We ask people to do some pretty risky things in church. Don't believe me? How about a food fight in our youth department? That doesn't sound too risky. Well, can you guarantee that all of your students are free from any food allergy that they might come into contact with? What about the infamous (and usually a lot of fun) lock-in? Surely locking a bunch of pubescent walking hormones in a church building all night isn't risky. What about mission trips? Are there any risks inherent in traveling internationally to share the gospel of Christ with people who come from a completely different culture that may be hostile to the gospel? Surely not...
Clearly, we ask people to do some pretty risky things in church. And you know what? That's ok! Pastors should be asking their people to take risks for the sake of Christ. Christ didn't ask any less, did He? He told us the world would hate us because of Him. Surely that carries some risk with it.
But who should take the risk - the Christian or the church? Granted, the question sets up a false dichotomy because the church is made up of the Christian. However, if churches and pastors are to encourage sanctification and spiritual growth in their congregations and continue doing so for the long term, it isn't the church that should assume all the risk of ministry. The people should assume the risk.
That's the spiritual side of encouraging disciples to assume the risks of ministry, but there are legal ramifications of this too. The document is called an Assumption of Risk. It is a document that spells out the legal risks of any given activity. For example, if you go on this mission trip to Central America, you could contract a flesh eating jungle fungus while hiking through the rainforest covered mountains to share the gospel with a remote village. Generally speaking, the organizer of an event or trip is responsible for assuming the legal risks associated with and incurred by any participant in the event or trip. However, a properly drafted assumption of risk shifts that risk back to the participant and protects your church from being held liable by a court after a participant or his/her heirs sue the church because of the injury they suffered participating in that event or trip. Generally speaking, the law has some very specific requirements for assumptions of risk. At Church General Counsel, this is one of the primary ways in which we aid churches in mitigating risk.
Not all risk can be avoided, but it can be used to help people grow spiritually and become more like Christ. This can be done legally through an assumption of risk that helps ensure your church can continue doing ministry and helping others assume the same risks of following Jesus and engaging in God's mission of making disciples of the nations.
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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.