Most churches incorporate and then appoint a board of directors (or a similar board using names deemed biblical, e.g., “deacons,” “elders,”) responsible for conducting church business. Some church governing documents, which may or may not be called a “constitution” or “bylaws,” do not expressly assign to the congregation’s official membership any other power than an annual vote to elect directors to vacancies created by term expiration. The authority to hire or terminate a pastor is often not expressly stated as that of the board or the congregation.
In Vaughn v Faith Bible Church, Slip Op. (MY App, 2020), the church board terminated the pastor. The pastor sued claiming that church board had to defer hiring and termination decisions to congregational meetings. The trial court entered judgment against the pastor and the appellate court affirmed. The governing documents were silent as to who had authority in the church to hire or terminate a pastor. The state statute governing corporations did not provide an exhaustive list of powers delegated to the corporate boards, and did not expressly mention hiring or firing as a power. The courts held that the statutory list of powers placed in the corporate board was not exhaustive so the corporate board would have the power to hire or fire absent a specific delegation in the governing documents.
Because congregational meetings and votes are unwieldy, only small churches tend to rely on congregational meetings or votes to determine most issues, including employment issues. In small churches, every family committed to the church is usually represented on the board in any event. In larger churches, the church board is usually the body responsible for day-to-day operations, including hiring and firing. Church governing documents should spell out which body has the authority to hire or fire a pastor. Other employees should be under the employment authority of the governing board, or the board and pastor, or controversy will plague the lowest staff position turnover. However, if the documents are silent, a church board created by the governing documents will likely have the authority by default.