7 Reasons that Proactive Churches Get Legal Advice

I recently got to know David Middlebrook of the Church Law Group. My eyes were reopened to the scope of legal implications for the church. Because I like to focus my energies on vision, I frankly don’t think very much about the legal ramifications of church leadership. What struck me however is this: Legal negligence as a church leader leaves your vision susceptible.

Here are my seven take-aways:

#1  Don’t ignore governance. Sometime a gap grows between the way you practically get things done and the ways things are legally outlined to get done. You church has a by-laws and some kind of “birth certificate” as a legal entity. When is the last time you visited these documents and aligned them to current reality or made them more functional?

#2  Guard your church’s real “vault”—your children. Almost 80% of churches that get taken to trial do so around the safety of children. Many churches to background checks on your children’s workers? That’s a good first step but there is a lot more you can do. Things like designing interview protocols and ongoing regular training to name a few. In the end, your church’s reputation, financial resources and mission are all at risk if you leave your vault unprotected.

#3  Rethink sources of liability in everyday ministry.  I was shocked when David shared stories of how churches can be liable from policies on pastoral counseling  to physical injuries on your church’s campus. Do you know where your liabilities might be in these areas?

#4  Stay on top of employment law.  Most churches not only have employees but different kinds. And these are subject to the state and federal employment lays. The key reminder is simply this: If you have a problem down the road with how you have misapplied employment law, ignorance is not a defense.

#5  Structure well to serve the community. Its not uncommon for churches to start or be connected with business or non-profit entities from bookstores to food pantries. Two weeks ago I visited a church that built a water park for the community. When missional initiatives are born or spun off from the church, make sure you have done the due diligence on creating the right strategy, legally.

#6  Be creative with integrity. Every sermon, or original music composition or  homemade  children’s curriculum is content that is technically regulated by law. Many churches have not considered the full implications or this reality. How will these content sources will be distributed, regulated or protected? What is your vision for the content you create?

#7  Keep the peace with biblical authority. Churches have opportunities to adopt faith-based conflict resolutions that can significantly prevent or deter more difficult litigation situations. Have these mediation alternatives been totally explored and integrated into your church?

How can you best address these kinds of questions? Perhaps you should invite attorney’s in your church to refresh or reevaluate on one or more of the topics listed above. Or you can have lawyers in your church vet the value of working with a church-focused group like David Middlebrook’s team.

Don’t leave your vision susceptible! 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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