This may seem like a very boring subject - after all, who wants to read and discuss something as boring as rules defining the governing a church. In general, most church members don't need to be concerned about church bylaws. However, there are at least two circumstances in the life a church where the "average" church member, one who takes their membership seriously and who has genuine love and concern for their church, might want to take the time to read church bylaws:
1. When there is a pastoral transition - especially from a long-time pastor in whom the bylaws vested much power; and
2. When the trustees and pastor of the church seek to change the bylaws soon after a new pastor takes over, and they are not eager to let the people to know what the nature and purpose of the changes are.
We have had both of these circumstances occur at our church. So we will spend some time here before the Pastor's Conference to look at the bylaws of FBC Jax. I believe this will help our members, and perhaps concerned members at other mega churches.
When a church is functioning "normally", and there is not unusual conflict between members and the pastor/lay leaders, bylaws are no big deal. But let the church enter into a period where there may be abuses by a pastor, or members become gravely concerned over the actions of a pastor, the bylaws can become extremely important. One need look no further than the events at FBC Daytona Beach (after Bobby Welch retired), Two Rivers (TN) Baptist Church, FBC Ocala (FL), and even Bellevue Baptist Church to know that bylaws are important! Bylaws will define how special meetings can be held by the members and deacons, how the pastor can be removed from his position, what rights members have and what rights they relinquish, how members can be kicked out of the church and therefore denied their membership rights, who has authority to hire/fire personnel, what the discipline process is for members considered to be "divisive", and what levels of expenditues must be voted on, and many others.
Before we look at the FBC Jax bylaws and the December 2007 changes, let's discuss the style of church governance at FBC Jacksonville in the bylaws. After reviewing the bylaws its very evident that our church is a heavily "pastor led" church...definitely not what we would call a "congregation led" church. Smaller SBC churches typically are "congregation led" in that and power is spread over lay committees and the pastor's power is somewhat limited. A pastor is generally a defacto member of all committees, so still can exert considerable influence on committee decisions.
Three aspects of this "hyper" pastor-led, FBC Jax-style of governance that I want to point out:
1. "Honor Thy Pastor"
The member convenants state the following:
"It shall be the duty of each and every member of the this Church to honor, esteem, and love the Pastor, to pray for him constantly, and to manifest a tender regard for his reputation"
Very interesting. Shouldn't all members be loving, honoring, and esteeming EACH OTHER out of Christian love...we should be praying for each other, and be tender to each other. To specifically require members to "honor, esteem, and love the Pastor", and to "pray for him constantly" seems a little, well "cultic"...it seems to be setting up some position similar to that of a "Pope". Since we should honor, esteem, and love ALL brothers and sisters in Christ, does this means we should honor, esteem, and love the Pastor MORE based solely on his position? Is he worthy of honor, esteem and love in extra measure more than others? To call out for extra love and honor to be bestowed upon a man based on his POSITION...and not on facts of his character, his behavior, his words...is dangerous. This is how men like Bob Gray and Darrel Gilyard abused for so long even though some knew of abuses. Why he was the PASTOR!!! We are REQUIRED to honor him. We MUST esteem him! How DARE YOU bring accusations against him as that would harm HIS REPUTATION.
We "loved, honored, and esteemed" Pastor Lindsay and Vines NOT because of their position as pastor, and NOT because the bylaws said so. But because of their CHARACTER, their LOVE, their LOYALTY to the church demonstrated over years of faithfullness.
2. Sole Authority in Hiring and Firing of Staff
"The pastor shall have sole and exclusive authority in the matter of hiring and dismissing staff members of the church."
No personnel committee. No advisement of anyone else in the church. One man makes the decisions. As I said earlier this week, this system might work find for SOME pastors, but it doesn't seem to be working well with Team Brunson, as our long-time ministers are now gone (some of them were fired, others felt compelled to leave), and we have Brunson family members and close associates running the church. This was a good system under Lindsay and Vines...but what is so sacred about this authority that would make us keep it when we undergo a pastoral transition?
Why on earth would we keep this in our bylaws when we hire a new man from Dallas that we really do NOT know? Would it not be prudent to tell the new pastor candidate that the bylaws will require personnel decisions to be overseen by a deacon committee, and there will be a nepotism policy governing hiring of family members? If a pastor candidate demands full authority for hiring and firing as a condition of his employment when he is an uknown quantity to the church...I would cross that pastor off the list. Don't touch him. If he's not willing to come in and EARN his respect and power, working with a committee of trusted men at the church on personnel decisions, I wouldn't want him within a mile of the pastor's office. After all, how do we know the new guy won't come in and fire everybody and hire his own family and friends to run the church? Oh my, that wouldn't ever happen, would it?
3. Appointment of Trustees
The new bylaws specifically state that the pastor now has the authority to "nominate" trustees and officers...and the church votes on them. Voting power is meaningless unless they some say in who comes up for a vote! Because the trustees include Treasurers and Assistant Treasurers, this is dangerous. This power to appoint godly, responsible men who will act in the best interests of the church to trustee positions should be shared to some degree with the congregation. That is obvious. Many churches use a "committee of committees" to make appointments to officers and other committee positions.
So that is where we are. We handed the keys of a hyper "pastor led" church to a virtual unknown. And so far, we have paid dearly.
And as we will see, in December 2007 we decided to give Brunson even MORE authority.