The Dangers of Copy and Paste

Written by Raul Rivera on Jul 06, 2017 in IRS Compliance

After receiving a confirming word from a visiting minister, Kyle knew the time for him to start a church had finally arrived. A week later, Kyle excitedly met with his pastor who agreed that it was God's call that Kyle be commissioned to the ministry. 

Six months later on a Sunday morning, his pastor laid hands on him in the presence of the entire congregation and officially sent him out to begin a new work in Lakeland, FL.

Pastor Kyle was thrilled as people began to show up to his house each Thursday evening to pray and intercede for the city of Lakeland. Before long, the house could barely hold the 45 people that gathered weekly.

As a result, Pastor Kyle decided the time had come to consider moving to a bigger location. He chose to meet in a middle school cafeteria until the Lord would provide a place that would become more permanent. 

In the meantime, Pastor Kyle worked hard to create a set of bylaws for his new church that would meet the growing structure of his fledgling ministry. 

He needed bylaws because he was told that all churches must have them.

Finding the right set of church bylaws

Pastor Kyle had always been a very resourceful individual when it came to researching things and finding answers. 

Thinking about how to best create bylaws for his church, Pastor Kyle immediately called his former pastor for help. 

To Kyle's surprise, his former pastor danced around the subject until Kyle concluded that his pastor did not want to share with him any information concerning bylaws. 

He wondered why the big hush. However, being the go-getter that he was, Kyle did not let that bother him. 

He continued his search by calling friends who were pastors of other churches. Each one of them was willing to help, but frankly, all expressed that it was one area in which they had very little knowledge. 

Most of them confessed they had not read their own bylaws in years, and many admitted that they had simply copied them from a well-known ministry. 

In his search for the perfect set of bylaws, Pastor Kyle continued making calls until he had several copies of different bylaws to consider.

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He studied those bylaws well, and from them he went to work using the wonderful copy and paste function on his computer. 

After two days, Pastor Kyle had created what he considered to be the most perfect set of bylaws for his church. 

At least, that is what he thought.

A common occurrence among church planters

Church planters have it in their hearts to start their churches off on the right track.

Although it is important to church planters to make sure everything with their churches is in legal compliance, often their church budgets dictate that they seek guidance from their former pastors and peers rather than the expertise of qualified professionals. 

This is especially so since new church plants lack the funds needed to hire an attorney (a charge of somewhere between $150.00 and $250.00 per hour).

This results in a “rehashing” of recycled bylaws that roam the Internet. 

Most church planters do not realize that these recycled bylaws are likely out-of-date and are found lacking the necessary language to withstand today's legal challenges.

(Recommended reading: "Two Clauses in Your Bylaws That Can Save You and Your Ministry")

What do we NOT know? 

Pastor Kyle’s efforts, though noble, led him to believe that he had created a wonderful set of bylaws that would serve the vision God had placed in his heart and also protect his church and assets. 

However, a careful inspection revealed that his church’s bylaws were grossly insufficient. Moreover, the bylaws contained several inconsistencies that could have potentially caused him immense grief.

When it comes to preparing bylaws for your church, there are three questions you should ask yourself. They are listed below.

When it comes to preparing bylaws for your church, there are three questions you should ask yourself.

1. What do I know? 

There are some things that you already know. 

  • You know what God spoke to your heart concerning your church and ministry. 
  • You know that God is faithful to lead you through the journey of ministry. 
  • You know that God called you to the ministry in this period of human history and that working on the legal side of ministry is a valid part of your call.

2. What do I think I know? 

Of the three questions, this is the one that most gives us a sense of false security because we think that if our bylaws cover the topics that we have been told to include, then everything must be fine. 

This question also makes us think that if our bylaws are modeled after a large ministry, then they must be good and there is no further cause for worry. Yet, that is rarely the case.

3. What do I not know? 

I consider this question to be the most important! It is the one that keeps me working late into many evenings researching the changes that affect the world of ministry. 

This is the moment when relying on the right people matters most. When it comes to ministry bylaws, most pastors would agree that it is always worth the time and investment to seek the expertise of people who know what you do not know.

(Recommended reading: “Why Bylaws Are Important and How to Make Yours Better”)

What Pastor Kyle's bylaws had wrong

Thankfully for Pastor Kyle, he discovered that his bylaws were in need of much help before he ever ran into any potential problems. 

Below is a short list of seven things that his bylaws either had wrong or were missing.

  1. His bylaws included the name of each of the individuals on his board of directors;
  2. His bylaws listed him by name as the president for life;
  3. The majority of his board members were of the same family;
  4. His bylaws had some typos and dangling modifiers that were unclear;
  5. His bylaws included clauses he thought would address some of the cultural challenges to biblical marriage, which in light of recent court cases, is an outdated strategy (at our conferences we go into great detail about what is the best strategy);
  6. His bylaws had some inconsistencies concerning his ability to run the day-to-day activities of the church; and
  7. His bylaws did not have a legal succession clause.

Getting it right

Pastor Kyle's experience is not uncommon. There are many pastors today who think their church’s bylaws are sufficient, but they do not know what needs to be known about their bylaws. 

What will happen to those churches should a dispute over the bylaws occur? 

A lot of churches and ministries facing lawsuits find themselves in court over issues concerning bylaws. Many discover later that what they thought they knew was actually what they did not know.

While copy and paste may be a resourceful tool for most documents, it is best to leave it out of the picture when creating bylaws for your church.

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Raul Rivera

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