I’ve come to appreciate Ott and Wilson’s book, Global Church Planting (see here and here). This book covers many details that church planters do well to know, follow, and implement. One area worth mentioning here is structuring the church plant – specifically in the area of bylaws or a church constitutions that define the practices and procedures of the church (including membership):
“Many church planters have little patience with the technicalities of creating a church constitution and bylaws or legal registration [with the government, if applicable – spl]. Nevertheless, it is wise practice to give attention to this as the church grows. Clear polity and doctrinal statements can help clarify purpose and avoid conflict. Fortunately most denominations provide sample documents that can be adopted or adapted to local needs. Cross-cultural church planters should, however, avoid importing a foreign constitution and bylaws. Even statements of faith may need to be contextualized. The goal is not conformity to an outside standard but faithfulness to biblical truths and principles. As local believers participate in the formulation of such documents, they will both understand them and have a greater sense of ownership. But in a church of predominantly new believers, the church planters will need to give considerable guidance to the process.”
“Formal membership clarifies who is fully committed to the church and is a means of public identification with the church, of formal submission to the spiritual care and leadership of the church, and for congregants to declare, ‘This is my spiritual home.’ It also clearly defines what persons may have a formal voice or vote in the important decisions of the church and who might be entitled to services provided by the church (such as aid for the widows in the New Testament). Experience teaches that neglecting to formalize membership can have the high price of conflict later when important decisions involving the congregation must be made. Peripheral persons can attempt to influence decisions and even rally extended family or others who have even less of a relationship to the church and to support their cause” (p. 282-3)
Ott and Wilson go on to talk about some details of how to write bylaws and incorporate membership in the church plant. Again, I highly recommend this book for missionaries and church planters: Global Church Planting.
rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)