Did you ever wonder as a child what an “unspoken” prayer request was all about? Mrs. Jenkins would ask for prayer for her nephew’s surgery, Bro. Johnson would ask prayer for a family in need, and Mr. Smith would simply raise his hand and say “unspoken”. And, everyone would nod their head in collective agreement that something very important had just happened. As a pastor’s kid, I decided I needed to find an unspoken prayer request fast to look spiritual! Anyway, after being around the church for a while, I am fairly certain an unspoken request is one that is so important and difficult that only the Almighty needs to know about it but that needs to be resolved quickly and decisively.
I am an attorney and a minister; and, my uncle is a used car salesman. Our occupations are closer in standing in public opinion than I recently thought possible. I bring this up not because ninety-nine percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name (don’t get me started on lawyer jokes) but because the legal atmosphere around ministries and the legal opinions about ministers have turned a little stale if not hostile. A perfect example of this is the recent case dubbing the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. The important point is not necessarily the outcome of the case (though Church Law Institute does have a blog post on the decision) but the disappearing public conviction that pastors serve a vital role in helping the poor and needy and generally benefiting society. How can the modern ministry leader help his or her ministry navigate the legal maze of laws and regulations? Below, I have laid out three “unspoken” resolutions that every pastor and ministry leader should consider for the coming year.
- I Will Be Proactive About Legal Protections
I know that the word “risk management” elicits a yawn from most ministry leaders. However, the best defenses against the increasing threats to being able to share the gospel and live out Biblical truth are often mundane but necessary tasks. Sadly, many churches are simply not intentional about legal protections. As I have helped churches around the country, I am distressed at how many times I have heard the phrase, “This is how we have always done things”. Again, the modern church faces a dizzying number of threats including, but not limited to (I couldn’t resist a little legalese): child abuse reporting issues, property zoning and property dispute cases, personal injuries, insurance claims, employee hiring and firing, proper music and video licensing, unrelated business income taxes, transportation liability, facility use procedures, defamation claims, security threats, and financial audits. Many larger churches have administrative pastors that handle such issues, but smaller ministries are just as responsible as their larger counterparts. Churches can never reduce their risks entirely, but churches should be intentionally choosing which risks they will manage to reach their community.
- I Will Be Purposeful About Scheduling Management Projects
.Zig Ziglar once quipped, “[p]eople often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” Similarly, church legal protections take a scheduled effort. I recommend tackling these matters by starting with the areas of greatest legal exposure. Here are some limited recommendations in order:
-Review and update organizational documents such as your bylaws or constitution
-Update child protection policies, train workers on child abuse reporting, and obtain criminal background checks on volunteers
-Consider the safety of your building including the necessity of a security team
-Obtain or update your facility use policy or agreements
-Check the overall safety of your facility to prevent slips and falls or other safety hazards
-Review hiring and firing procedures and ministerial compensation
-Review and update financial policies to ensure integrity and conformance with general standards
The practical tip here is to schedule the above legal concerns as monthly projects just like you schedule other events at your church.
- I Will Be Pauline About My Leadership Proficiency
I have always been amazed at the grand diversity of the Apostle Paul’s knowledge, cultural awareness (such as in Athens), and ministry impact. In Acts 16 (the Philippian jailer) and Acts 25 (Paul’s appeal to Caesar), Paul shows a deft understanding of Roman criminal and appellate procedure, which he used to protect and further his ministry. My plea to ministry leaders is to add an understanding of the law to their personal development plan. This does not mean that pastors have to go to law school or become a constitutional scholar. However, it does mean that they must become proficient as the functioning director of a large nonprofit (even if you only have 50-100 members) engaged in a litigious and legally complex society. Though pastors rarely receive financial and legal training in college or seminary, they, as the shepherd of their church, are responsible for understanding and managing legal risks.
In conclusion, I call these resolutions “unspoken” resolutions because the elder board at your church or the people you serve will not give you a bonus for following through, and your staff and volunteers will probably even complain about the new procedures or awareness. But, these resolutions are increasingly vital to the health and longevity of your ministry and the perception of your leadership ability. I am depressed by the Kingdom resources that are squandered annually in lawsuits, embezzlements, and feuds that could have been avoided. This year, consider taking these “unspoken” resolutions to benefit your church or ministry.
Josh is my cousin and is by far my smartest cousin. I have called him several times concerning questions and can highly recommend him. As leaders, we must change with the times and catch up to speed legally. Too many churches and ministries still operate as if it were the “good ole days.” We have heard many horror stories of leaders and ministries due to not following advice given here. Hopefully, this reminder can help you and yours not only in the new year but for years to come.