to weigh out all of the facts and circumstances to decide if the accusations are true and what discipline is necessary.

What makes the accountability board so powerful is that it strips the devil of his ability to divide the church and its leadership and conquer through division. The accountability board has nothing to gain or lose except to know the truth.

In Pastor Anthony's case, this clause within his bylaws will assist him in fairly getting his church back. While pastors may not deal with that particular issue, another clause is essential to have within their bylaws.

The request of church records clause:

Every church's bylaws should contain a clause about sharing information to members when requested, specifically financial records. This clause exists to properly handle members' requests to see the church finances, revealing personal giving records or exposing certain sensitive information. Having a clause that limits what a member can see or request is important and protects other church members as well.

Potential Deficiencies In Your Bylaws

Many pastors may not know this, but numerous churches and ministries have deficient bylaws. This means that the bylaws are silent or lack explanations on certain matters. When this occurs, the state's incorporation laws, instead, will take precedent on how the case will be handled. The laws of many states automatically vest the membership to vote in and vote out the board and its president unless something is otherwise stated in the ministry's incorporation document and its bylaws.

8 Questions to Audit Your Bylaws

Look at your bylaws carefully. Be willing to see the flaws and potential pitfalls that could exist within them. Below are eight questions to ask as you vet your bylaws. Are your bylaws IRS compliant? Do your bylaws protect your church and ministry against new laws with which you might disagree?

Take the eight questions below and put your bylaws to the test:

  1. Do you have a constitution AND bylaws? Some churches have only bylaws. This is very important because, through the constitution, you declare that the bylaws are subject to the Scripture references and doctrines of the church as interpreted by the board and pastor.
  2. Do your bylaws have a prohibited activities clause that protects the church from legislation that attempts to force the church to engage in activities that violate its disciplines of faith?
  3. Does your constitution contain a preamble that clearly declares your organization to be ecclesiastical and not just an ordinary nonprofit organization?
  4. Does your constitution contain a membership clause that clearly has a membership method, how one becomes a member, and how one is removed, as well as outlining membership voting rights?
  5. Do your bylaws have a member privacy clause? The privacy clause binds the church to keep all church member records private.
  6. Do your bylaws contain a standard of living clause? A standard of living clause requires all members, the board, and the pastor to uphold a standard of living consistent with Scripture. This makes their status at the church dependent on how they live their day-to-day lives and not just how they behave in the church.
  7. Do your bylaws contain a records request clause? As stated earlier, this clause should include a provision that controls the method used by a member to review church records. This is different from the member privacy clause in that this clause allows the church the right to decide if the request is frivolous. It also requires the requester to list what they wish to look at and state a reason for the request and sign a statement that the information will be kept in the strictest confidence.
  8. Does your constitution contain a mutual interest clause? This clause protects the pastor or board from a defamation lawsuit if there is an instance in which either an employee, member, or board member faces church discipline or removal from the church. In many cases, it becomes necessary to share such information with the church from the pulpit. Many churches have been sued for defamation because the individual claims they were defamed when their information was shared with the church.

How Did You Do?

While there are many other essential clauses to include in your bylaws, this simple audit should give you an indication as to the condition of your current bylaws.

As a matter of due diligence, every church should review its bylaws annually and make sure they contain the latest provisions. All it takes is one provision or sentence change, and it may save your whole ministry.

While God is our ultimate protector and provider, He has empowered us to set up the best practices to not only protect our ministries but to protect our leadership as well. If you need assistance with vetting your bylaws, look to our StartRIGHT Service. Give us a call today at 877-494-4655 and one of our specialists will be able to set up a solid legal foundation for your church.


Did you find this blog helpful?

And receive Book 1 of our Grow Trilogy FREE today! This series gives you the strategies you need to get started growing your church plant today!