…But Sometimes the Lawyers Get it Right

December 07, 2010

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.

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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 security system for dropping off and picking up children, etc.  No ministry in church life has changed as much and as rapidly as children’s ministries over the last few years.  Make sure your church is current.  Hire a consultant if you have to.  It is the loving thing to do.

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Commercial Driver’s License certification for anyone transporting people in vehicles on behalf of the church. Again, a real pain in the neck to implement when you begin thinking about all the people in your church who do this voluntarily (deacons driving widows or elderly to church, youth trips, taking people for their chemo treatment, etc.), but it is just a good policy.  The extra safety training these drivers receive is a great way to communicate to your membership that you care about them.  Besides, your insurance company will love you for it as well.

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Get liability insurance. What, are you kidding me?  Tell me I don’t have to explain this one.  After enjoying many decades of protection by a society who considered it morally reprehensible to ever sue a church, churches can kiss those days goodbye.  In the first place, the church has behaved particularly badly in recent decades and probably needs to have been sued more.  In the second place, good litigators all over the world have learned that there is a lot of money in the church in general, and they are specifically targeting churches now more than ever.  Put it in the budget, spend the money on premiums, get insured.  And make sure your coverage includes sexual harassment coverage (see the next point).

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A sexual harassment policy.  This seems to be the area of greatest exposure to churches today, for a multitude of reasons we won’t try to explore for now.  Suffice it to say, there is probably some amount of inappropriate sexual overtones already going on under your church’s ministry umbrella…an off-color joke told by a parent on a youth trip, an extra-long hug from a well-intentioned minister, an “over-the-line” counseling session by a not-so-well-intentioned minister, etc.  You get the picture.  Your church should have a plan already in place for how any complaint (either by an employee or by a church member or even by a visitor) will be handled, investigated and resolved.  Put the plan in place now, because when the first complaint arises, emotions will be running way too high to try to piece-meal it together then.

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Have a CPA do some level of audit at least every other year or so. I really hate finances and all the issues and questions that come up, especially in the midst of conflict when trust levels go through the floor.  Audits are expensive, but they will uncover a whole host of little mole hills that will become mountains just a soon as there is any level of conflict at all.  And there will be some level of conflict at some time.  That is a given, if there are people in your church.  I’m just saying…

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O.K., this post has already gotten too long.  I really could go on and on with examples of ways lawyers (especially Christian lawyers) have gotten it right.  But you get the picture.  As Christians we are called to be Godly influences in this broken world, little pictures of Christ.  But there is nothing about that calling which says we are to be mindless doormats.  Being “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” is a high calling, don’t you think?

© Blake Coffee

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