07 Jul 2016

The Dangers of Copy and Paste

Raul Rivera

After receiving a confirming word from a visiting minister, Darrell knew that the time for him to start a church had finally come. One week after receiving the confirming word, Darrell excitedly met with his pastor who agreed with him that God's call was on him and that soon he would be commissioned to the ministry. It was only a short six months later, on a Sunday morning in spring, that his pastor laid hands on him in the presence of the entire congregation and officially sent him out to begin a new work in Laurel, MD.

Starting out

Pastor Darrell was thrilled as people began to show up to his house each Thursday evening to pray and intercede for the city of Laurel. Before long, the house could barely hold the 45 people that gathered weekly and therefore, they decided that the time had come to seriously consider moving to a bigger location. They chose to meet in a middle school cafeteria until such time as the Lord would provide a place that would become more permanent. In the meantime, Pastor Darrell worked hard to create a set of bylaws for his new church that would meet the growing structure of his fledgling ministry. After all, he needed bylaws because he was told that all churches must have them.

Finding bylaws

A resourceful individual, Pastor Darrell had always been strong when it came to researching things and arriving with answers. Therefore, thinking about how to best come up with the obligatory bylaws, he immediately called his former pastor, certain that it would result in the help he needed. Yet to Darrell's amazement, his pastor verbally danced around the subject until Darrell could conclude nothing less than that his pastor did not want to share with him any information concerning bylaws. He wondered why the big hush. But being the go-getter that he was, Darrell did not let that bother him.

He continued his search, calling friends that were pastors of other churches. Each was willing enough 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 Darrell continued making calls until he had several copies of different bylaws to consider.

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He studied them well, and from them he went to work using the wonderful copy and paste function on his computer. After two days, Pastor Darrell 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

Most church planters have it in their hearts to start their churches off on the right track.  It is important to them to make sure everything is in order with the law, but more often than not, budget dictates that they either turn to their former pastor or to their peers. This is especially so since new church plants lack the hefty funds required to hire an attorney (a probable charge of somewhere between $150.00 and $250.00 per hour).

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

This, in-turn, results in a “rehashing” of recycled bylaws that roam the Internet. These recycled bylaws are likely out-of-date and are found lacking the necessary language to withstand today's hostile, legal challenges.

What do we NOT know

Pastor Darrel'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 they were grossly insufficient. Moreover, it contained several inconsistencies that would have caused him immense grief.

Recycled bylaws are likely out-of-date & found lacking the necessary language to withstand today's hostile, legal challenges.

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

  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 also 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.
  3. What don't I know? This is the question that I consider 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 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 don't know.

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What Darrell's bylaws had wrong

Thankfully for Pastor Darrell, 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 that 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 the best strategy is);
  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 Darrell's experience is not uncommon. There are many pastors today who believe that their church’s bylaws are sufficient, but in actuality do not know what needs to be known about their bylaws. What will happen to those churches should a dispute over the bylaws occur? Many churches and ministries facing lawsuits find themselves in court over issues concerning bylaws. Many discover that what they thought they knew was actually what they did not know.

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

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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.