Category Archives: Church Law

Losing Our Popularity

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. Matthew 10:16-22

popularI have lost track now of how many conversations I have had over the last couple of weeks and certainly of how many social media posts I have seen lamenting the future of the church in America in the wake of the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage. I get it. I share some of the concerns myself. I do agree we seem to be entering into a very different chapter here in the U.S. in terms of the church and its relationship to the world around us. To put it mildly, church popularity is on the decline. The fears and concerns I have seen and heard cover a broad range of “sky is falling” iterations…

“They’re going to take our tax exemptions away.”

“The church is losing its relevance to an entire generation.”

” We no longer have the protection to teach God’s Word.”

“Our religious freedoms are being eroded.”

“The church will never

Entitlement and the Church

Tuesday Re-mix:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  1 Peter 3:8-9

entitlementPeter offers these words as a brief summary of his “submit to the authorities in your life” lesson he gave to the persecuted Jews who comprised his audience.  Being submissive to the authorities in our lives is no small challenge for most of us.  The essence, I believe, of his counsel is that we must work hard to preserve our testimony with all the various authorities in our lives so that they may see God’s glory in us and be changed by it.

The question is, what does this mean for the church?  What does the local body of believers take from this counsel?

Maybe it is because of two centuries of the “separation of church and state” in America (the interplay between two critical religious freedom clauses in our First Amendment)…or maybe it is because the American culture has become much more concerned about our “rights” than about our “responsibilities”…or maybe it is because the American church has deluded itself into believing that, somehow, we are a part of the “persecuted church” because our culture doesn’t seem to like us much…or maybe it is because we just don’t really trust God to preserve his church, that maybe He needs us to save the church by political power instead…or maybe it is because we tend to forget how much damage the accumulation of political power has done historically to the church…

Whatever the cause(s), the American church seems to me to have developed a sense of “entitlement” much more than …

Does Your Church Speak “Governmentese”?

Tuesday Re-mix –

How would you describe your church to your next-door neighbor?  How would you describe your church to that neighbor’s 6-year old daughter?  How would you describe your church to another pastor in your community?  How would you describe your church to the homeless person on the street?  HOPEFULLY, you answered each of these questions differently, because you cannot know how to describe your church appropriately unless you first know something about the person(s) to whom you are describing it.  Right?

The audience matters.  While the pastor down the street may want to know something about your church’s theology, your neighbor’s 6-year old daughter could not care less about that.  While your neighbor may want to know about your church’s location or your worship style or your ministries, the homeless person on the street just wants to know if there is a place there to get some food or to sleep for the night.  The point is, it is important to understand what the person wants to know before you start describing your church.

So what does the government want to know about your church?  What about the legal community?  Believe me, it is an entirely different set of questions from any of these, and probably different from anything you might imagine.  The government wants to know what kind of taxable entity you are, and if your are not taxable, the government wants to know why not.  The days when the IRS just “assumes” you are a church because of your name or just gives you the benefit of the doubt are long gone (if those days ever really existed in the first place).  The lawyers, on the other hand, want to know what kind of legal entity you are (that is a different question from what type …

Church Government: The Negative Space in God’s Word

Tuesday Re-mix –

In the world of visual art, the use of “negative space” is important.  In any sculpture or painting, the artwork sometimes says as much by areas is doesn’t cover as it does by actually covering.

You and I would call it the “blank space” on the canvass, i.e., the area where the artist chose not to paint.  That space becomes an integral part of the art itself.  In fact, some might claim that the negative space the artist creates in a particular work is what makes the work perfect.

I have come to believe that part of the perfection of scripture, i.e., the Word of God, is the “negative space” it creates within its pages…parts of the story intentionally not told or clarified, left out for reasons only God knows.

For example, wouldn’t you like more details from Jonah about exactly what happened inside that fish for three days?  If you were telling that story, wouldn’t you include that?  Or what about Paul’s fight with Barnabas, or his confrontation of Peter?  Don’t you think the details of those conflicts would be worth knowing?  Or what about a single instance of Matthew 18:15 (Jesus’ model for how to conduct church discipline) actually modeled for us somewhere?  Wouldn’t that be helpful?

For reasons only God understands, these and countless other “details” were omitted from the telling of His story.  But rest assured, He does have his reasons.  This “negative space” in scripture is a part of its perfection, it is critical in creating exactly the Word which God has preserved so perfectly throughout the centuries.  In any of these instances, a little more detail might seem harmless enough at first blush, but would ultimately take away from the Word God intended.

A perfect example is the New Testament’s lack …

…But Sometimes the Lawyers Get it Right

Tuesday Re-mix –

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

Once again, the mediator in me comes out.  I ranted against bad lawyer decisions in a previous post and the negative effect they can have on a church’s (or Christian institution’s) testimony.  Now, feeling guilty for the slur against my brethren (and sistren) in the law, I want to say something good about church lawyers: sometimes they/we get it right.

So, here’s a big fist bump to all the lawyers out there who have given solid Christian counsel to a church or other Christian organization, to help them show Godly wisdom in a legally-complicated world.  Join me in a round of applause for each of the following good and wise legal recommendations lawyers smarter than I have given their Christian institutional clients (and you might want to pass this post along to your pastor or church administrator,  just to make sure your church is doing these things):

FBI Background checks for all workers (both payed and volunteer) who have any interface at all with children or youth. I know, I know, it is a pretty big deal to implement this for the first time, especially with your long-tenured workers and volunteers.  But nothing says “We love you and care about your children” more clearly to parents than a comprehensive background-check policy for their children’s workers, teachers and care-givers.  There are plenty of services all around your community now who can coordinate this for you.

applause1

A comprehensive child safety awareness policy. I am lumping a lot of little things together here, like windows in all the doors, a policy of at least two workers in every room, a comprehensive and coherent fire escape plan, an up-to-date …

Churches: Don’t Let Your Lawyers Write Your Testimony

Tuesday Re-mix –

One of my kids attended a week-long camp last summer which happens to have been held on the campus of a prominent Baptist university.  The university doesn’t sponsor the camp.  They just contract with the sponsoring organization which actually operates the camp.  The university’s only part in the endeavor is to provide the facilities.  So, as I was filling out the paperwork for the camp,  there was a release which the university required to be signed by every participant.  No surprise there.  As an attorney who  makes a living representing corporations, churches and other organizations, I would recommend some type of release be obtained.  But here is some of the pertinent language in the release:

“I release [prominent Christian university]…from all claims…caused by the negligence of [prominent Christian university] [or] its regents, officers or employees…”

This is what we lawyers call an “express negligence” clause in the contract.  It is designed to escape liability even for your own negligent acts.  Allow me to translate this for you.  This says that, if a university employee assaults my daughter while that employee is on the job for the university, neither the university nor the employee will be responsible for it.  If the university’s administration is all aware of a building about to fall down on their campus and chooses to do nothing about it and it falls on my daughter, the university will not be responsible for it.  If the President of the university himself were to carelessly run over my daughter while driving across campus, neither the university nor their president will be responsible for it.  In other words, this university says, “You can send your kids to camp here if you want to, but don’t expect us to act like a responsible Christian institution.”

Couple of questions: …