Churches and Legal Protection

The Necessity of Legal Counsel for Churches

There was time when a man’s word was all that was necessary for a legal transaction. Today we live in an entirely different culture. No one would consider taking someone’s word to transact business. Unfortunately, this change in culture means that churches must have legal counsel for doing business. Even in the beginning of a new church, a lawyer is needed to file papers for the church’s formation. Legal expenses may seem to add unnecessary costs, but proper legal advice can save thousands of dollars and perhaps the reputation of the church.

One of the first considerations for a new church involves insurance. A new church must have liability insurance. Even though the church may not own property, it can be sued for negligence if someone is injured during an activity. Obviously, buses and vans must have proper insurance.  It is also important to have life insurance for the pastor. An untimely death of the church planter may leave his wife and children without financial support. Term life insurance is inexpensive for a young man and well worth the small investment.

If child abuse is suspected, pastors are required to report such abuse and can be arrested for failing to do so. The mere accusation is enough to destroy a ministry and every accusation must be taken seriously. Sex offenders cannot be allowed to work with children or teens. Background checks must be made for every staff member as well as key leaders of the church. Even though he may be innocent, the pastor of a new church can be destroyed by false accusations, and every pastor must live beyond reproach to limit such accusations. Anyone facing scandalous court proceedings would be wise to hire the very best legal counsel possible.

Before signing a lease or purchasing property, it is necessary to have legal counsel review the documents. The church cannot be run by attorneys, but in today’s culture it cannot operate without their assistance. As someone said, “It is not if your church will be sued; it is when you will be sued.” It is tragic, but lawsuits are a reality of our culture. People whom you think you know can turn on you and cause a serious legal problem. Proper insurance is a must and proper legal counsel is a must.

Organizing the church involves several legal filings. The constitution and bylaws should be carefully constructed. When preparing the constitution, ask yourself the question, “Is this how we really operate?” Often churches have some ideological standard that they do not follow. If the constitution cannot be followed, it should be changed so that it is followed.

Proper accounting of the finances of the church is another important issue of our day. There must be safeguards for counting, collecting, and depositing money. No one should be given the opportunity to misuse or steal church funds. Two or more men should count the money and sign a count form that states they agree on the deposit. No one should have the ability to sign checks without proper accountability. No expenditure should be made that is not in the budget. A small amount of money could be designated for the pastor to spend in cases of emergency, and the deacons or trustees could be approved by the church for a slightly higher expenditure; but beyond a designated amount, an unauthorized expenditure should be approved at a business meeting by the church body. In addition, church funds should not be mixed and money given for a specific purpose should be used for its designated purpose.

A code of conduct should be prepared and presented to all church employees. This code of conduct should list specific expectations of every leader’s conduct toward the opposite sex as well as children. Concerning conduct while serving in the church, a written policy is often necessary for several aspects of the ministry in the church. Concerning reporting of an injury, there should be a written policy explaining when and how to write such a report.

Tax laws are another issue every church must handle properly. Salaries and special speaker’s offerings must be properly reported. The church is liable to file proper documentation verifying an individual’s income. Some people do not realize that a pastor pays income tax just like every other American. Withholding or quarterly returns must be filed properly and timely. Failure to do so could cost the church substantial money and many hours of labor trying to correct errors that may have been made.

Seeking proper counsel is a wise decision for any young man desiring to build a church for the glory of God.

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