- Jim Townsley
- May 7, 2013
Collecting and examining several church constitutions can be helpful in writing your own constitution. It is very difficult to know what should be included until after several years of ministry experience, therefore it is essential to receive legal and spiritual guidance while writing your constitution.
There are several reasons for your church to have a constitution.
First, to promote efficiency, a church must have some kind of structure. The specific details of the church's constitution are often referred to as by-laws. By-laws specify a church’s governing structure; define the roles of pastor, deacon, and leaders; and stipulate the requirements for membership.
Second, to provide direction, a church needs to give clarity to its purpose and how that purpose will be carried out. The by-laws of a church constitution help in setting guidelines concerning its use of money, acceptance of members, conducting of meetings, and making of decisions concerning ministries of the church.
Third, to preserve unity and maintain its testimony, a church should give clarity to matters of Christian living and separation from the world.
Fourth, to protect itself from liability, a church should have written policies on church discipline, screening youth workers and others serving in the ministry of the church. Lawsuits have become a frequent reality of our society and safeguards have become a necessary part of the ministry. Division and disagreement are a reality, and the possibility of lawsuits exists because it is a part of the culture of our society.
The constitution should include a preamble, a short paragraph explaining the reasons for the constitution. State the church's official name. The name listed in the constitution is what will be used on deeds, bills and bank accounts. Define the purpose of the church and the issues your church hopes to address through its various ministries. It should also note the church's legal status as a nonprofit, charitable organization. To protect the church's tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code, the ministry purpose must (1) be religious, charitable, scientific, testing, for public safety, literary or educational; and (2) not involve the church in partisan political campaigns or substantial legislative activity.
Address the requirements of membership. Define the election and responsibilities of staff members including the pastor. Define in the constitution how often the church will hold its meetings. The church constitution should set forth the qualifications of a candidate for licensing or ordination as a minister of the Gospel as stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. A church that intends to exercise church discipline must have the Biblical guidelines for doing so carefully outlined in its constitution. Specific reference to the governing Scriptures is important.
As the church grows and changes, additions or revisions to the constitution may be made. Explain how amendments will be implemented. Many states require the church constitution to contain a dissolution clause. The dissolution section will specify what is to be done with church assets if and when the organization decides to shut down.
One of the most important aspects of the constitution is that is must be followed. Sometimes churches include specific requirements in their constitution because they believe they are important, yet they do not follow these guidelines for various reasons. The constitution must be followed and if it cannot be followed it should be changed so that the procedure of the church matches the by-laws.
The implementation of the constitution can be done after the church is started by the newly formed church. However, the sending church can also approve the constitution and vote to install the new pastor before the church begins. Churches start churches and it is a biblical procedure to start under the authority of the sending church.
Along with the constitution of the church should be attached articles of faith. The articles of faith is a document which explains the church’s beliefs. The articles of faith should include the church's position on major doctrines of the bible as well as various controversial issues of the day such as homosexuality, abortion, divorce and remarriage, the role of women in the church etc. The articles of faith is valuable in ensuring conformity to the Word of God and preventing the church from compromise and error ( HYPERLINK "http://biblia.com/bible/esv/Ephesians%204.14" t "_blank" Ephesians 4:14).
There is no perfect constitution. If the pastor does not exercise spiritual leadership the church is prone to carnality and division. The constitution will not make the church spiritual. If the members quarrel and fight over church matters God cannot bless it. As important as it is to make your constitution the best it can be, it is even more important to build the church on the Word of God through the power of God.