Basic Church Documents

When I teach church planting, I always talk to the students about basic church documents. A new church
needs some basic documents that provide it with a good, solid foundation. Older churches need these
foundational documents, also. Ok, what are they? All churches need a statement of faith, a church
covenant, and a constitution and by-laws. Why so?


Statement of Faith

Churches should be certain of their beliefs, and they should be able to point prospective members to a
statement of faith. A statement of faith will guide the preachers and teachers in the church as to what
constitutes sound doctrine. A clear statement of faith will help seekers decide whether they want to
unite with your church. Of course, many churches simply use the current Southern Baptist Statement of
Faith and Message. This is what our church does. Other churches prefer to write their own. Working
through the process of composing a statement of faith is a good way to teach biblical doctrine. Another
advantage of a statement of faith is that it provides an objective measure for judging false doctrine. For
example, imagine that a Sunday school teacher in your church begins teaching false doctrine. When you
confront him, he says, “I’m not teaching false doctrine.” “Yes you are.” “Who says so?” You can
extrapolate this conversation. However, if your church has a statement of faith, you can point to that for
confirmation. In my life I’ve taught at several of our SBC seminaries, as well as the International Mission
Board. All of these required me to affirm a statement of belief and promise to preach and teach in
accordance with it.


Church Covenant

The church covenant describes how the members of the church will conduct themselves in their
Christian lives and how they will relate to each other. It is a “covenant,” that is, a sacred agreement
between parties. You could say it is a spiritual commitment the church members make to each other.
Many churches still use the old Southern Baptist church covenant. It used to be printed in the Baptist
Hymnal, and many rural churches kept a large, framed copy in the foyers of their buildings. (William
Thornton will remember this.) Other churches find the language and emphases of that covenant
outdated, and they have composed new covenants. A good resource for writing a church covenant is the
Broadman Church Manual. Our church in Texas just celebrated its 100 th Anniversary, and we seized the
opportunity to write a new church covenant. The members were all encouraged to sign it. Some
churches have an annual covenant renewal ceremony, often on the church’s anniversary. I believe a
church covenant is a good way to teach and reinforce the responsibilities of church membership.


Church Constitution and By-laws

The constitution and by-laws prescribe how the church will govern itself. This document explains how
new members can join or be discharged. It lists the officers of the church, and the way in which the
church will call a pastor. It explains how the church will conduct its business meetings, and many other
details of church administration. If you church plans to incorporate, then it must have a constitution and
by-laws. Your church must be incorporated in order to own its own property. Of course, laws pertaining to incorporation vary from state to state. So, your association and state convention can advise you on
this and provide examples from other churches. You may find it helpful to consult a Christian attorney.
Many older churches are updating their constitutions and by-laws to conform to modern practices.
Certainly, it is good to review this document periodically to ascertain where changes are needed.


So, a statement of faith describes what a church believes. A church covenant describes how church
members should behave, and the church constitution and by-laws prescribe how the church will conduct
its business.

What has been your experience with these church documents? Have you revised any of these in recent years? How did that go? Do you have any advice for others?

Breaking: Small Group of Southern Baptists Now Opposed to the Cooperative Program

For almost 100 years now, the Cooperative Program has been the primary funding mechanism of the Southern Baptist Convention. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised. Tens of thousands of missionaries have been fully funded as they risked their lives to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Tens of thousands of churches have been planted across North America. And millions of people have heard the gospel as a result of the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists. The impact of the Cooperative Program over the last 100 years of Southern Baptist life will only be fully known in eternity.

The idea is that if we pool our resources together, we can do more together than we could apart. That line of thinking rings true for me as a small church pastor. If my church were to raise up someone who wanted to be sent out as an international missionary, we wouldn’t be able to support him even if we used all of the money that we give annually to the Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Yet because of the partnership we have with the Southern Baptist Convention, our member who feels God’s call to serve overseas can be appointed as a full-time career missionary without us writing him a single check.  That’s the beauty of the Cooperative Program.

But now, a small group of Southern Baptists has come out as opposed to the Cooperative Program. They are concerned that it is being misused by churches that aren’t paying enough in each year to support the missionaries that they are sending through the International Mission Board. One church in the convention currently has 158 of its members serving with IMB. The church gave $500,000 to the Cooperative Program in 2017, but that would not have been enough to support all of the missionaries they have on the field. The small group of CP opponents is concerned that this makes the church a “net consumer” of CP dollars.

If I didn’t know any better, I would think that this was some kind of political game. Maybe they have some kind of ulterior motive. I mean, who would think to criticize a church for sending too many missionaries? Who would be willing to undermine the very funding mechanism that has financed the SBC for nearly 100 years without some kind of other motive?

Thankfully, these Cooperative Program opponents are only a minuscule percentage of the nearly 15 million member Southern Baptist Convention. They are loud. And they like for people to think they are a much larger group. They even like for people to think that they represent the thinking of the majority of Southern Baptists. But they are wrong. They do not represent most Southern Baptists. Most Southern Baptists love missions and give sacrificially so that those called to take the gospel to the ends of the earth can do so without worrying about raising support. The Cooperative Program will go on. Southern Baptists will continue to fund missions in the same way we have for almost 100 years now. And those churches that raise up their own to serve overseas will have the opportunity to send them with the IMB even if they can’t give enough to pay the bill.

A Tribute to Billy Graham

Yesterday we learned that Billy Graham had passed away at age ninety-nine. He was one of us, a Southern Baptist. He was ordained by a Southern Baptist church in Florida in 1939, and he was a member at First Baptist Church of Dallas. When I heard of his passing, immediately, I thought of Genesis 25:8, which says of Abraham: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years…” (NKJV). Truly, Billy Graham died at a “good old age,” and his years were full of fruitful service to the Lord. In this post I’ll not repeat the biographies you can find on any news website. You can find the biography published by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College here ( Ed Stetzer’s tribute here ( Instead, I want to share my thoughts on Billy Graham’s distinguished ministry. The news networks and pundits are lauding him as a great man and “America’s pastor.” What made Billy Graham so great?

Fidelity to the Bible. Early in his ministry Billy Graham began to doubt the reliability of God’s Word, but one night he expressed his doubts to God and received assurance from the Lord. In my mind’s eye I can still see him with the Bible in his left hand and gesturing with his right, declaring “the Bible says.” In that he set an example for all preachers to follow.

Passion for Souls. Billy Graham understood his calling—to serve as an evangelist. Through his life many offered him positions in institutions or encouraged him to run for political office. Through it all he remained focused on his calling, preaching the gospel and inviting people to profess faith in Christ. Some estimate that he preached the gospel to two billion people. Amazing!

Great Team of Co-Workers. When we think of Billy Graham, we also think of his great evangelistic team: Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, George Wilson, and T. W. Wilson. He assembled this team in the early 1950s, and they continued with him until they died. That says a lot about Billy Graham and about those good and godly men. Billy Graham always spoke in glowing terms about his “team,” and he emphasized that their faithful service was a key element in the success of his ministry.

Unquestioned Morality. In 1948 Billy Graham and his team (Barrows, Shea, and Grady Wilson) were conducting a crusade in Modesto, California. During that meeting they discussed building their ministry on a sound ethical foundation. This discussion resulted in the Modesto Manifesto, a compact between the men that guided their ministry and personal lives. The Manifesto called for absolute accountability in financial matters, cooperation with all evangelical churches, no criticism of local churches or pastors, no exaggeration of attendance figures or response, and integrity in their personal lives. This last provision required them to pledge that they would never be alone with a woman other than their wife, not even on an elevator. That Billy Graham adhered to this commitment his whole life did much to validate his ministry.

Devotion to His Wife.  Billy Graham met Ruth Bell at Wheaton College, and she was the love of his life. He often described her as his prayer partner and closest confidant. He testified that he turned to her for counsel first. Her passing in 2007 grieved him terribly, but he expressed his confidence that they would reunite in heaven.

Detachment from Politics. Billy Graham advised and prayed with presidents, but he never endorsed a political candidate. He declared more than once that Christianity is bigger than any political party and that the gospel was for both Democrats and Republicans. In his later years he expressed regret that he had allowed some presidents to exploit him. Pastors today should take note of that.

Advocacy of De-segregation. In the early 1950s Billy Graham insisted that all his crusades must be fully integrated. Beyond that, he invited Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak at his New York City Crusade. Graham also spoke out against apartheid in South Africa and corresponded with Nelson Mandela for years, while Mandela was in prison. Late in life, Billy Graham expressed regret that he did not march with the protesters in Selma, Alabama. He said, “I should have done more.” For sure, he did more than most.

Innovation in Mass Media. Billy Graham and his team demonstrated remarkable innovation in the use of mass media. He wrote thirty books and a popular newspaper column, “My Answer.” His organization published Decision magazine, and he led in the founding of Christianity Today magazine. The Billy Graham Association produced Christian films, televised crusades, and broadcast radio programs. Late in his active ministry Graham used satellite television to preach to 185 million people simultaneously.

I believe we can apply the Apostle Paul’s testimony to Billy Graham. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness , which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day…” (2 Tim 4:7-8a, NKJV).

These are my thoughts about the life and ministry of Billy Graham. What are yours?