31 Oct 2012

Can Conducting a Wedding Land You in Jail?

Raul Rivera

This is a fact-based story

Being asked to perform a wedding made Pastor Leavy feel honored, especially since the individuals to be wed were long-time childhood friends of his.  They had all grown up in the same Texas town together, and had gone to the same church.  The engaged couple, now living in Ohio, wanted Pastor Leavy to perform the wedding and sign the marriage license. 

A little history about Pastor Leavy

Since his childhood days, Pastor Leavy had served in his church.  He felt a call to the ministry and worked in nearly every ministry department.  When the opportunity came up for him to get licensed as a minister, he was the first one to sign up.  His pastor of 17 years performed a ceremony before the entire congregation and issued him a ministerial license.   Shortly after being licensed, Pastor Leavy shared with his own pastor what he felt, that in the near future the Lord was going to open a door for him to start a church.  For some reason, Pastor Leavy detected a "less than celebratory" response from his pastor.

One year later, and after several other conversations about starting a new church, Pastor Leavy asked his pastor if he would help him start a new church.  He wanted to go through a twenty-week launch program and go with his pastor's blessing.  His pastor's only answer was, "You are not ready."  Pastor Leavy decided he would wait nine months before he asked again.  In the meantime, his relationship with his pastor seemed to deteriorate. 

The left foot of fellowship

Now nine months since their last conversation about starting a church, Pastor Leavy once again asked for help and his pastor's blessing, yet his pastor was once again unwilling.  Sharing his sincerest convictions on the matter, Pastor Leavy said, "I am so convinced the Lord put this new church in my heart that I feel compelled to go on my own."  His pastor gave him some advice.

1.     Do not start the church too close to mine.

2.     You do not have permission to tell anyone in this church that you are starting a church.

3.     If anyone from this church follows you, send him/her back.

One month later Pastor Leavy launched a new church fourteen miles from his former church.  Though he would have loved to receive his pastor's blessing, he knew the time had come to part ways and follow the call in his heart.  One year into the launch the church had 61 members, and would soon sign a lease to move into a new storefront location.

The wedding in Ohio

With the wedding six weeks away, Pastor Leavy was making preparations when a friend of his phoned him.  The friend reported that Pastor Leavy's former pastor had heard about the upcoming wedding event and had verbalized his wonder at how Pastor Leavy would be able to perform a wedding being that he (the former pastor) had revoked Pastor Leavy's ordination.  

That saddened Pastor Leavy, but it also raised some serious questions.  Can an ordination be revoked?  Am I no longer considered an ordained minister?  What about the wedding in Ohio that is coming up in six weeks?  Where can I get ordained in six weeks?

Many pastors find themselves in the same situation

Like Pastor Leavy, there are thousands of pastors all across America that face similar circumstances.  Many do not know where to turn.  Fortunately, there is an answer.  The laws of our land provide a solution for ministers in similar circumstances.  Here is some encouraging news: 

1.     When done correctly, a minister that starts a new church can legally be ordained through the church that he/she starts.

2.     We have identified eight requirements that must be met in order for an ordination to be valid (we discuss those at all of our conferences).

3.     The laws of all fifty states recognize ordinations across state lines.

Pastor Leavy found an answer

Sometimes, it takes a good problem to get someone moving in the right direction.  Pastor Leavy immediately began to search for an answer.  When he saw that we were doing a conference in Dallas he immediately registered.  There he learned a lot more than he imagined.  Afterward, we set up the entire legal structure of his church for him, from incorporation and bylaws to 501(c)(3), and we also established an ordination program that met the eight requirements.  He also learned one important detail that spared him jail time.  Through our software he learned that Ohio revised code provides a fine of five hundred dollars and imprisonment up to six months if he performed a wedding in Ohio without first obtaining a special license to solemnize marriages.  Thankfully, within six weeks he was ordained through his newly established church and he obtained a license to solemnize marriages in Ohio.

Interesting facts

Let me share with you some interesting facts concerning the ordination of minsters.

1.     You do not need to be ordained in order to start a church.

2.     After starting a church/ministry, the founder can be legally ordained through a properly adopted resolution of its board of directors (elders or trustees).

3.     Once ordained does not mean you will always be ordained.  A church can revoke your ordination.  Also if the church that ordained you ceases to exist, your ordination is no longer valid.

4.     The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling on January 12th, 2012 that broadened the definition of a minister.  This is good news.

5.     There is no law or regulation that prohibits an ordained minister from freely preaching the Gospel.

Are you sure your ordination is solid?

As you ponder your ministerial ordination, it is always better to be certain.  If you have any doubts or need to know more, our conferences will teach everything you need.  If you are considering starting a church or have already started, it is a must that you get the language in your corporate documents right.  Many churches start but never consider the quality of their foundational corporate documents and as a result find out later that there are many deficiencies that put their ordination in doubt.  Give us a call at 770-638-3444.  You will not be disappointed.

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.