A model for administering independent churches: some preliminaries

This is the first in a series of posts on a model for administering independent churches.

Before we go on describing what the model is like, I will need to explain what I mean by an independent church, and why a different model may be useful.

What is an independent church?

By independent church I mean a church association whereby its governance structure is not prescribed.

Most churches in Australia are part of a denomination of some form, which in most cases prescribe ways in which the church is to be administered. For example, most denominations would require churches to be essentially unincorporated associations. Any property needed by the church will be held by some central legal entity (e.g. a property trust). The denomination would then prescribe a governance structure on the church (usually through a template constitution).

Obviously, churches which are not independent can’t simply adopt the model described in my later musings. Nevertheless, I hope that the model may still provide useful insights.

I will assume that independent churches will be organised in a way that is similar to the “elder-deacon model”. Essentially, the governance of the church involves two groups of people:

  • The elders, who leads the church and mainly deal with ministry of the Word and prayer.
  • The deacons, who are the administrators of the church and deals with administration matters, including finance.

Generally the elders would be seen as organisationally above the deacons within a church association’s governance structure.

Why a new model may be useful

Note that I am not a lawyer, and this section should not be taken as legal advice.

In Australia, the ultimate responsibility for financial management of an organisation (whether it be a company, an incorporated association and even an unincorporated association) usually rests with the organisation’s management committee. For a company, this management committee is usually called the board of directors. For other types of organisations, the management committee may be called various things.

For church associations, I imagine that the elders would be seen as the management committee in this sense. This means that it would the elders rather than the deacons who would be ultimately responsible for the church’s finances, even though we would normally think that these things are the responsibility of the deacons. The fact that deacons do most of the day-to-day work in relation to finance is not likely to absolve the responsibility of the elders as the lead committee of the church association.

We end up with a rather uncomfortable situation where there is a difference between how we want the governance responsibilities to be divided between elders and deacons, and how the governance responsibilities must be divided. Can we develop a church administration model where we can achieve both? My humble suggestion begins in the next post.

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