The first big item of business during my ministry here actually happened while I was still interim pastor. After the Obergefell decision by the supreme court legalized same sex marriages across the nation I felt it necessary to take some steps to help protect the church. Following the guidelines from this Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission post about how churches should respond to the supreme court’s decision we began to revisit our bylaws and constitution.
When we began digging through the files, which were a mess, we found out that several years worth of amendments and corrections had been left in sticky note format on physical copies in a drawer. The official digital copy had never been updated. So we decided to use the old constitution as a model to build an entirely new constitution.
The two most important additions that we made were to make employment and membership at the church dependant upon signing a confession of sorts. This agreement stated that by signing and becoming a member/employee of the church that you adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and to our statement of belief in biblical marriage and sexuality. Use of facilities was also made a privilege of membership. This addition helped us in a few ways:
First, it let us start our membership roles fresh. Over the years the list had become bloated. While worship attendance was less than 50, our membership role listed over 100 members. This decision has proved to be troublesome. We now find ourselves a year or so since the adoption of the new constitution and we have yet to come up with a completed list of members. The membership agreements lay somewhere at the secretaries home. On top of that, many who voted for this change did not think through the conclusions that some of their family would no longer be considered members of the church. This has caused more than one emotional exchange where people continue to show a sentimental, country club mentality of church membership. I have been working to address this issue in private conversations, as well as walking the church through “I Am A Church Member” by Thom Rainer. I’m seeing growth in this area as people are beginning to grasp the biblical definition of church membership. I am still trying to work with the church secretary to complete our membership list. I really don’t know if I should take the responsibility away from her and do it myself, or be patient with her. I tend to lean toward patience; after all, I I am not a dictator, I’m a shepherd.
Second, This new membership agreement has set the groundwork for church discipline in the church. There has been no semblance of church discipline here… ever… So with a renewed commitment to biblical church membership comes a renewed commitment to biblical church discipline. Though I am in the very early stages of this process. I’ve began by teaching the church what biblical discipline looks like, and practicing it in baby steps to build them up in both knowledge of the process and understanding of the necessity. This is a dreaded process if I am honest, because it is one of the surest ways to be run off from a church. But I have faith in their love for the Lord and commitment to His Word. Slowly and surely we will grow together in this.
Third, since only members can now use our facilities we are not discriminating against anyone by denying use of our fellowship hall, sanctuary, or grounds for any reason, including use for same sex marriage ceremonies.
Finally, by all staff signing their employment agreement, we are directly forbidden to perform same sex marriages on or off church property.It is a terminable offense. So I don’t have to reject marrying a same sex couple solely on my convictions, but I have the addition of contractual obligation to my employer.
There were some minor changes and alterations made to streamline church administration. Some committees were removed, some were combined, and clearer definitions were given for their responsibilities. We passed out the new constitution and spent time after a Sunday service explaining our rational behind it. We gave the church two weeks to submit any problems or changes they wanted. Then on the third Sunday after presenting the new constitution we voted and it passed unanimously. But as I have made it clear, business as big as this never ends at the business meeting.
If your church has not taken any steps yet to protect its ministry, I highly recommend the ERLC article which I linked to at the beginning of this post. In it there is a link to a small, free book on how to protect your church that is written for multiple denominations, and for multiple scenarios. Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria