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Two Clauses in Your Bylaws That Can Save You and Your Ministry

By Raul Rivera

When Pastor Dan started a church in Florida, his only dream and vision was winning the lost and preaching to the masses. He never imagined being falsely accused of embezzlement or accused of privately benefiting from the church's funds. But that is exactly what happened. A lady in the church was convinced that he was improperly using church funds and she raised up the accusation against him causing a big stink in the church.

What was Pastor Dan's response? How was he to handle such an accusation?

Naturally, his first response was to look into Scripture to see what the Lord has to say. Instead of defending himself with confrontation and politicking, he chose to take the low road and turned the other cheek (Matt 5:39). Secondly, he looked to see what the church's bylaws had to say on the matter?

Thankfully, Pastor Dan's bylaws contained two clauses that proved very helpful.

Tragedies of ministry bylaws

Tragically, there are untold numbers of churches in America whose bylaws do not give the pastor and founder real accountability. Scripture tells us that there is victory in a multitude of counsel. But counsel is fruitless unless we heed it. It has been God's plan since the beginning for us to need each other.

On the contrary, an equally disturbing tragedy is the score of pastors who do not have any protection from membership accusations or runaway boards.

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They serve their churches wholeheartedly, unaware that their bylaws are either silent on these matters or that they dictate something that places their futures on the whims of their members or board. While voting memberships and boards may be a form of accountability under which many churches have existed for many years, after surveying many of these church types of governments, the list of injured and heartbroken pastors is endless.

With that in mind, let me share with you the two clauses that saved Pastor Dan's ministry and maybe one day, yours.

2 clauses you should have in your bylaws

1. The accountability board clause

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

The accountability board is not a board 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 the form of phone calls, visiting, 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.

(Recommended reading: "Can Our Church Own a Business?")

You see, 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 accusations to decide if they will report it to the accountability board. If they are unanimous in their vote to report it to the accountability board, then the accountability board goes into session to weigh out all of the facts and circumstances and 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 precise ability to divide and conquer. The accountability board has nothing to gain or lose except to know the truth. 

2. Request of church records clause

Every church's bylaws should contain a clause to properly handle when members request to see the church finances (which can reveal personal giving records or expose certain sensitive information). If you have yet to undergo accusations from someone in your congregation, you have probably not been a pastor or ministry leader for too long. It happens. The key is being ready. Having a clause that limits what a member can see or request is important.

Deficiencies in your bylaws

There is something that ought to be of great concern to every pastor and ministry leader in America. It is the fact that many church and ministry bylaws are deficient.

What I mean by deficient is that when the bylaws are silent (lack) on certain matters, the states incorporation laws will take precedent on how the matter 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.

When faced with an accuser, Pastor Dan took the complaint to his board who then took it to the accountability board. A full and thorough investigation was conducted and the accountability board unanimously exonerated him.

Had he not had any of these clauses, the laws of his state would have allowed the members to gather votes through a political process, and his whole ministry would have been on the line. Not to mention what it would have done to his heart.

(Recommended reading: "Why It's Important to Know What Your Bylaws Say")

Take the bylaws audit journey

Below are seven points worthy of great consideration. Are the provisions mentioned hereafter clearly and precisely stated in your ministry's bylaws? Has anyone looked at your bylaws to see if they are IRS compliant?

Look at them carefully and be willing to face the hard truth. You never know what you might find or in many cases, not find. Consider the following questions:

  1. Do your bylaws have a prohibited activities clause that protect the church from legislation that attempts to force the church to engage in activities that violate its disciplines of faith.
  2. Do your bylaws contain a preamble that clearly declares your organization to be ecclesiastical (religious in nature) and not just an ordinary nonprofit organization? 
  3. Do your bylaws contain a membership clause that clearly has a method for membership, how one becomes a member and how one is removed, as well as outlining membership voting rights? 
  4. Do your bylaws have a member privacy clause? The privacy clause binds the church to keep all church member records private. 
  5. Do your bylaws contain a mutual interest clause? A mutual interest clause is one that requires all members, board and pastor to uphold a standard of living that is 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. 
  6. Request of church records: As stated earlier, this clause should contain 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 exactly what he/she wishes to look at and state a reason for the request as well as sign a statement that the information will be kept in the strictest confidence. 

Don't just stop here

How did you do? While there are many other vitally important clauses that should be in your bylaws, this simple audit should give you an indication as to the conditions of your 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.

If you would like to learn more about how to protect your church or ministry in today's legislative culture, then I encourage you to click below and register to attend one of our conference close to you.

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