Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Church constitutions

Isn't it funny how nobody in a church cares about the church constitution until something is about to happen that they don't like?  Suddenly, constitutional lawyers show up all over the church waving their coffee stained copies of the church constitution.  The problem with most church consitutions is that they were usually created to ensure that things in the church were done decently and in order, but this is only in good times when people are feeling agreeable.  When things aren't going so well you'll find many church constitutions have more than enough loop holes to make life miserable for a congregation.

A church spent months preparing for a vote on building a new facility.  They had raised a substantial amount for the building which was in savings.  Leadership believed that if the church waited much longer building costs would climb costing them more money than initial estimates.  The church had secured good financing if the vote to build was approved.  Numerous information meetings were held to inform the congregation of all the details of the project.  On the day of the vote it was rejected.  The reason for the rejection was that a group of people who had left the church years earlier returned for the vote and voted against it.  The only requirement the church constitution had for voting eligibility was that the person had to be a member in good standing, but nowhere did it define what that meant.  Since this church never purged its membership list, they could not prevent this group from voting down this project.

Another church called a pastor who did not come from its denominational background.  Soon after his arrival he began to change people's roles in the church.  He removed some from serving as a deacon in the church and forced others to stop teaching their Sunday school classes.  He assigned persons to the roles he wanted them in.  There was nothing in the church's constitution to prevent him from doing those things.  The church was nearly destroyed by the time he finally left.

When most churches drew up their constitutions they never dreamed of the kinds of things that some people might do simply because the constitutions did not prevent them from doing them.  Many church constitutions are grossly outdated.  These are two good reasons for a church to review and rewrite its constitution.  When I was a pastor we were using a constitution that was more than twenty years old.  Some of the things it called for the church had not done in years.  We formed a committee to review and rewrite the constitution.  It took a year before the work was finally completed, but when we were done we had a document that better reflected who we were as a church and ministry in the 21st century.  We removed a lot of things that no longer needed to be there and closed up some of the loop holes we discovered.

I would recommend a church review and revise its constitution at least every ten years.  I have found that many constitutions of smaller churches have a lot of material that would be better in a policy manual.  By taking it out of the constitution and putting it into a policy manual it becomes much easier to change later, and it simplifies your constitution.  Spend time identifying potential loop holes that could hinder your ministry in the future and close them tight.  Do not presume on the Christian conduct of the good people who make up your membership to do what is right or you'll find some of them waving your constitution in your face the next time they oppose the plans of the church.

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