One of the biggest difficulties faced by a church board occurs when the pastor, congregation, or other board members decide that individual board members should be removed from the board. In many instances, there is no effective means of removing board members without costly litigation.
Recently, several church members sought to have two church board members removed because of perceived moral failures. The board anticipated a quick and smooth process. However, the church’s bylaws were not very clear about how to remove board members, and the targeted board members, perceiving a personal vendetta, fought back. Tension between the two factions escalated, and a lawsuit was filed with the hope of driving the entrenched board members into a quick resignation. But the opposite effect occurred. The targeted board members dug in and the matter went to trial. After two years of litigation, the church was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and barely survived. While the facts behind the dispute were tragic, the costs of resolution were caused, to a great extent, by an inadequate process set forth in the church’s bylaws for removing board members.
To reduce risks of litigation like this, and the disruptions it causes to church life, churches should review state law where it is organized, as well as any church articles of incorporation and bylaws that address the process of removing a board member. If a church finds its governing documents do not provide a clear and appropriate means of removing a board member from the board, the church should consider adding a provision to the bylaws that best meets the expectations of the church. The right time to undertake the creation of such a provision is when the board is smoothly operating. It is often too late to address the problem after the need to remove a board member arises.