by Josh Bryant
Medical doctors likely have the most complicated and complex jobs on the planet. There are over 13,000 known diseases that can be treated with 6,000 different medications and 4,000 different medical procedures. Despite this complexity, minor surgeries that used to carry a 10% or greater chance of death are now common and relatively safe. Out of more than 50 million operations every year, only 0.3% end in fatality. Of those, 75,000 deaths are preventable. Despite decades of specialist training through college, medical school, residency and fellowships, mistakes are still made.
How does that relate to the church? About 65% of Americans claim to be Christians. Of those, only about half indicate that they are active in church and fewer cite Jesus as a necessity for salvation. For the sake of argument though, we'll say half of 65% (or one third of all Americans) are redeemed. That means there are 200 million people in the U.S. that do not know Jesus as their Savior. In 2017, more than 2.8 million people died in the United States. Do you see where this is going? Two thirds of 2.8 million people accounts for 1.88 million people who died in the US in 2017 that did not know Christ. Over 5,000 per day die without Jesus; since you've been reading five to ten people in the US have died not trusting Jesus for their salvation.
What if as in surgery half of these deaths without Christ were preventable by the church? Almost a million preventable deaths without salvation compared to 75,000 preventable deaths due to surgery. Compare the complexity of how the church works to how surgery works. The story of the gospel is far simpler than open heart surgery. How many souls could be saved if Christians worked as hard to eliminate preventable deaths?
In his book "The Checklist Manifesto", Atul Gawande attributes the decline in preventable surgery deaths to a simple and ancient tool - the checklist. What all does your church do? Routinely there is the task of sermon preparation, worship service planning, staff meetings, Sunday School lessons, custodial work, sound checks, announcements, mission trip planning, outreach, guest assimilation, child care, volunteer recruiting and management, offering collection, counting and deposit, accounts payable, payroll, facility maintenance, bus ministry, food pantry, pastoral counseling, and the list could go on.
How have these things gone wrong for you in the past? Did you forget to tie your sermon into the gospel and share it in such a way that calls the lost to salvation? Did you forget the words to the songs you were leading? Was there a typo in the lesson material you distributed? Did someone fail to take the trash out of the nursery that contained week-old dirty diapers? Did the sound system squeal during the service? Have events not been promoted well? Were mission trips poorly staffed? Did no one invite someone to church? Did a first time guest not get a follow up call? All of us can probably think back on times in ministry in which things like this have gone wrong.
You know the next question - how many checklists does your church have? Most churches I encounter do not have any. The focus has been on policy. Policy is easy. "We report child abuse." That's a good policy. "We clean the entire church weekly." That's another good policy. But relying on policies like this is like a pilot relying on the policy "we start the airplane." Turning on an airplane engine is far more complicated than pushing one button. There is a process - a checklist.
When the checklist is not followed by a surgeon, people die. When the checklist is not followed by the pilot, planes crash and people die. There are times when churches act in a variety of ways that it generates liability. Reporting child abuse is necessary, but if people in the church do that on behalf of the church in different ways without a checklist or process the variables in that process can cause problems. Steps get missed, evidence is tainted, certain calls are not made, and the church finds itself in trouble.
What if the church had checklists? Could we prevent unnecessary deaths without Christ? Could we be a church that is winsome; to which people want to come? Could we be a church that takes steps to mitigate risk and avoid legal harm? This is the power and necessity of process in the church over policy. Learn more about how process can protect the church here!
by Josh Bryant
In a previous post, we outlined the five ethical questions that any church leader should ask in making decisions. In short, those are:
A leadership pipeline is a customized process by which leaders raise up leaders. Each segment of the pipeline is a pathway that an individual takes from one leadership level to the next. On that pathway, leaders demonstrate proficiency in ministry and leadership competencies by learning, doing and teaching them. Not only does this demonstrate personal proficiency but organizational proficiency as the person raises up their own successor as they move to another level of leadership.
What has this to do with ethics? Church staff should find themselves supervising this pipeline. In doing so, these church leaders will be making decisions that directly impact the behavior of the church. Early in the process the decisions will entail what ministry competencies must be demonstrated at any given level. For the pathway from small group member to small group leader, what skills must a person learn, perform and teach others to do? Those skills are applied to tasks that add up to the behavior of the organization.
In determining what competencies must be demonstrated in a pathway within the pipeline, the five ethics questions are a great place to start. What would bring the most value to God at this level of leadership within the church? How could someone at this stage in the pipeline affect agreements that the church has made? What agreements must the church make with those in the pipeline? Who will be impacted by a person at this stage in the pipeline? How will someone in this stage of the pipeline make decisions that fulfill the mission of the church? How will someone in this stage of the pipeline affect the church’s ability to be a good citizen? Each of these questions is worth asking for every level within the pipeline.
Leaders will make decisions about who to put into the pipeline. The behavior of the church is nothing more than the cumulative behavior of its leaders and members. As such it is important to ask whether a person will make a valuable contribution to the kingdom. Will a person uphold their agreements to the church and the church’s agreements to the world? What influence does this person have and who are the stakeholders in the church affected by this person’s actions? Does this person have a missional mindset such that he or she will advance the church towards fulfilling the Great Commission? Is this person concerned with the reputation of the church and its contribution to our community, state, nation, and world? These two are questions of great importance.
Good supervision of a leadership pipeline not only helps ensure the church acts ethically. It also helps the church properly vet leaders, hold them accountable, and if necessary, move them to a position that better suits their gifts (or at worst remove them from service altogether). This is legally important because the doctrines of negligent hiring, supervision, and retention all apply to volunteers as much as they apply to staff members. The focus of many churches is to simply put the right people on the team and let them do what they do. Little attention is often paid to holding them accountable – to “supervising” their conduct. Without good training and oversight, the church becomes subject to a great many liabilities. The church is its people; how its people act affect the legal standing and security of the church.
Churches must have a system by which leaders are vetted, equipped, and supervised. A leadership pipeline is a great way to do that. Learn more about this on the Law and Church Podcast and from LifeWay Leadership.
By Josh Bryant
The last week has been absolutely insane. I’ve been a longtime advocate for adoption reform because of unethical adoption practices I unearthed as an adoptive father and attorney who has helped others through an adoption. Churches rightly promote adoption. James 1:27 requires us to care for the orphan, and Jesus told us that the Kingdom belonged to little children (Mt. 19:14). There are times however that our zeal for the orphan blinds us to the sin of those who claim to help in the process of adoption.
Let me tell you the story in a nutshell. My colleagues and I have been aware for some time now that certain adoption practitioners were preying on a marginalized community in my area. Last week, one of those practitioners was indicted on sixty-two criminal counts in three states related to fraudulent adoption practices. He was transporting pregnant women from overseas whom he’d offered $10,000 to place their child up for adoption, housing them in very tight quarters which required some to sleep on the floor, and overall valuing these women only insomuch as they had a commodity in their wombs that he wanted to put up for adoption to his profit. You can read more here. I’ve had the unhappy privilege of working with the team helping clean up the mess left by his practices and arrest.
The good citizen model of organizational ethics analyzes conduct as ethical or unethical by whether the actions constitute good citizenship. It is controversial because people can disagree, and those disagreements can be come political. This is a case in which I do not think there should be any disagreement. Churches which encourage Christians to be foster or adoptive parents are good citizens. Without people to take care of the orphan and abused children, the state is in a bind. Foster care numbers routinely exceed available beds. To obey Scripture and care for the orphan is not only classically ethical, it is simply good citizenship.
Urging Christians to be cautious in working with attorneys and adoption agencies does not diminish the value of civic service churches do when encouraging Christians to adopt. In a 2016 article, the CEO of the National Council for Adoption Chuck Johnson lamented the jeopardy the institution of adoption was in due to declining numbers and unethical practices. Put simply, people are wondering if the process of adoption can be done ethically.
Some may disagree, but the ends cannot justify the means. Christian ethics is deontological, meaning the rules determine the results, are the basis of our actions, are good regardless of the result, and serve as the framework within which the result is calculated. In short, the rules precede the result; the ends cannot justify the means. Generalistic ethics such as this say that a person’s actions depend on the result of those actions. Under that theory, murder is good if the victim was a serial rapist. Surely we cannot approve of a person taking justice into his or her own hands on any biblical basis. Neither can we approve of the selling of a child that would most likely have a better life being adopted than not. While churches should promote adoption and foster care, Christians must use caution when selecting those with whom they obtain help in that process. Church leaders must urge the same.
by Josh Bryant
This may be one of the easier things you could do in ministry. Church leaders have been doing it for decades. As society becomes more litigious with courts that are more open to issuing a judgment against a church, church leaders have begun to feel the effects of bad bylaws. Here are five ways to mess up your church’s bylaws.
1. Do It Yourself.
This may have just negated the rest of the rest of this article but trying to write a legal document without legal training is often akin to doing surgery on yourself. You could really do a lot of damage. You really need to get a lawyer to help, and preferably one who understands how churches operate differently than businesses. Shameless plug: our managing attorney has served as a pastor at a large regional church and works almost exclusively with churches.
2. Write In Complicated Procedures
The more complicated the procedure to make decisions in the church, the more difficult it will be for the church to do just about anything. The process of making a decision must be simple. There should be a clearly defined, step-by-step process at each level of the church with decision making authority.
3. Fail to Identify Decision Makers
Speaking of levels of authority, your bylaws must have a clear authority structure. What decisions do committees make? What decisions do staff make? What decisions must the board or elders make? These are questions your church bylaws must answer. Your church bylaws must also address how decisions are reviewed and the process for undoing a decision.
4. Refer to Roberts Rules of Order
Ever. Roberts Rules have no place in the decision making of a church. They are far too complicated and outdated. If the church does not follow the proper process of making a decision, the decision itself is open to attack in court. Write your own rules of order, or better yet download your free copy of the rules we’ve written for churches here.
5. Ignore Them
Most churches have bylaws that were drafted ignoring at least three of the above four no-nos. As such, they are too difficult to follow and the temptation too strong to just ignore the bylaws and make a decision. Courts have changed a church’s doctrine, required a church to rehire a fired pastor, and otherwise interfered in the internal affairs of the church because the church failed to follow its own bylaws. If they are too difficult to follow, hire a parliamentarian to help you navigate church votes until you can get them amended to be far easier to follow. Under no circumstance should a church ever fail to follow its own bylaws.
The church’s failure to follow its own bylaws is probably one of the most dangerous sleeping giants in the church world today. Sexual abuse in the church is a dangerous problem – one that a fair percentage of churches will have to deal with. I dare say that a greater percentage have bylaws problems – a ticking time bomb that could cause major problems if not taken care of.
By Josh Bryant
In a blog last week, I described five ethical questions for church leaders to ask. As a recap, the first was about as simple as it gets: what would God want? This is the classical understanding of organizational ethics as it applies to the church. The question requires church leaders to develop a systematic or biblical theology regarding the question at hand. What does the Bible say that would help answer the question of how to handle sexual abuse?
The question may seem like a no brainer, but I’ve received two phone calls in as many days about situations in which pastors told victims that it would be best to handle something internally rather than appropriately address an issue of sexual abuse. This conclusion and others like it are usually based on one fallacy: viewing Scripture through a pinhole. Typically, the verse people point me to when arguing with me over whether they can keep an issue of abuse internal to the church is 1 Timothy 5:19, which reads “Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.”
One verse is not a system. Broadly speaking, systems require more than one moving part working together. Unless the rest of Scripture is totally silent on the topic, we cannot stop with this one verse as a dispositive answer.
We certainly cannot pick this one verse out of 1 Timothy and read nothing around it. Taking verses out of context in this manner is a fatal exegetical error. If we read the entire passage we’ll notice that this verse is set in contrast to “good leaders…who work hard at preaching and teaching” (v. 17) and followed by commands to publicly rebuke those who sin (v. 20) and to be cautious and deliberate in how the church appoints elders (v. 22). Paul reminded Timothy to be impartial (v. 21) and that some people’s sin remains hidden (v. 24). When a church leader’s sin surfaces, we must take steps to deal with it. We cannot say under the circumstances that there are not enough witnesses and dismiss someone alleging sexual abuse against a church leader. Churches must act, but what must they do?
Most leaders who prefer to sweep things under the rug do not consider other passages, such as Romans 13. There Paul instructed the church in Rome to teach submission to governing authorities and explained why they should so teach. “…government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience.” (v.4b-5).
Classical organizational ethics require the church to turn the criminal conduct of the elder over to law enforcement. We must be able to separate the man from the office. While we may be able to seek grace for not exercising church discipline immediately because of a lack of witnesses (although that would be unwise legally), we cannot do so for failing to hear the accusation against a church leader and to turn it over to the authorities. As Paul said, “the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.” (v. 2). Too many church leaders are experiencing the consequences of their choice to resist submission to authorities by not reporting crime to law enforcement.
By Josh Bryant
In my experience, many people in congregations across America do not understand mandated reporting. This usually is not evident until a volunteer or staff member must make a report to the child abuse hotline. If a parent or guardian finds out that someone from the church made a report to the hotline, it can really cause some hard feelings. Some of those feelings come just from the perception that making the call is immediately a personal accusation of child abuse. Other feelings come from an ignorance of the facts of the situation.
Many people in your congregation probably define mandated reporter only by that title. The think a mandated reporter is someone who must report child abuse. However, they do not usually include in that definition that a mandated reporter is someone who could be criminally charged if they fail to make a report of child abuse. It never crosses their minds that you or another from the church really does not have a choice.
Few people in the church understand that very rarely is a call to the child abuse hotline an actual allegation. You may have only seen inexplicable bruising on a child’s face. Someone may have just told you that they were being sexually abused without disclosing the offender’s identity. Sometimes your report to the hotline may be made on credible hearsay. A report is just that – a report. They do not understand that in many instances it is not an accusation that a person is abusing their child.
Very few people in the church understand the necessity to err on the side of caution. They do not stop to place themselves in the shoes of other parents. They do not consider how they would feel about sending their child to the church if another child was abused and the church did not report it. Most simply just do not understand that church leaders must weigh the evidence they have at the time and determine whether a reasonable person would suspect that child abuse could have occurred. They do not understand how low of a burden that is; most church leaders do not understand how low of a burden “reasonable suspicion” is. In close calls, church leaders must make a report.
What’s a church leader to do?
1. Educate Your Congregation.
Many churches have parent orientation meetings or something similar. If you are not already telling your church that you have a zero-tolerance policy for child abuse, you should take the opportunity to do so. Teach them about what mandated reporting really means: criminal liability for mandated reporters who do not report, reporting and not accusing, and the low burden of “reasonable suspicion.”
2. A Congregational Thought Experiment
Make your congregation think through the scenario before it happens. Ask parents what they would do if a child that was not theirs was abused and the church did not call it in. Most will tell you that they would leave or at least hesitate to put their children in care. Make sure they understand that feeling before a point comes where you may have to make a report concerning their child.
3. Weigh the Alternatives.
Most people would reach a conclusion of concern when faced with that thought experiment. As a church leader, weigh the alternatives of not reporting. On the one hand you could report and maybe lose a family or two that are upset with you. On the other hand, you could not report and lose many families concerned about your failure to report. You could also get a little jail time. When in doubt, report.
by Josh Bryant
In a previous article, I described 5 questions that church leaders need to ask in terms of making a decision that would result in the church being called ethical. In reality, no one church leader makes all the decisions that result in an organization's actions. The Senior Pastor, staff, key lay leaders, other leaders, and volunteers all act in a manner that reflects on the church itself. These actions are the actions of the church as much or more than they are the actions of one person. How then do we restrain the conduct of the organization? In short, a strategic ethics program.
Many would say that the church of all places needs an ethics program the least. Churches don't need policies and procedures because no volunteer would intentionally harm the church or have the authority to do anything that would. Churches don't need to worry about violating obscure laws because churches are "small fish" compared to big corporations. Churches don't need codes of conduct for volunteers because we all follow Christ and will do the right thing.
These statements simply could not be further from the truth. More and more lay counseling programs are popping up that are poorly supervised and trained. Volunteers are operating chainsaws, heavy equipment, and automobiles full of children. Churches aren't so small any more. Mega churches and multisite churches are growing in number, and many times in size. As churches grow, budgets grow. Volunteers will always do the right thing? Tell that to the churches and charities that will lose $5 billion this year alone to fraud and theft. We must lead our churches to be very intentional in structuring the church's conduct. Here are four levels of ethics to strive for, each building on the one before it.
Level 1 Church - Compliance Driven Ethics
At this level, your church's method of ethical behavior is driven by a need to protect the organization. You have policies and procedures in place designed to meet the government's requirements of the church. You have rules and disciplinary procedures for staff members to enforce compliance with your code of conduct. The focus of your ethics program is all about "following the rules."
In some regards, most churches find themselves in this area of the spectrum or below. Far too many churches do not have any policies and procedures. Too many church leaders are completely unaware that their church is violating several laws that could result in serious harm to the church. This state of blissful ignorance has been tolerated and ignored for a long time, but we are starting to see that tolerance end. Churches have control over staff by threats of being fired, but they do not have the same "control" over their volunteers. Most have such a volunteer shortage that they will not fire a volunteer at any cost. In order to fully meet the requirements of even a compliance driven ethics programs, these are areas that the church must address.
Level 2 Church - Risk Driven Ethics
At this level, your church has developed a more sophisticated system for measuring risks and mitigating them. You have resources assigned to tackle them. You have begun to create an ethical culture at the church among staff and volunteers, but your efforts are still very inward focused. The church is more concerned with the effect of the conduct of its employees and volunteers on the church than the effect of that conduct on the outside world. In other words, you're still acting to protect the church.
Very few churches exist at this level. Even those with well developed policy manuals usually do not have a great system of measuring what risk is out there and how to ethically mitigate that risk. Very few churches have an employee with the responsibility of doing so. Very few churches are employing quality risk assumptions and liability waivers that one would expect at this level. Most churches are comfortable either ignoring the issue or simply ensuring staff comply with the rules.
Level 3 Church - Reputation Driven Ethics
At first glance the name of this level sounds prideful and self-centered, but it isn't. We want the church to look good to the outside world. We want what Jesus offers to be attractive without the church making it less attractive.
At this level, the church is paying attention to the ramifications of its decisions on the world around it - those directly impacted by its actions. Instead of a tyrant enforcing policy on staff, the church pays attention to what would make their lives better. The church focuses on how it can make its members and guests lives better. When the church is concerned about its reputation - not pridefully but for the cause of Christ - its relationships with employees, volunteers, members, and guests grow stronger. Employees and volunteers are more productive. More members volunteer.
I can hear you already - "we are focused on a lot of these things." There are many churches who do very well meeting ethical obligations at this level. But statistics show that most church staff are still severely under paid. We are concerned with providing a great worship experience and spiritual growth for our members and guests, but people are coming less frequently. These are our goals, there is just no ethics program attached to them. There is nothing that governs the church's conduct to make sure this happens. There are no policies and procedures governing parking lot greeters or the process by which a guest speaker is vetted and approved. Furthermore, all of this is built on a foundation that is crumbling at best. Each level builds on the previous one, so if we do not fix those problems, we could very easily find the comfy chair of our laurels that we are resting in get kicked out from underneath us by a litigious, hostile world.
Level 4 Church - Culture Driven Ethics
At this level, your church is adding value to its community and to other churches. Your church is considering future generations and people who have not yet been born who will worship at your church decades from now. Some believe that to reach this level your church must be concerned with its environment through recycling programs, clean energy usage, carbon footprints and more. None of these concerns are bad or unbiblical, even if you do not believe in global warming (I offer no opinion on the subject). Your community not only benefits from your church, it trusts your church. As a result, your church's conduct optimally achieves its mission.
Here you have policies and procedures for the entire church. Every operation is performed within the same parameters every time. As such, the community begins to rely on and trust those operations. The chances of variable conduct derailing the train and causing a legal disaster are minimized. You have a code of ethics that is part of your DNA. You talk about it, teach it, publish it, and live it. Your church's conduct is intentionally designed to bring value to the Kingdom of God, to do everything it is obliged to do, to take care and shepherd those God has entrusted to it, to fulfill the Great Commission, and to be a trusted and valuable member of society. This is the kind of church ethics program we should strive for.
by Josh Bryant
People talk an awful lot about business ethics. Not as many talk about church ethics. It's a bit silly to argue that businesses are moral actors but churches are not. So why aren't we talking more about church ethics? Here are 5 ethical questions church leaders should be asking about every decision.
1. What would God want?
Call me Captain Obvious. In business ethics, one of the questions in ethical decision making is "what brings the most value to the owner of the business?" This is the classical theory of business ethics. Jesus is the head of the body, the church. We who are in it have been bought with a price. He owns it all! So naturally, we must make decisions based upon what would bring the most benefit to him.
Not so fast. It's easy to say that, but we don't have to look too hard to see churches neglecting this necessary question. Would God want us sweeping sexual assault claims under the rug? Would He want us quietly dismissing pastors who abuse children without saying more? Would He want us to be unwelcoming to someone who has a different color skin or dresses differently than us? Of course not. If churches are going to make ethical decisions, we need to follow the advice of Oscar Hammerstein and "start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."
2. What agreements are relevant to this decision?
Another theory of business ethics is the contract theory. In essence, ethical decisions are those which keep all of our agreements; unethical decisions violate an agreement. On its face this seems ridiculous for the church, but let's dig a little deeper. Have we made agreements with God? Is the church not in covenant with Him? Have we not pledged fidelity to Christ such that as Cyprian said, "The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure" and He fidelity to us when he said "I will be with you always"?
Have we made agreements with each other? In a global context we cannot choose fellow believers any more than we get to choose our brothers and sisters. However, we do make agreements in the local context. Each local church is built upon a set of collective agreed upon beliefs and practices. I've heard a story of when new members wanted to change the fundamental character of a local church, to which the pastor replied, "we did not join you, you joined us."
We must ask what we have decided together to believe. What is it that we practice fundamentally? What decision best benefits the body of Christ in this local context? What agreements have we made with our neighbors, vendors, suppliers, service providers, communities, and others? What decision affects those agreements most beneficially? These are the questions this theory uses to ascertain right and wrong, and it is not completely inapplicable to the church.
3. Who is affected by this decision?
This question addresses the stakeholder theory of organizational ethics. In any decision that the church makes, there will be groups of stakeholders that are affected. Who are the stakeholders? Every individual person in the church is an individual stakeholder. You can organize them in many different ways. We tend to organize people by gender, age, and ministry (i.e. women's ministry, young adult's class, choir, etc.).
We cannot just stop with our church though. There are stakeholder groups in the community - the lost, those who depend on the church's food pantry, those who own or use property surrounding our church, and state and local governments. In some situations, local law enforcement may be a stakeholder (i.e. church security). In other situations, a youth group that you haven't even heard of yet may be stakeholders who call and ask for a place to serve on a short term missions trip. Your association and network of churches are stakeholders. As church leaders run down this list of stakeholders, they must determine how a decision affects these stakeholders.
4. What advances the gospel?
This is another question that seems so obvious it is hardly worth mentioning, but it is probably one of the most important. The agency theory of organizational ethics determines a course of action as ethical based on whether it helps or hinders the purpose of the organization. The decision that advances the gospel, promotes worship and fellowship, and secures spiritual growth and service opportunities for guests and members is the most ethical decision to make.
It is easy for churches to be short-sighted when answering this question. Some would argue that an incident of abuse must be kept quiet because for that to become public would hinder the gospel. I counter that when the allegation comes out (as it invariably will), the fact that the church swept it under a rug will harm the church far more than had they dealt with it at the time.
5. What makes our church a good citizen?
This one tends to be a bit more controversial. When people start discussing questions of good citizenship things can sometimes devolve into a political discussion. Some will say that the church has a moral obligation under the citizen theory to be environmentally friendly while others would argue the opposite. But this question is a bit more complicated than that.
Is your church part of an organization or network of churches? If so, how would this decision affect that network? Does your church impact your community? If so, how would this decision have a positive impact? How would this decision affect our standing with our community, state, and national leaders? Does it submit to their authority or is it rebellious? Do our policies obey the law? These are all questions that must be considered when making an ethical decision.
A question I routinely get is, "what if the answers to these questions point to different conclusions?" My response will typically be, "Are you sure they do?" Most of the time, these questions will all point in the same direction. However, if the decision is to obey an order of the government to stop preaching on Sunday mornings, obviously it appears that the citizen theory conflicts with the agency and classical theories at least. One way to overcome the problem is to ask, "would we really be a good citizen by ceasing to preach the gospel?" My answer would be a resounding "no." Another way to overcome it is as James and Peter did - let the government decide whether it is right obey it over God, but we cannot help but preach Jesus. Lastly, we need to understand that even in the easiest of analyses that we are guided by the Holy Spirit. A set of five questions cannot put Him in a formulaic box. He is God. We must be guided by His Spirit to make good decisions.
by Josh Bryant
Churches sometimes suffer damage. Weather, vandalism, busted water pipes - all have the potential to do a lot of damage to your church. Hopefully, you have good insurance to help you recover but some insurance companies will do everything they can to keep from paying for damages. When that happens, the church's recourse is to pay for the damage itself or take the matter to court.
You can't wait to do things right because you don't know whether the case will go to court until much later. If it goes to court, you will inevitably need an expert witness to describe how the damage occurred. Courts typically follow what's called the "Daubert Rule" in determining whether a person is qualified to testify as an expert. Here are four things churches must review when bringing a contractor in to review the damage to help ensure that person can later be certified as an expert witness.
The contractor must be properly educated. Where did the contractor go to school? Did the contractor have any kind of apprenticeship? If there is structural damage, does the person have an engineering degree and Professional Engineer (PE) credential? What courses or continuing education seminars have they taken specific to the type of damage that your church has suffered? How have they kept their skills up? Have they ever spent time teaching others in their craft? These are all important questions to which you need to have answers to show the expertise of the contractor or engineer.
Your contractor or engineer must have a good deal of experience. How long have they been in the field? How many cases have they worked with damage similar to the damage your church has suffered? How many cases have they worked in which the damaged property was constructed in the same way your church was built? If your contractor or engineer does not have a good bit of experience, they will not qualify as an expert.
You need to know how your contractor or engineer will assess the damage. When you find out, Google it. If you don't find anything online about how to go about those methods, those methods may not be reliable. If you find others who are using those methods then you may be able to assume that those methods are reliable. The ultimate question is whether others in the industry acknowledge those methods as reliable to gather the necessary facts to reach an expert conclusion.
Your contractor's schedule will be important. You can't wait for your contractor or engineer to review the damage. The more time that passes, the more that other things could work to cause or make the damage worse.
by Josh Bryant
Nehemiah had a big task in front of him. Jerusalem was in ruins, its walls battered. "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach," he said to the Jewish leaders in Nehemiah 2:17. Likewise, it should be clear to church leaders that we have a big task in front of us. The Church in many regards is in ruins. We are in a bad situation. We have become a reproach to many. They say churches do not care about protecting women and children from sexual predators. They say we do not respond appropriately and are more apt to sweep an allegation under the rug. "They" are right; there is no denying that churches and church leaders have done so. We can and must do better; it is time to rebuild our walls.
While they are right that the actions of some churches and the inaction of others have been tragic and reprehensible, I do not think this is the character of the church. The church is the Bride of Christ which He is sanctifying to present blameless before God. That is to say not only must we rebuild our walls, it is a certainty that we will do so. The only question is how.
Many have added their voices to the conversation. Some have called for apologies; others have called for reparations of sorts. I do not claim to have a solution to past problems. What I can add is simply that these events are rather conclusive evidence of the fact that churches as organizations are ethical actors and agents. While this may seem like a foregone conclusion, we cannot afford to assume as much. Only when we start there - at a place where the church and the Church as organizations have moral responsibilities - can we begin to set aside personal differences of opinion for the good of the church and the Church.
We have an ethical responsibility to respond appropriately to sexual abuse claims in the church. We owe it to God who grieves at every sin committed against His children as anyone reading this would grieve at such sins against their children. We owe it to each other to love one another enough to protect one another. We owe it to the victims and the vulnerable who are far more likely to struggle with their continued walk with Christ as a result of an assault. We owe it to our community: to our neighbors and friends, and to law enforcement and the justice system. We owe it to our mission. Too many seem to believe that sweeping conduct under the rug protects the church. That's myopic. When the accusation becomes public (and it will become public) it will do more harm to the church than had we dealt with it immediately.
Jerusalem's walls were made of rock. Nehemiah did not patch their gaping holes with spackle. He had to tear them down and build them back up again. We must do the same. We must tear down our old paradigms and systems and build new ones that are more secure. This week on the Law and Church podcast, our guest is Gregory Love from Ministry Safe. We all need to go listen. Pay attention to his description of the list - a piece of paper with a checklist on it that serves as our defense against child sexual abuse in the church. At the foundation of that list is a background check, despite statistics that of all abusers in the church in recent history only four percent would have failed a background check and statistics that offenders will offend an average of 150 times before they are caught. Our paper list is mere spackle. We need to get some hewn stone.
Ministry Safe is one such stone. Their training materials and processes are key in putting systems in place that protect children from sexual predators. We'll never know this side of heaven how many children have been protected because of their work. The Church Law Group (Church General Counsel) hopes to be another such stone. Our desire is to train church leaders in how to appropriately respond to claims of sexual abuse in the church in a way that protects the victim and the church. We help investigate claims. We help document prevention practices online so that everyone who needs to know how the church works together to prevent abuse has access to it. We make ourselves available on a day's notice to answer church leaders' questions about what to do in a wide variety of circumstances.
After Nehemiah told the people what God had done to bring him to Jerusalem, their response was "Let us arise and build" and Nehemiah records actions that followed their words, "So they put their hands to the good work." (Nehemiah 2:18). It wasn't just a work - it was a good work. Ours is a good work as well. Let's get to it!
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.