Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Disaffiliation and Congregational Splits
Which faction keeps the church building when a congregation splits?

Which faction in a local church is entitled to the church's property following an attempted disaffiliation from a hierarchical denomination? That was the issue before a Texas appeals court in an important ruling. In 1959, a Texas congregation affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church (UPC). As a condition of affiliation, the church was required to adopt the UPC denominational articles of faith and constitution. The church also adopted recommended bylaws for local churches, and in 1970 incorporated under state nonprofit corporation law. In 1982, the church elected a new minister. Seven years later, following allegations of immoral behavior, the minister resigned the pulpit. Almost immediately, he had second thoughts about resigning. Encouraged by his supporters, he launched a campaign to regain his former position. Among other things, he claimed that he never really had resigned since his resignation had never been formally "accepted" by the church. The church's bylaws specified various procedures for the selection of a new pastor following a resignation. Much of the authority previously vested in the local pastor transfers to the UPC district superintendent for the district in which the church is located. The bylaws specified that the district superintendent must convene and preside over any church meeting at which a pastor is to be selected or any other business is to be transacted. The district superintendent and the church board must recommend a candidate for pastor, who must receive a majority vote of the local members. Because of the pending allegations of immoral conduct against the former minister, neither the district superintendent nor the church board would recommend that he resume his duties as pastor of the church. Frustrated by the district superintendent's refusal to call a meeting to reinstate him, and believing that a majority of the church members would back him, the former pastor began to hold services and meetings with the members in violation of the constitution of the UPC which requires any resigning pastor to sever all connections with a former church. Unable to regain his former position under the church's existing bylaws, the former pastor announced his intention to hold a church business meeting at which the congregation would consider disaffiliating from the UPC denomination. As authority for this action, the former pastor relied on a section in the Texas nonprofit corporation law permitting 10% of the members of a corporation to call a special meeting. At the meeting, the members voted to remove the current board, install a new board, and reinstate the former pastor. The district superintendent attended the meeting, and pronounced it invalid on the ground that it violated UPC and local church bylaws. Specifically, the superintendent pointed out that these documents require that the superintendent preside over any church business meeting if a church is without a pastor, and further require that a minister must have the recommendation of the superintendent to be eligible for election as pastor. The UPC appealed to a civil court for assistance. A trial court agreed that all of the actions taken by the members during their meeting were invalid. It prohibited the former pastor from using the church's property or its funds, and from interfering with church services or meetings. The former pastor appealed.

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Posted: May 1, 1992
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