OLD FASHIONED CHURCH USURPATION COUPS

Churches that do not have properly or completely drafted control documents like bylaws will in business matters, rather than religious matters, be bound by state corporations statutes. Usurpers usually fail to take this into account or do not know. To enforce a statute on church business governance, rather than on religious matters, can only be done judicially and is an expensive method of church governance.

In Lee v Paik, Slip Op. (Tex. Civ. App. 5th, 2019), the temporary part-time pastor hired in 2002 was by 2009 ready to lead a coup. A congregational election was held in 2009 in which the not so temporary pastor was declared president of the church corporation and removed two of three sitting church board members. At the election, one of the three board members was present. The bylaws did not specify how replacement board members would be chosen as candidates or elected. The trial court held in the silence of the bylaws about electing new board members that the state corporations statute would control. Under the state statute then in effect, new board members could only be nominated and elected by the existing board in the absence of a provision in the bylaws for some other method. Because the board did not elect the new board members or remove the prior board members the trial court held the 2009 election was not effective. Moreover, the temporary part-time pastor was never entered as a member of the church on the membership rolls, and there was no evidence he had ever been a member, and for that reason lacked standing in court to challenge the prior board’s action in terminating him or nullifying the election. The appellate court confirmed the trial court.

Church governance documents should be updated every couple of years, as needed, following the amendment process set forth in the document. At the least, the church government should formally consider it and if there is no need the church board should decline to make a change. Recording the decision in the board minutes is also imperative. Merely ignoring the document until a serious problem arises is a fast road to legal expenses or enabling a usurper.

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