In this article on the by-law changes of November 2007, we will look at how the Pastor has ensured that his accountability to the general laity, the congregation as a whole, has been greatly minimized.
Two changes made in the November 2007 by-laws that minimized pastoral accountability to the congregation:
No Congregation-Called Special Business Meetings
In the by-laws that were approved in 2000 under Dr. Jerry Vines, there was a provision allowing the congregation to call a special business meeting. A special business meeting could be called by a written request of not less than 1500 members. These kinds of clauses allowing the church body to call business meetings are very common - they often are expressed in terms of a percentage of members required to call the meeting. They are put in by-laws as a check to power - that the pastor knows his congregation could, if they desired, call a meeting to address concerns they have even if such a meeting is NOT desired by the leadership. This clause was never exercised at FBC Jax, but its mere presence in the bylaws has a valid function - it serves as a reminder to the pastor: you ARE accountable to the people who pay your salary, and they DO have the right to call a meeting to discuss your misdeeds.
Along with removal of this provision, one was added stating the only way a special business meeting is called is by the pastor, or by 3/4 vote of the Trustees. That is it. No other way. Not even the deacons can call a special business meeting. And of course, the Pastor selects the Trustees. If the Pastor has just 1/2 of the Trustees on his side, a special business meeting can't be held. Not a problem under most circumstances - but if the pastor is abusing power and the congregation seeks to hold him accountable in a business meeting or to even hold a vote of confidence, it CANNOT be done without the Pastor's trustees overwhelmingly approving it. The new bylaws also were modified to say that the pastor's services can be terminated only in a special business meeting - which of course would have to be called by the pastor himself or 3/4 of his trustees.
Valid reason for those changes? Maybe, but a reasonable person would conclude that such changes should be explained to the congregation.
Church Discipline as It Relates to the Pastor
One of the most significant changes to the by-laws was how church discipline is carried out. In the previous by-laws, there was no distinction between how discipline was to be carried out by different positions in the church - that is there were just "members" - and all "members" are to bring about reconciliation in accordance with Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-16. Any "member" who is accused of wrongdoing worthy of discipline would be investigated by the Deacons. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that all "members" are equal in this case - whether it be senior pastor, associate pastor, secretary, or layman - all must seek scripture reconciliation followed by Deacon investigation and report to the church. All persons including the pastor could be investigated and subjected to church discipline by the deacons.
Not so any more.
In the new bylaws, there are two distinct processes defined for church discipline: one for the pastor and other clergy, and one for everybody else. If a member has a grievance against the pastor he/she must seek reconciliation through Matthew 18, and still if no resolution is reached, and the church agrees, mediation with the Florida Baptist Convention will be used. Sounds reasonable, but the end result is this: the pastor is not accountable to any lay body for misdeeds he may commit! Its the offended party seeking reconciliation, and then arbitration with an outside body IF the church approves it. That sort of process would have worked great for Bob Gray, wouldn't it?
Contrast that process with how accusations against a member are handled. There is a a Discipline Committee process that is used, and this process by definition exempts the pastor. It exempts the pastor because the first step of the discipline process as defined in the bylaws is for the the Discipline Committee to meet with the pastor to determine if the accusation rises to the level of scriptural church discipline!
This church discipline process does call for the accused to be "offered" an opportunity to meet with the deacons regarding the accusations. However the Watchdog would point out that there is no mention whatsoever that those accused can be FORCED to meet with the deacons as a condition of continued attendance, or that trespass warnings will be issued until such time the party agrees to meet with the deacons. So one wonders on what authority that trespass warnings were issued to the two accused members last November, and that attendance at a meeting with a Discipline Committee was a condition for their continued access to church functions.
One other smaller point: the old by-laws specified a quorum of 2000 members to conduct church business. This number was reduced to 1000 in the new by-laws. However, it is quite a stretch to say that there were 2000 members present to vote on the bylaw changes during the Wednesday night service of November 28, 2007...so likely the bylaw changes are not even valid if there was a challenge brought forth.
So those are the two bylaw changes that served to move power from the congregation to the Pastor and Trustees, and to minimize accountability of the Pastor to the congregation. No doubt the men who oversaw these bylaw changes have good explanations for them - its just a shame that more respect wasn't shown to the lay people by having these changes humbly explained by their pastor prior to the vote.
Another example, the Watchdog believes, of the general contempt that our church leadership has for the lay people. We just aren't discerning enough, we aren't intelligent enough - or as Jim Smyrl says we haven't been trained in "critical thinking" - to understand the reasons for significant bylaw changes. We just can't handle the truth.
So the Watchdog is more than happy to help explain these changes here, and welcomes any additional comments or clarifications regarding the bylaw changes and their nature or purpose.