This operations manual helps our church operate in a biblically faithful manner. It covers basic issues related to membership, congregational meetings, responsibilities of church officers, and use of church property. In addition to these routine matters, it also covers issues often overlooked, such as deaconate assistance, biblical counseling, conflict resolution, and confidentiality. These, and other special provisions, are incorporated into our church’s “Relational Commitments,” so that the full benefit of such provisions may also be extended to people who are not yet members of our church but worshiping with us as part of our community.
At first glance, a visitor might wonder why we have gone into such detail. The primary answer is that we believe it is no longer possible to assume that everyone holds to the same standard of common sense, fairness, and justice, even within the same church. Therefore, what seems appropriate to one member of the church (for example, giving three days’ notice of a special congregational meeting or allowing the deacons to spend $3,000 without congregational approval) might seem outrageous to another member.
The human need for detailed guidance is fulfilled by principles clearly reflected in Scripture. Instead of giving us only the two Great Commandments (love God and love your neighbor), God gave us the Ten Commandments. All of these laws are summed up in the two great commandments, but Jesus knew that until the world is renewed, we will need the guidance of the moral principles set forth throughout Scripture (see Matthew 5:17-7:6). It is from these that we shape specific policies and rules sufficient for our time.
One of the places that we sometimes need this kind of detailed guidance is in the church. Scripture does not tell us exactly how to give notice or establish quorums for congregational meetings, what information should remain confidential and what may be shared with others, how long deacons should serve without re-election, or how to dispose of property if the church dissolves. This operations manual is designed to answer these types of questions, and will hopefully spare us from unnecessary confusion and conflict, help us to act in consistent and respectful ways, and allow us to devote ourselves to the more important matters of God’s kingdom.
Proverbs 22:3 warns, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Realizing that the absence of common norms and values can pose a threat to the unity and well-being of our church, we developed this operations manual as a means of establishing commonly accepted standards for the way we would treat one another and govern ourselves as a body. In particular, this manual is designed to accomplish the following goals:
- Prevent surprises and disappointed expectations of potential members by explaining how the church intends to govern and accomplish its mission.
- Reduce the likelihood of confusion and conflict within the church by establishing clear operational guidelines.
- Prevent the misuse of authority by church leaders by limiting their powers and by establishing procedures that protect members from being disciplined or losing rights without due process.
- Give our elders protection from subpoena by a civil court regarding information received through pastoral counseling, as well as give them guidelines for reporting actual or suspected harm to others by clearly spelling out the principles of confidentiality followed by the church.
- Reduce the church’s exposure to legal liability by satisfying recently developed legal requirements and by requiring that potential lawsuits be resolved through biblical mediation or arbitration rather than through litigation.
If questions remain, readers should not hesitate to approach our pastor(s) or one of our elder(s), who will be happy to talk with you about this manual. The Book of Church Order for the Presbyterian Church in America (referred to as BCO) serves as an operations manual for our denomination and it is often cited in the following pages. A copy of the BCO is available for your review in the church library or online.