Are By-Laws Needed?

Discussion in 'Pastoral Ministries' started by Jamal5000, Jul 31, 2003.

  1. Jamal5000

    Jamal5000
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    A big debate happened during my last church conference about whether our church should formerly adopt by-laws. Currently, the clerk can pull out a set of PROPOSED by-laws that are all but unknown to pretty much everybody accept the very oldest members.

    My deacon board hesitates to consider setting forth any offical (not proposed) by-laws. They think that the Bible is "out by-laws".

    What do you all think about a church operating without by-laws?
     
  2. All about Grace

    All about Grace
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    In my experiences, by-laws are often employed only when they are needed to support one's point of view. That can be a dual-edged sword. The "agin-it" group in some more traditional churches will often use by-laws to hinder the advancement of a new vision. But I have also found that by-laws can have strict regulations for membership, deacons, etc., which can be used in the pastor's advantage. Most want to use by-laws when it is convenient for their own preferences.

    IMHO by-laws are most often a mark of an older, more traditional church. Few contemporary model churches have by-laws.
     
  3. Rev. Joshua

    Rev. Joshua
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    Any church that is incorporated has to have at least a rudimentary set of bylaws, and if they are not detailed then the business meetings of the church should follow the procedures outlined in the parliamentary authority for the church (usually the current edition of Roberts Rules of Order.

    From an organizational standpoint, I don't see how you can conduct business meetings and administer the church without bylaws.

    Joshua
     
  4. Jeff Weaver

    Jeff Weaver
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    Jamal

    Most older churches will have a set of rules of decorum somewhere. These rules are for all practical purposes the same as bylaws. Might want to check and see if someone has these for your church somewhere. The church I am a member of, was established in 1786, and adopted rules of decorum, which are still in use. These were given to me when we moved our membership to this church. Apolgies for the 18th century language, but they work and we still follow them.

    Rules of Decorum

    1. The Church session shall be opened and closed by prayer.
    2. The work of the Church shall be done on the Saturday before the 4th Sunday in each month at 3 p.m.
    3. The health and welfare of the membership shall be inquired into.
    4. Only one member shall speak at a time, who shall rise from his seat and address the Moderator; and shall strictly adhere to the subject, in no wise reflecting on the person who spoke before, so as to make remarks on his slips, failings, or imperfections, but shall fairly state the case and matter, as nearly as he can, so as to convey his light or ideas.
    5. No person shall rise and speak more than three times on one subject without liberty obtained from the Church, and the person thus speaking shall not be interrupted by any except the Moderator then only if the speaker violates these rules of decorum.
    6. No member shall abruptly break off or absent themselves from the session without liberty obtained from the church.
    7. No member of the Church shall have liberty of laughing during the setting of the same, nor whispering during the time of a public speech.
    8. No member of the Church shall address another in any other terms or appellation but the title of Brother or Sister.
    9. The Moderator shall be entitled to the same privilege of speech as another member, and shall have no vote, unless the Church be equally divided.
    10. Any member who shall willingly and knowingly break any of these rules, shall be reproved by the Church as they may think proper.
    11. The Moderator shall have the authority to call a special session of the Church.
    12. The Church shall appoint messengers as correspondents to sister churches and associations.
    13. The Church shall have a clerk, a treasurer, and three or five trustees, but the trustees may act only on instructions of the majority vote of the church members who may from time to time assemble themselves together in Church session.
    14. These rules may be amended at any time by majority vote of the members who may be present at the regular church session.
    [Note, the masculine pronouns do not prohibit female members from participation in the church’s business session, the church was established in 1786 and that was the way they were written. The Moderator is the senior pastor.]
     
  5. Rev. Joshua

    Rev. Joshua
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    Jamal,

    These are Rules of Order, which aren't usually specified in bylaws (although their source usually is). I'm doing a course on parliamentary procedure right now, and if I remember correctly, bylaws specify the following (usually in this order):

    - Name of the organization
    - Object of the organization
    - Membership of the organization
    - Officers of the organization
    - Meetings of the organization
    - Executive board of the organization
    - Committees of the organization
    - Parliamentary authority of the organization
    - Amendment procedures

    The rules that govern an assembly are:
    - the charter (if applicable)
    - the bylaws
    - the rules of order
    - the standing rules

    Joshua
     
  6. Rev. Joshua

    Rev. Joshua
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    On a closer read, I realized there are some elements of bylaws contained in those rules, although they are much more general than most bylaws contain (they don't describe how officers are chosen, how long their terms are, etc.).

    Joshua
     
  7. Dr. Bob

    Dr. Bob
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    Most churches have a generic Articles of Incorporation. Ususally formatted as per state requirement, 1 page. This can never be changed.

    SHOULD have a "Constitution" that gives a solid Statement of Faith + basics = Name, purpose, dissolution. 1-2 pages. This should be SUPER HARD to change (say 75%+1 and only after 1 year of proposing a change, since it will make it impossible for some small group to "steal" the church or change its basic doctrine)

    THEN have "By Laws" that deal with all the nitty-gritty - meetings, officers, votes, yada yada that is USUALLY in a Constitution. It can be changed at any regular business meeting. 10-20 pages. (50%+1 for regular business, 66.6%+1 for spending $$)

    I work with a LOT of new churches and others trying to streamline these documents. This works. Just remember. Constitution is basic and hard to change; ByLaws are practical and easy to change.
     
  8. Rev. Joshua

    Rev. Joshua
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    The "Articles of Incorporation" would be synonymous with a charter.

    Per Robert's Rules an organization doesn't need a separate constitution and bylaws, and the trend now is toward simply producing one document.

    Generally, Robert's Rules recommends a 2/3 vote and notice for amendment to bylaws; although the general principle is that - if an organization has a constitution as well - that the constitution should be the more difficult of the two to amend.

    Joshua
     
  9. Mike McK

    Mike McK
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    I've served on governing boards offire companies, churches, chraities, etc...

    It's traditional for every voting member to have a copy of the bylaws.

    I don't see why. The Bible neither speaks for or against bylaws. All bylaws do is to codify the SOP of the church and will stop a lot of problems before they start.

    I think they're just asking for trouble.
     
  10. Rob't K. Fall

    Rob't K. Fall
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    Being a member of a 122 year old church and its historian/archivist, I think we've gone through 3 or 4 sets of by-laws. The last revision was in the mid 1990s to update a set from the 1960s. Basicly, the process has happened once a generation, mostly due to changes in legal requirements and to reflect organizational changes.

    From the last go-round, let me suggest as you draft your by-laws, write them with ministry in mind not administration. Yes, you will no doubt include such matters as how the officers of the church are chosen and for what terms of office and their duties (our current documents refer to the Minister of Records and the Minister of Finance aka the Church Clerk and the Church Treasurer). The format for calling Special Meetings of the Church and other such matters. It does not specify a Floral Committee, Cleaning Committee, et al. (The stereotypical, you can't lift a broom in this church without the Maintenance Committee's written permission and they meet on the 3rd Tuesday at 11pm, type of church.) Though, we do have a Food Committee, a Decoration Commitee and the Ushers and Offering Counters are organized. But, these groups are task focused not admin focus. A little bureaucracy is good (let all things be done decently and in order), too much and ministries can be strangled in the cradle by red tape.
     
  11. go2church

    go2church
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    Went to a conference last year concerning legal issues and the church. The very experienced lawyer who represents the Baptist Convention of New Mexico stated that a church is asking for nothing but trouble by not following the current laws concerning incorporation of non-profit agencies. He went on to give many examples of churches that lost property or have to now pay unbelievable insurance rates because they failed to do so. Say what you will about a church having to be incorporated, but this is the enviroment we currently live in. Remember it was the legal system of the day that Paul used to further his ministry at times.
     
  12. David Ekstrom

    David Ekstrom
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    I agree with many of the remarks here. By-laws are essential but should not be too detailed. You can't play a game without rules; at least you can't play a game fairly without rules.
    I know of a church that has by-laws but the pastor ignores them. He does whatever he wants. He freely overrules members of the church who are doing their jobs. He plays favorites. This is not a mean person. He doesn't even realize what he's doing. He's been at the church so long that no one stands up to him. So instead, morale at the church is at rock bottom and it is near death. Many have left. Others are apathetic. They sit on their hands and let the pastor do what he wants.
    That's not the only cause of the problems at that church but its one of the big ones. It used to be fashionable to say that the church is an organism (a body) not an organization. Show me an organism that isn't organized. No body is just a confused lump of flesh.
    I have a problem with a pastor who can't play by the rules.
     

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