By-Laws, Discipline and Structuring for Lawsuits

When sharing with church leaders, I tell them my greatest concern for the church is from a liability perspective. Yes – we need to file and report everything according to the IRS regulations, and conduct all business with accuracy and accountability.  But the area where we can lose absolutely everything, and see the church destroyed, is in a Law suit, or when sin is allowed to exist, unchallenged and unchecked. To avoid this we have to be prepared and equipped to respond on a Biblical basis.  This is accomplished by having Biblical Church By Laws

I recently read a quote from a nationally known, and greatly respected Attorney regarding church By-Laws. He says in his article, under the sub heading of – “Grant access with care”

“While church leaders have different philosophies about access, it is our experience that the church tends to run more smoothly and with less potential disruption if the bylaws are not generally available.”

We have a HUGE difference of opinion with our Brother regarding this subject.  The legal counsel we have received, that we follow and encourage church leaders with, is to make the By-Laws available to any and every church member. WHY?  Again the biggest issue of the day is over the possibility of lawsuits. The liability issues.

No church leader or pastor wants to think about the subject of “Church Discipline,” but it is unfortunately, a reality we have to face from time to time. When the prospective member has signed a “Membership Application” to be a member, and he or she is agreeing to walk and live according to the standards as described within the Church By-Laws and the “Tenants of Faith” contained therein, we then have a clearly defined legal agreement of “How” we will walk together, and if necessary the ability to exercise discipline.

POINT – Quite simply, a member cannot be held to church standards, unless they have been given the Church By-Laws. Furthermore – church leaders will not be able to Biblically confront and deal with sin issues in the church, unless the one being disciplined is a church “Member,”  the church having a signed membership application in the files, and the member having been given the Church By-Laws to read prior to being asked to sign a membership application.

Church By-Laws should clearly define “Membership,” and the following key qualification aspects: The process of ‘how’ to become a member:

  1. Having completed several [at least 5 hours of] membership classes, teaching what the churches core beliefs are;
  2. The responsibilities of a church Member;
  3. What the member can expect to enjoy and/or benefit from being a member;
  4. The members responsibility, and the blessings from the giving of tithes and offerings;
  5. The possibility of seeing his/her ministry gift developed/encouraged and promoted;
  6. Charged to know and follow the Pastor and church leadership with love and a non-critical and non-divisive spirit. To commit his heart and will to the direction and protection of the Holy Spirit through the pastor. Honoring him as chosen by the Chief Shepherd to lead and ‘cover’ him; Heb. 13:17
  7. What is acceptable vs. un-acceptable life-actions and conduct that may lead to Discipline;
  8. Biblical Discipline – its purposes, and how it is to be administered – by whom – and under what certain circumstances, issues of discipline may be revealed to the church body;
  9. Having a witness of the Holy Spirit that this is the place where God would have him to fellowship, and consider it a privilege to be added by the Lord, to this Local Church. Agreeing to demonstrate his support, by giving tithes of income and any increase;
  10. And finally – he would agree with the tenants of faith, and the principles of committed relationship as taught in the Church, and more fully described in the By-Laws Tenets of Faith. And God being his helper, agrees to joyfully abide in and live by them, endeavoring to be a loyal, peaceful, fruitful worker in His vineyard. Striving to promote unity in the body, esteeming all other members as better than himself.


For more on what our perspective of what constitutes effective Church By-Laws, please read one of our many On-Line Articles about By-Laws.  Also be sure to see Are By-Laws Required? In reading our materials on Church By-Laws, you will find that we are proponents of Elder led-rule church government, with adequate provisions for the pastor and leadership to be held to standards of accountability and, when accused of conduct not becoming a minister of the Gospel, judged by other Ordained ministers – not by the church members.

The Attorney said, “the church tends to run more smoothly”. He is saying this in regards to the idea that the church member should be kept in the dark about the By-Laws. “Smoothly” happens only when God’s appointed [anointed] leaders are in charge of the church, not the sheep, and then only when accountability provisions are in place.

While visiting with another church administrator, he said, “We [the church] can recover from most regrettable missteps [failing to file, even misuse of church funds - if  immediately dealt with upon discovery], and even serious tragedies [a child being run over in the church parking lot], but what the church will not survive is, if we let a pedophile [or a member who has a molestation background] into the churches children’s program – and a child is molested while under our care. He is so right!  We must screen [and document our findings] anyone who would want to work with our children. See our   Screening Volunteers Manual that will help you develop a “Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy,” with sample Forms that will enable you to interview and screen prospective church workers.  Also see our Safe Church Policy for ideas on how to be prepared for the visit by a Registered Pedophile.

While we are proponents of Elder led and ruled church government, we are also proponents of openness in regards to our church records, with published financial statements. The Bible says that everything done in secret will be shouted from the housetops: Therefore, everything must be done with openness and utmost integrity and accountability.

When we have done all that we can do, we have the right to ask the Father to protect us from the attacks of the enemy. When we ask the Lord to ‘Stand in the gap,” according to Mal 3:11 He will do just that. These are the greatest things we can do to help our church avoid the UGLY BLACK HEADLINES in the newspaper.


If this discourse interests you, please take a look at our More Great Samples Manual, for sample By-Laws. This is an 11 step “Do it yourself” manual that will enable you to form your own Non-Profit Corporation with Biblical By-Laws and sample letters to the Secretary of State for name reservation etc. A Disc is also available, to enable you to easily develop your own By-Laws.

NOTE: It is easy to adopt new By-Laws, but be sure to do it exactly according to the “Amendment of By-Laws” provision as outlined in your existing By-Laws. And – be sure to document the actions with well written Minutes. Our Samples has many samples of how to write church Board Minutes


The above information is provided as a service to the Body of Christ by ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANCE

If you would like more information about similar issues, please consider The Church Administration ‘How To’ Manual.” This Manual, endorsed by three CPA’s, an EA and two attorneys, was updated again in January, 2011, for the 12th time, since its original publication in 1991.

Copyright © 2006 by Administrative Assistance

Related posts:

  1. Some Say Don’t Incorporate! WHY?
  2. Can The Church ‘Give’ Small Gifts?
  3. Are By-Laws Required?