Congregations often rewrite for the wrong reason. Commonly it is “to prevent another problem like the last one we had”—long-absent members who created a row at a business meeting, or a board chairman thought to have too much influence. Sometimes expectations are unrealistic. People hope the new constitution will specifically answer every future question: What procedures are to be followed if the pastor resigns? May the youth group schedule an activity away from church during the evening service? No document can be so inclusive.

The right reasons could include establishing biblical principles, removing unnecessary red tape, clarifying doctrinal positions.

Common Errors

Assuming good reasons, there are several common errors to be avoided.

1. No stated authority. Church constitutions frequently contain much detail about the selection, size, and duties of various boards and committees, but none are given authority. Though the deacons may be assumed to form the governing board, the constitution may not say so. Often the pastor is viewed as the decision maker, but the constitution allows him no authority.

2. Pastor’s leadership role restricted. Some churches intentionally confine the pastor’s leadership to “spiritual issues.” “Real” matters involving property, finance, and other business decisions do not involve him. Realistically, however, since most pastors are involved in these matters, why exclude them from the official decision-making process?

3. Confusion of law and procedures. Many constitutions contain unnecessary, even cumbersome, detail. Mere administrative procedures need not become a part of the constitution. Let your governing board change and implement procedures as necessary.

For example, many constitutions call for quarterly business meetings on a particular date, such as the “first Friday of April, July, and October.” This could result in meetings on Good Friday and July Fourth weekend. Simply to change those dates would be to violate the constitution—and some people might be ready to contest decisions in those meetings as illegal.

4. Overstructuring. Many constitutions require several committees, each with a specific number of members. A church may search high and low for bodies to fill those positions. Then a special committee may be formed to reach a specific goal. To staff it may prove impossible, or it may overload members. A constitution should be flexible enough to allow the church to structure committees to meet certain specific goals.

5. Inadequate doctrinal statement. Many statements are inadequate or even misleading because they omit discussion of doctrine the church regards as essential. For example, the gifts of tongues and healing may be regarded as no longer operative; hence, a charismatic would not be allowed to teach Sunday school. A doctrinal statement in such a church is inadequate if it omits any discussion of the issue.

6. Too much importance. Frequently most of a church’s key leaders are assigned to work on the constitution—and it becomes a “tar baby”: people get stuck to it and can’t escape, and attention to other ministry-oriented tasks is set aside. After months or years, the committee presents the document to the church, which then examines it line-by-line, word-by-word. It is better to assign a few well-qualified people to prepare the constitution and have their work reviewed and modified by a larger group. When the document is brought for congregational approval it involves only items of concern to the whole.

The Important Questions

If you are planning to rewrite your constitution, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is our motive in this project? Clarification may help you uncover and solve more urgent problems first.

2. What is our goal? State exactly what you hope to achieve. Knowing where you want to go before you start will make the journey easier.

3. What do we intend to communicate in our doctrinal statement? You cannot include everything you believe, so know why you include or omit something.

4. What must be included? Ask yourself after every sentence if it is really necessary to involve the whole congregation in it. If your constitution turns out to be very short, you have probably done an excellent job.

5. What are the lines of authority and accountability? Who do we want to be responsible for the various areas of ministry? If you answered “the pastor” each time, you should rethink this.

6. Can you diagram the church government? If not, your constitution is either too complex or too vague. When you actually undertake to diagram, you can easily see the “problem areas.”

An excellent constitution is important for every church to have. It is an important tool that will allow a church opportunity to reach its goals. It is not an end in itself.


Mr. Jaskilka is pastor of First Baptist Church in Tigard, Oregon.

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