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Governing documents: mission unleashed

Far too often the governing documents of local churches are viewed as a safety net to rein in spiritual leaders whose passion is the pursuit of personal and corporate mission. Many congregations impose rigid restrictions around the purpose of the church, boundaries that place the church mission under the supervision of official or unofficial bodies whose assignments include all of the variables of the mission enterprise---the who, what, when, where, and how of mission. These governing documents, however, should enable and unleash the ministry organization to fulfill it's stated purpose rather than create clumsy impediments that make the mission difficult. ONPOINT mission , that is, mission that is both intentional and effective is guided by governing documents that make the church mission central.

Most church have three such criteria. They are: a doctrinal statement, a constitution and bylaws, and a church covenant. They accomplish several important functions in directing the mission of the church. These include---

The Doctrinal Statement

This is a systematized, condensed statement of church doctrinal beliefs. Many churches, like the great majority of Southern Baptist Church, announce their statements of faith through acceptance and observance of the Baptist Faith and Message. This statement of the tenets of faith ensures conformity to the Word of God and and prevents the church from being "tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). The doctrinal statement will usually identify the mission of the church according to biblical precept. This material will form the doctrinal and theological position of the church and formulate a biblical basis for mission.

The Constitution and Bylaws.

The constitution and by-laws of the church are the legal document which establish church credentials under the laws of the state in which the church is constituted. This document identifies the organization of the church, the roles of those assigned church duties, how the business of the church is to be conducted, stipulate requirements for membership, and ensure that "all things are done done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). The constitution and bylaw also define the mission of the church.

In this regard the constitution and bylaws are often used by controlling elements in the congregation to monitor and regulate financial expenditures, approval of church mission and ministry, and define the parameters of church outreach. It should be noted that this legal governing document should have the mission of the church at center, and should encourage fulfillment of that mission rather than limit it. This is the document that should unify the ministry organization around the mission so that the entire church is governed by its stated purpose. Far too often the constitution and bylaws are viewed as a sustaining document to maintain the church.

With mission as the central focus, the constitution and bylaws should be clear, concise, and specific to facilitate pursuit and fulfillment of the mission. These documents should be reviewed regularly to ensure that the organization of the church is fresh and vital, and that the procedures defined by the document enable rather than inhibit the mission.

The constitution and bylaws are a legal document and should protect the church and church members from liability, establish discipline within the body, and help avoid disaster in the case of church crisis. But, mission should be the center-piece of the constitution and bylaws.

The Church Covenant.

The church covenant is an agreement shared by the members of the church that defines the character and responsibility of church membership. For generations many churches shared a common covenant. Today, most churches propose and approve a church covenant specific to the mission of that local congregation. Once again, the mission of the church is the central idea of the covenant, outlining how members are pledged to the fulfillment of the mission. Many churches require affirmation of the covenant before membership is granted, and annual affirmation of the covenant as a re-commitment to that mission. With increasing government intervention in church life, the covenant is seen as a necessary element of mission pursuit.

ONPOINT mission---mission that is expected, intentionally pursued and the purpose around which the entire church is formed, is most effectively accomplished when the governing documents of the church are written with the stated mission of the church as the primary focus. If the mission is incidental to the governance, the mission will be subsumed by internal mechanics which can be detrimental to the biblical commission give to the church by Jesus.

Can mission be legislated? Perhaps not, no more than morality can be dictated by fiat. But, to organize around mission can place a healthy biblical expectation that the mission not be a side-bar to the ministry of the local congregation.

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