I became a leader last century – actually, in the closing decades of the last century! Back then, and earlier, there were already lots of lawsuits amongst Christians and churches, but I was blissfully ignorant. I operated from the assumptions that I just needed to try my best and nothing bad would happen. Be nice! Say you're sorry! All these are great ideas, but in our increasingly complex legal environment, I was woefully ignorant and unprepared.
In my career, I have retained corporate lawyers for personnel policy development and management disciplinary actions, insurance lawyers to make sure my insurance companies did what they promised, rental specialty lawyers to make sure I was a proper landlord with good tenants, professional practice lawyers, and trial lawyers, because I have been to court and through numerous mediations. I have to admit I was extremely embarrassed by what I presumed were egregious mistakes and lapses of judgment. However I discovered from other mission leaders, church leaders, Christian businessmen, etc. that I was not alone. In fact all of us have had to develop a much more realistic appraisal of life and the possibility of legal action against us.
I discovered I needed the wisdom and knowledge of these dear people who became my friends and encouragers. I've learned a lot from them. I've also struggled a lot with their advice, because their advice at times felt very much of an anathema to running a good Christian organization. Or so I thought! Sure there are times that I still get frustrated, but I know that the lessons I learned from the school of hard knocks have made me much more vigilant about doing the right things in the right way at the right times.
Here are three things I discovered in my process:
- "Ignorance is not bliss, and it is not a defense in legal matters." In today's world, there is simply too much to know yourself about how to protect your people and your organization. Laws change, it seems like daily, and requirements change certainly on an annual basis. To not know of the changes in requirements is no defense in being punished or penalized for noncompliance. We NEED legal resources!
- "Policies are our friends." In a small organization, it is easy to assume that you can keep everything straight, but memory is not flawless. People work better with structure and knowing what will happen as a result of their actions.
- "Leader decisions must be balanced between the needs of the individual and the organization." One of the unforeseen consequences of the rise of a counseling-oriented member care function within the mission organization, is the idea that an organization’s default position is to support the individual. Sadly this cannot always be the case. There are many responsibilities that leaders have to the organization that sometimes are or might be in conflict with the needs of a particular individual. We’ll discuss these potential conflicts in later blogs.
I hope you join us in navigating through many of these issues over the future. Thanks for being involved!
Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion
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- The Value of Auditing Your Organization’s Internal Processes
- Ten Ways to Land in Court over Sexual Harassment
- Happy Holiday Pay? Part 2, Avoiding Legal Issues in Crafting Paid Time Off Policies
- Guest Post: Biblical Principles for Church Security