My dad was a worship pastor when I was growing up and one of the ministerial headaches he got most frequently was the sound system. Feedback, static, interference, cassette tapes that wouldn't play (you younger folks won't understand) - it all created problems for worship services.
Now thanks to a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission, churches need to pay close attention right now and begin planning for more headaches right now. The quicker you plan, the less of a headache this will be.
Last year, the FCC ruled that wireless microphones cannot operate in most of the 600mhz band range anymore. The problem is, lots of churches have wireless microphones that operate in that range. To try and ease the burden, the FCC gave everyone until June of 2020 to make the conversion unless it interferes with licensed operation in the 600mhz band. If that happens, they can kick you out. What happens if you refuse? You could be fined or face criminal penalties. So yes, this is a big deal.
My biggest fear is that churches will wait until 2020 to update their microphones. How much money might that cost? One larger church I talked to will spend close to $40,000 or more to make the transition. Don't wait until the last minute. You need to start budgeting now to update your sound system, making sure that you have no device that operates wirelessly between 617-652, and 663-698 mhz. You should be able to find the frequency information on your wireless microphones.
Southern Baptists have been busy discussing what is appropriate in counseling after statements Southwestern Seminary's President Dr. Paige Patterson made regarding counseling divorce in the case of abuse came under scrutiny. The line of demarkation is clear at this point - some defending Patterson with a heavy emphasis on the sanctity of marriage; some calling for his resignation over insensitivity to abuse. I can add little clarity to that discussion, except to say that I pray I am raising a daughter who will run from such a situation (God forbid she ever find herself there), and sons who will never treat women so disrespectfully. We should also remember that we live in a day in age in which wives can abuse husbands too.
What I can add to the conversation is a review of the risks churches assume in counseling victims of domestic abuse. Here are a few liability vectors that churches and pastors need to consider on this subject.
A pastor can be held liable in this situation under a theory of general negligence. There are four things an abuse victim would have to prove: 1) the pastor or church owed a duty to the abuse victim, 2) the pastor breached that duty by an act or omission, 3) damages, and 4) the pastor in some way caused the damages.
Generally, the courts will not hold a pastor responsible for counseling on strictly spiritual matters due to the First Amendment. For many evangelicals, marriage counseling is a deeply spiritual matter to which Scripture speaks a great deal. Unfortunately, our culture is increasingly divorcing marriage from spiritual life. As such, some courts have held that pastors have a duty of care to persons seeking marriage counseling, the breach of which is not subject to First Amendment protections. Damages would be easy enough to prove in the case of physical abuse. Causation can be established by the trusting and somewhat authoritative relationship between pastor and person seeking pastoral guidance. Pastors therefore take a big risk by advising abuse victims to stay in an abusive situation.
Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention
Liability for the church in this scenario would only stand if proven vicariously. In other words, the church is not directly responsible to the abuse victim, but as with all organizations it does have a responsibility to adequately interview, supervise, and if necessary fire any employee of the church. The duty is not the focus; churches have duties to oversee their employees. If the church does not do a thorough interview of a pastor, or if the church knew the pastor's stance was that victims should only pray for their abuser and remain in an abusive home, then the church could be held liable for negligent hiring. If the church does not supervise activities of a pastor that a court could deem as "non-spiritual" so as to allow a suit to proceed, then the church can be held liable for the actions of the pastor under a negligent supervision theory. If the church does supervise and knows that a pastor is counseling abuse victims to remain in abusive situations, then the theory would not be negligent supervision but negligent retention. In either of these cases, both the church and the pastor could be held liable and worse, the pastor and church will often end up bickering over who is more liable.
Some churches utilize peer counseling ministries in lieu of strictly pastoral counseling. Even in these scenarios, churches must be very careful in selecting, supervising, and revoking the privileges (if necessary) of lay counselors. Failure to do so can result in the church being held liable for the advice of the lay counselor.
Knowing now that counseling in and of itself contains risk regardless of the circumstance, what are some things we can do to protect ourselves?
1. Hire or refer. The psychological dynamics of abuse take counseling here out of many pastors' realm of expertise. However, seminaries are churning out tons of counseling graduates that could work at your church. Hire a pastor of pastoral care for your church to handle things like hospital, assisted living, and hospice visits, counseling, benevolence, and so forth. If you don't have the budget for another staff member, gather a list of good Christian counselors in the area and refer the matter out.
2. Statement of Ethics. While your statement of faith will not change with the culture, your statement of ethics will at least grow as conduct once reprehensible becomes more commonplace. Based on what your church believes the Bible says about man, sin, the church, and marriage, how do you expect members to act? In light of the #MeToo movement, growing allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and more, your statement of ethics or white papers should directly address and repudiate any form of abuse. Pastors and lay counselors should then be not only held to that standard, but also enforce that standard by encouraging separation from abusive situations.
3. Documentation. If you are going to have a pastoral counseling practice in your church, you need good documentation. This should include an agreement that a) requires alternative dispute resolution in the event the person seeking pastoral guidance is injured by the counseling process, and b) specifies exactly what you are qualified and not qualified to handle. It should also include routine note taking about what took place in every counseling session and a final letter of some sort indicating that the counseling relationship has ended. These documents must remain confidential.
4. Basic Policy Protections. Institute policies that prohibit male pastors from counseling females alone or that only women may counsel women. Establish other guidelines such as an open door policy or windows so that others may see inside the office while counseling is taking place. Utilize technology for video or telephone counseling. These should be in effect with all interpersonal relationships to prohibit the appearance of impropriety and hopefully limit the chances of a false claim of sexual misconduct. Counseling is often the first step to such an allegation.
5. Specific Policy Considerations. Limit what your pastors or lay counselors can discuss to things that are strictly spiritual or biblical in nature, that deal with a person's sanctification, and so forth. Limit the use of the term "counseling" because that can bring you under state licensing requirements. Instead, offer spiritual guidance or biblical guidance.
6. Insurance. Talk to your insurance carrier about professional liability insurance and Employment Practices Liability Insurance to cover the church in the event a pastor or lay counselor is found to be negligent in the practice of biblical counseling. Depending on the specific practices of your church, these policies can be rather inexpensive.
Back by popular demand! Church General Counsel will host a 1-hour church security webinar on April 12, 2018 at 3pm central. Topics include:
Church General Counsel will host a webinar on April 26, 2018 at 3:00pm CST to discuss cases in which churches have been in court. Managing Attorney Josh Bryant will select a number of cases to discuss in the following format:
Church General Counsel has announced its April webinar topics:
Church General Counsel will host a webinar on March 29, 2018 at 3:00pm to discuss cases in which churches have been in court. Managing Attorney Josh Bryant will select a number of cases to discuss in the following format:
Church General Counsel will host the following webinars for pastors, church leaders, and any others interested in these topics during the month of March:
Each webinar will be at 3:00pm Central Time and have time for questions, answers, and comments from attendees. Click on the links above to learn more and sign up.
Church General Counsel will host a 1-hour church security webinar on March 1, 2018 at 3pm central. Topics include:
Articles of Incorporation (we’ll call them AOIs from here on out) are found in a written document filed usually with the Secretary of State in the state in which a church exists that form that church as a legal entity in the eyes of the world. Banks will usually require a copy of the AOIs before letting your church open a bank account so that they can verify that this organization is real. There are several components that should be in your AOIs. Because they are so basic, they do not usually change. This is unlike your bylaws, which are more detailed and therefore more open to change. Here are just a few of the things that need to be in most AOIs.
Name of the Church
The AOIs will first state the name of your church. The articles will tell the world – the government, banks, vendors, members, and the like – the name of the organization they are interacting with. If you’re launching a new church, then obviously you’ll need to have the name of your church firmed up before filing the AOIs. If your church changes its name, the official means of doing so is through amending the AOIs.
Period of Existence
Your AOIs will tell the world how long the church will exist. Very rarely would any organization want to put an expiration date on their endeavor, and certainly not the church. While eternity is not in the government’s vocabulary in terms of AOIs, most organizations indicate in this section that the organization will exist into perpetuity.
There are two primary components of the character of a non-profit organization that should be in your church’s AOIs. The first is a prohibition against "private inurement." This is tax prohibition based on the notion that if the government is not going to tax the organization, the organization’s receipts over budgeted expenditures cannot flow to a private person. The second component deals with what happens to the assets of a non-profit organization if that organization closes its doors. While we don’t want churches closing their doors, statistics show this is becoming a much more common occurrence. Tax law prohibits the assets of a non-profit from going to a for profit endeavor or a private party, so specific language is necessary to ensure that non-profit assets go to a similar non-profit endeavor on dissolution.
Your church’s AOIs should tell the world not only who they are interacting with, but where they can interact with your church. Your AOIs should clearly state the address of the church’s primary location. This can be difficult for church plants. I know of some church planters in very difficult locales within the United States that have to move frequently. The principal address should be updated with each move. House churches may not meet in the same house every week. In that case, one location should be designated the principal address.
Your church’s AOIs should also tell the world who has the authority to accept service of process in the event they need to sue your church. The registered agent is the person or entity that can accept the complaint filed against your church and the summons directing it to file an answer or be subject to a default judgment. Some churches designate a trustee as their registered agent. A volunteer should never be the registered agent. Too much is at stake. Many churches designate a pastor as the registered agent, but the church must remember to amend their AOIs if the pastor resigns or retires. In the business world, most reputable companies hire a registered agent that is an independent third party or the church’s lawyer. This is probably the best practice for churches too.
The last component of your church’s AOIs is a statement of basic governance. Is your church governed by an elder board or is it more congregational? Or is there a diocese or other office that your church reports to? The world needs to know all of these things, the specifics of which will be spelled out in your bylaws. It suffices to have a simple, one sentence statement of how your church will be governed in the AOIs.
One of the first things we look for at Church General Counsel when we take on a new client is the church's articles of incorporation. We can recommend a variety of changes to the church's articles if any are needed. We can serve as your church's registered agent for no additional fee.
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.