Administration,  Church,  Ministry

Towards a Healthy Church – Clarifying Bylaws

Throughout the last couple of months, I have been blogging about the different types of documentation that a church needs. More types can be used than what I will include in this part of this series, but the items I have shared (Job Descriptions, Constitution, Bylaws, and to a lesser degree Team Descriptions) are important to help the church be properly identified, and know how to generally conduct the business of the church. However, two more important types of documents remain. One is a document defining policies and the other is the set of procedures. These two document types are commonly included together as Policies and Procedures.

Many churches have what is commonly known as a Policy and Procedures Manual. This set of documents is two separate types of documents, but like the Constitution and Bylaws (C&Bs) are related, and often confused, so, too, are the Policies and Procedures (P&Ps). So, what are the differences between the policies and procedures and how do they fit in the scope of a church’s overall documentation? Well, that post will have to wait until next week. First, further clarification is needed on the difference between bylaws and the P&Ps.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the bylaws are a set of high-level instructions for the church. These instructions (laws) are meant to guide the church in many ways such as when to meet, how membership is understood, what types of teams/committees exist and who is qualified to serve, etc. But the bylaws are not meant to get into the details. That is the purpose of the procedures. Unfortunately, many churches confuse this issue and put detailed information in the bylaws without any explanation as to why (which is the purpose of the policies). Let me provide an example.

I have seen bylaws which mention that a certain colored (or type and color) of drink are not allowed in the church’s sanctuary. For instance, “no red koolaid in the sanctuary.” While I understand the premise, this type of “law” is almost always reactionary (someone once spilled red koolaid in the sanctuary, or somewhere in the church, and it was considered a good idea not to even risk it happen in the sanctuary). Now, I agree that spilling red koolaid in the sanctuary might create a bad stain and thus, present an unsightly problem, simply placing a “law” as a bylaw is not helpful. What happens if someone does take red koolaid into the sanctuary? Are they removed from the church? Are they flogged? Furthermore, the statement not to bring red koolaid in, will cause some people to challenge the system by bringing orange koolaid.

Having a policy against red koolaid is not necessarily wrong (the Bible is not for or against such a policy), but having such a statement in the bylaws is not the best place. Again, many churches place such measures in the bylaws, and do so because of something that has happened in the past rather than focusing on big picture items that are truly important to the functions of a church. (We can review the activities of the early church in the Bible and see that gathering for meals and worship happen in the same sentence (Acts 2.46-47), although koolaid would not have been the drink of choice.)

So, again, the bylaws are meant to be high-level items that help to direct the church to the true purpose of the church. These purposes, according to Acts 2.42-47 include worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. A church might define further purposes such as prayer and evangelism, and that is fine, but I group those concepts in with the five I just mentioned. Given the legal situation today, and the fact that many churches are incorporated (in the United States, at least), the bylaws might also contain information on what happens to any church property should the church cease to exist for any reason (this information could also be in the constitution).

Having listed the five functions of the church (per Acts 2) in the previous paragraph, it is still important to provide more structure as to why and how these ideas will be conducted by the church. Thus, beyond a set of bylaws (again, high-level), the policies (which are part of the What, and maybe a bit of the Why, along with the vision) and the procedures (which provide the How to fulfill the mission), can help clarify what the church will do in a more detailed manner.

Next week, I will provide a few specifics for these two interconnected documents. That had been my intention for this post, but due to a need to clarify a few concepts, I am moving that post off one week, otherwise, this post would become exceedingly long (and some might suggest it already is).

In closing, next week’s post will also contain an announcement regarding this blog. The focus over these last few months on helping a church to become healthy certainly fits the general framework of living in, not of world, but the true intent of this blog is to be more personal in nature. Therefore, next week, I will conclude the discussion on the church documentation, and the focus on administering the church, in general, before moving back to helping born-again believers live in, not of as we move into the month of July.

But that does not mean that this series is over, although I will be taking a short break from it in preparation for what is to come. Again, more will be shared in next week’s post.

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