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Your By-laws won’t fix your problems

April 14, 2016

Churches sometimes go to strange lengths to protect themselves against pastoral abuse or division in the congregation. Some churches write into their by-laws ridiculous rules about what the pastor can and cannot do. Some churches do not permit the pastor to be a member of the church. Some saddle the leadership with so many committees, boards and required reports that leadership is impossible. Some do not write their rules anywhere but every one knows them (except the unfortunate pastor who steps into to “lead” the church). Some churches operate as true democracies and the pastor is just one vote among the many. Others are an oligarchy in which a small group of elders or deacons makes all the decisions for the church. An unfortunate number of churches have become ingrained in ill advised operational processes because they tried to keep something bad from happening again. The solution to problems in the governance of the church is not found in rewritten by-laws or better checks and balances among the leadership. The official, or unofficial, government of the church is no sure protection against problems in the church.

While some church polity (church government) is better than others none are an impregnable protection against sin in the leadership, bad choices or conflict in the church. Any system can be manipulated. Well intentioned men will make mistakes. Members of the church will hold to different opinions about important issues. The best security against runaway ungodliness in the church is a mature, godly congregation. A mature church will take wise steps to ensure the pastor is Biblically qualified before they ever entrust him with the care of their souls. A godly congregation will not be swayed by every wise sounding idea that comes along. Godly men will serve alongside the pastor with real concern for his spiritual well being. Mature Christians will not stir up strife and division nor will they seek to gather a following around themselves. A godly church will exercise Biblical discernment about the pastor’s decisions and direction. Godly men will humbly serve for the good of the congregation. A godly church will recognize a clear distinction between sin and differences of opinion. A mature membership will care for one another considering one another and exhorting one another lest any be turned aside by the lies of sin. Godly men will practice Biblical discipline privately confronting one another, forsaking gossip, but not hiding sin that should be made public.

Many Christians can tell horror stories of being part of a church that went through tragic pastoral failures, pastor/deacon conflicts or major division in the church. Horrible sin in Jesus’ church is shameful but, unfortunately, should be expected. Even in the apostolic era there were men in leadership roles who had no business being there. Did not Diotrephes oppose the apostle John? (What kind of arrogant idiot stands against the last surviving apostle and the disciple whom Jesus loved?) Did not Alexander the coppersmith oppose the apostle Paul? Such things are to be expected, but they must not be tolerated.

What is a church to do? How can a church prevent immoral, abusive or unqualified pastors from bringing shame on the local congregation? A good polity filled with immature or ungodly men will not be an effective stay against bad leadership. A system of leadership based upon successful businesses or civil governments will not be an effective stay against sin in the church. Sound, Biblical policies and government are necessary. However, good systems will not reduce problems without a solid core of mature Christians committed to unity, peace and spiritual growth. Many ecclesiastical tragedies could be cut off while still minor if godly men had the Biblical courage to Scripturally oppose sin. Godly men who engage in godly relationships within the church will help serve to stem the tide of idiots who have no business in the pastorate and to curb the ambitions of petty satraps within the congregation who view the church as their own little fiefdom. The church is to be about the business of bringing believers into greater maturity in Christ. A church seriously engaged in promoting Christian growth will provide an excellent protection against the growth of sin in its midst.


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