Church dispute tests membership rules

Does your church have  expectations for memberships?   A church split in Alabama shows the importance of clear rules.

At the New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Troy, Alabama, longtime deacons and the pastor disagreed about  finances.  The deacons of New Mount Pleasant apparently took the keys to the congregation and locked the pastor out.  According to the Troy Messenger, a majority of the congregation voted to return control to the Pastor.

But the dispute was dragged into a local court because the Deacons argued the “majority” required was a majority of active members — members who tithe and attend regularly.  According to one of the Deacons, “[w]hat they call the majority are members who aren’t active. We don’t really have but 15 active, paying members.”  Those “active” members, according to the Deacons, would not turn control over to the pastor.

A growing number of churches are implementing “church discipline” for members that do not participate in congregational life. While there is a scriptural basis for making sure that membership means something, the plan has to be implemented correctly.

For example, your church covenant may list expected conduct for members, but is it enforced selectively?  If so, your policy might be unenforceable.  Is there clear notice to members that the church can withdraw fellowship?   If not, you may find it difficult to clean up the membership rolls.

The court looking at the situation at New Mount Pleasant decided to return control to the pastor (at least temporarily), based on the congregational vote.  But it is not hard to imagine situations where uninvolved “members” halt forward progress in a ministry. It’s worth making sure that your church’s governing documents have a clear process for beginning and ending membership in the congregation.

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